Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Draft Animal Power › Training Working Animals › turning to the side
- August 11, 2013 at 5:58 am #80706
In working with friends recently I thought a lot about how I direct horses when asking them to move side ways. I thought I would start a discussion about this maneuver, which can be very challenging.
First there are a few principles which I think help make this task difficult and they are worth considering. Horses natural movement is forward, this is the way their eyes face and their body is built. They prefer forward and back to stepping over sideways and this is because they are built along this long access. Their legs naturally move this way.
Verbal commands: clearly this is one of the areas where you will see a large variation amongst all the teamsters. The key here is to find your own pattern and stick with it. Here is what I say. First I don’t say much when out making big left or right hand turns in a field. I don’t say gee and haw ever time I turn as I follow a trail out of the woods. Let the words develop potency by saving them to specific situations. Gee and haw are for tight turns where turning on the mark is important. I use “come gee” and “come haw” to indicate moving “over” to the right or left. I seldom use these commands when I not hooked to an implement because I really want them to connect with moving a tongue (or shafts) sideways. As I said each teamster has their own unique way of giving these commands, and one habit I have developed is using the name of the animal on the side I am turning to. In other words if Connie is on the right and George is on the left, I will say, “Connie – come gee” or “George – come haw”. probably no real benefit to it, it is just a habit I have developed.
Voice alone is not nearly enough to make a horse or horses move side ways well. What we tell them with our hands will determine how smoothly we can get exactly where we want to be. These signals with the hands are more difficult they they might first appear and there is a reason for that. The basic method we use for steering a horse involves forward movement. Like a snow ski; when you are standing still and bounce up and down on the skis you don’t turn, but if you are sliding forward and put you weight on one or the other of your skis the ski will flex into a curve and literally take you around, just unweight and weight the other and you are turning the other way. As we are moving forward with horses and we turn their head to the left or right (creating a curve just like the ski), they naturally follow in the direction their head is pointed. Try moving their head like this while standing still however and nothing will happen, you will still be standing where you started.
The signals from the hands must lead them into movement. There is a slight jiggering motion, small light rapid pulses that tell the horse we are going this way. Here is the first trick with the hands (and the most important). This takes TWO hands. If I am signaling to go left; my right hand is sending almost the same signal, with just a little delay; it will control how fast the animals move over and give us the ability to control each step. One hand is giving; one hand is taking away. This way if I only want to move two steps to the left my right hands is ready to stop the movement. This control of the rate they move at is important for the trailing horse, otherwise it will have a tendency to rush and push the tongue, and partner around.
A clean turn should have the two animals working with out bouncing of each other and with the tongue hitting the leg. This takes practice for the horse to learn to move the hind end away from the tongue. Being patient and allowing the movements to happen slowly will help. It can be almost one step at a time. Again use your trailing hand to control the rate of movement and to tell them when to stop.
Just as when turning while moving sideways is not the same as turning while moving forward, the same is true for stopping. Pulling back on horses that are not moving forward will not stop the lateral movement and will likely make them move to the side and back. Just focus on one hand to stop lateral movement. This also important to remember when you are training a green horse and getting lateral movement that wasn’t asked for. Stop the horse that is spinning around with the opposite hand. With a nice clean stop remember to release as the horse or horses except the command.
Now for a little subtlety. as I said earlier, horses tend to go forward or back. Some of the best horses still have this instinct every time they move over, You just can’t see it because the teamster is compensating for it in their hands and voice. for a horse in training it will need to be a little more obvious. How do you compensate for this desire to move forward or back. I create barriers that only give them the right choice as the best option. A step backward will find a “kiss” to move them ahead. leaning or stepping forward is all controlled in the hands, just raising and dropping the pressure to hold the forward motion in check, all the while give pulses, a little with one hand, a little with the other to let them know where you want them to go.
This is a challenging skill that takes practice. I never realized I wasn’t teaching it well (to beginning teamsters – not the horses) until I built my manure spreader shed and saw how difficult it was to back into, and important. Good backing requires good control of moving sideways. Good luckAugust 12, 2013 at 6:03 am #80714Billy FosterParticipant
I have noticed the turns go smoother if the horse that is better at this is on the inside. For example if I am mowing I will put the better horse on the right. Just an observation. BillyAugust 12, 2013 at 7:50 am #80715Hopewell FarmParticipant
Similar to you, I only use gee and haw for turns that require little to no forward movement. I have had good luck training young horses (all of 3 horses at this point in my young career) with starting them single in shafts (helps to limit their desire to bend during completion of the turn, i.e. not side stepping) and a boundary in front of them to limit forward movement. How you use the lines to communicate these turning movements is critical as you indicate above. I have struggled with enough pressure to “hold” them from moving forward but not so much that they are cued to stop. This is where the boundary in front of them has helped both of us. I feel that I can better regulate line pressure and give them direction to move, just not forward.
I do like my horses to work off voice commands, so while I can get my horses to gee and haw using just line pressure at this point. I do like them to also gee and haw by voice as well, this has worked well for me when hooking to logs in the woods.
JohnAugust 12, 2013 at 11:10 am #80723
Mowing is a good place to thing about which horse to put where. You certainly what a horse that will move over easily on the right. You also need a good forward horse (a leader) on the right as the mower seat is not perfectly centered and this holds that horse back slightly.
It seems some of the logging horses move over in the woods with a little more voice command and less hands on the lines. It may not be quite as precise, but it is just more efficient for the logger that is doing two things at once to just ask them to “move over”. I did