Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Draft Animal Power › Working with Draft Animals › Leading by Example?
- March 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm #88420Carl RussellModerator
When I learned to ride a horse, my father had me climb into the saddle, and he slapped the horse’s ass….. When I learned to shoot, he gave me a sixteen gauge shotgun, which kicked like a mule and nearly bloodied my nose. I learned to drive a car with the instructions, “push in the clutch and brake to stop, put the shifter in first, let out the clutch and turn hard to the left, then put it in reverse and turn hard to the right”…. left in an open field to my own devices.
I’m not sure how much I brought to the equation on my own, or whether I became conditioned to learn by trying, but needless to say, I have undertaken many initiatives in my adult life that were outside of the mainstream of instructional education. From learning to raise and slaughter animals myself, to building our home, to working horses, or cutting timber, I have taken on endeavors whose craftsmen were dwindling during my youth, and those who were left were seen as holdouts against the move toward modern careers, industrial specialization, and economy of scale.
Per my early training I took what guidance I could get, and started putting it to use. The other part of those early experiences, is that I did learn to ride, and eventually became quite comfortable with horses, I have been, and continue to be, an accomplished marksman, and I can pretty much do anything, and go anywhere I need to driving a vehicle. Safety and competency are high on my list of objectives regarding any undertaking I enter upon.
As I became more accomplished logging with horses, I began to share some of what I had learned because I had first-hand knowledge of how hard it is to find good and complete instruction on many aspects of the craft. I started writing articles for Small Farmer’s Journal, then holding workshops, and eventually hosting the Northeast Animal-Power Field Days regional trade fair and conference, with its associated DraftAnimalPower.com online discussion forum. When smart phones and social networks hit my radar, I began taking and sharing pictures and videos of the work I was involved in.
I have heard and read dismissive comments from pundits and concerned consumers that social media is misleading because most people only share those shiny, beautiful, and smooth-moving moments in their lives. In other words, social media can present an Utopian view of life because people edit out the challenges and misfires in favor of their most favorable profile. Of course that is what excites us, sharing those moments that we are striving for. The times when we can be proud of our work, and we know that there are folks who want to see that too…. to be inspired in their own endeavors.
A few years ago, I gained an insight into my role, as an educator. After a long day at a on-farm slaughtering workshop, where the host refused to allow me to show some basic tenants that I have learned about confining and timing the killing of more than one animal, and everything that I had suggested might go wrong did, I got very favorable reviews from the attendees about my ability to work through a bad situation in front of a class of inexperienced onlookers. Many said they thought they learned more from it, than if everything had gone smoothly.
I have posted many pictures, and descriptions, and videos of the work I do with horses and in the woods, to highlight the best examples of the work well done. I know that it is what most people are looking for, because obviously we all want to know how to do something so that it works. However I have been thinking a lot recently about the need to paint a more realistic picture of how complicated this work is.
One of the side effects of making myself known as someone who is willing to share knowledge of the experience of working horses in the woods is that I am sought out by folks who want to learn from me. There is a certain aesthetic romance about working horses, and to a similar degree the lumberjack conjures up inspiring images of skill and independence…. I know…. I get that… but there is a lot of work to working horses in the woods, and this is a craft not a technical career, so there is a sea of miscalculations, and mistakes, and bungled attempts to navigate before things begin to go smoothly enough that competency slowly seeps into your consciousness.
A few weeks ago I posted a video on Facebook of a failed attempt to move an entire tree with my horses. In all honesty I had handed the camera to an onlooker because I wanted to show how powerful my horses were, because they had been moving some pretty amazing timber on this site, and I was hoping for another video showing what can be done with horses. Factors combined to thwart our efforts. The steep ground was too icy, the pull was in the opposite direction to previous heavy logs so the horses were not confident, and there were several large uncut limbs stuck in the ground. Once we got things straightened out, they showed incredible strength and fortitude, but my videographer had missed the chance.
It was a humbling moment, because this was like so many other times when I was the only one who could really appreciate what I was able to do with my horses. As I reviewed the clips of the missed attempts I knew that I needed to post one of them anyway. I knew in some ways it would not show favorably my ability or knowledge of the work, but it is also the reality of doing the work that I do, and that people want to learn from me and others. I got all kinds of comments from those admiring my honesty, to those offering advice on how to do better. All were expected, and welcome. I would not have posted it if I was threatened by the feedback.
Yesterday I posted a picture of a widow maker that didn’t get the job done. I received a direct hit from from a six inch diameter dead spruce tree about forty feet long. It stood about 30 feet away, the top 10-12 feet breaking off as it hit my head, so it hit pretty hard to say the least. I was basically unhurt, other that a very sore portion of my upper back across my shoulders. It was a very rotten tree, which as a result probably saved my life as it was not as heavy as it might have been.
Working in the woods is dangerous. It is one of the things that makes it intriguing. It is not just a matter of navigating obstacles, rather there is a great deal of judgement, spacial awareness, mindfulness, and the practice of probabilities….. It is the work of a thinking person.
Soren Ericksson was a pioneer in professionalizing the woodsworker. In his Game of Logging training series, safety, competency, and ergonomics are primary. In the appraisal of hazards there is a point at which we cannot control certain safety concerns, but he has popularized the fact that 75% of all deaths and injuries related to felling trees occur within a 20’ circle of the base of the tree. By making a habit of getting out of that circle we increase our chances of survival dramatically. The reality is that chasing that other twenty-five percent would drive us to sitting on the couch, or buying a feller-buncher…. neither of which would further the craft that I practice.
At age six I started helping older men in the woods by dragging and piling brush while cutting firewood. I moved on to stacking and splitting blocks, and by age eleven I was blocking wood with a chainsaw. By fifteen, when my father bought the Mac 1010 with the new centrifugal clutch and automatic oiler, I was felling, delimbing, blocking and splitting on my own. By twenty I started using a chainsaw professionally doing forest improvement, blocking log-length wood for homeowners, and taking down hazard trees. I started logging in 1983 with some college friends, and by 1986 had started my own horse-logging and forestry business, Russell Forestry Services.
I have nearly 50 years of experience working in the woods. There have been a lot of things that went right, or I would not still be doing it, but there have also been a lot of things that went sideways. I have been an avid student of methods and techniques that I have used to constantly improve as a practitioner. I have learned special personal techniques to keep me alert and on top of my game, to stay safe and healthy, and excited to wake up each day to go at it again. I have also developed a theory that as soon as the question arises about a possible hazard, I eliminate it. There is no other answer.
The mishap with the widow maker was not a case of lapse of judgement, or complacency. I had been felling trees in tight quarters all day, and had taken extra time to survey my overhead hazards. I had safely left the danger zone and had taken precaution to observe residual affects on nearby trees. I had even taken a break to take care of something else, so it was a full 10-15 minutes later that I even got within striking distance of that stem. Of course I could have seen it, had I looked there, but the likelihood that it would fall at the exact time that I was there, and that it would fall directly at me is so slim that the risk clearly falls in the minimal percentage-class that is beyond reason to look for.
It was an accident of chance. A brush with probability. The fact is that 99% likelihood means nothing when you’re in the one percent. The reality is that this is a dangerous business. I shared the post immediately after it happened because I knew it was a lesson I needed to share, and I’m sharing this note now for the same reason.
If this is the work you want to do, you need to know that this is what you are up against. You need to ask yourself if the romance outweighs that risk of injury or death. The fact of the matter is that it makes no difference how long you do this work, you can be a victim of the obscure percentages the first day, or the 15,000th day…. that is how percentages work.
Come to the woods to learn about holding leather, horse behavior, setting chains, laying out skid roads, timber stand improvement, and the economics of cutting and selling logs, but also come prepared to make life-or-death decisions. Everything you do, from the way you interact with your family, or take care of your horses, or react to challenges to your expectations, or the way you manage your energy, plays into the awareness you bring to the work in the woods. You need to know that the risks are high, and that your success will be determined by how well you navigate them.
I have had a few scrapes and bruises over the years. Being hit by this widowmaker is by far the worst in terms of pain, but also in terms of risk. It is as close as I have come to being killed. As for my resolve? I’m taking a few days to loosen up, then I’m back at it….. my peripheral vision may be a bit more acute for a while, but I definitely get extremely high levels of personal reward from doing this work. I do expect more mistakes and mishaps, and I will continue to do my best to share how I use them to strive for improvement.
- This topic was modified 3 years, 11 months ago by Carl Russell.
Attachments:You must be logged in to view attached files.March 16, 2016 at 9:55 pm #88425JayParticipant
Thank you for sharing Carl. I think you may be speaking for a number of us here. JayMarch 17, 2016 at 8:07 am #88426JHAASParticipant
Thanks, just the reminder I needed. Very glad you’re okay!March 17, 2016 at 6:28 pm #88430Donn HewesKeymaster
Carl, I think you and I are a lot a like! I often lament that I don’t have someone following me with a camera because I could publish a ton of good how to; and How NOT to photos and videos! The day after your FB post with the tree that didn’t come I went out and hooked to stuck one just for you.
Honestly, this is one of the reasons I prefer working with someone over a period of weeks or months rather than just a day or a few. I don’t mind someone seeing me struggle or mess up, but over time they can put that into context that I have also persevered and succeeded in equal parts. Even before I taught folks about working with draft animals, I taught ropes, rescue, and firefighting skills. In all these settings I have used spur of the moment training and examples. This often left the instructor no smarter than the students. I have never liked the sort of instruction that seemed rehearsed to insure that the instructor seemed infallible. I would rather have students see good examples of problem solving in real time.
Glad you are OK. It is very important to remind folks the risks are real. We can and should reduce risks. Think clearly about what the risks we can control are, but I certainly am not looking for zero risk. Life not worth living for me.
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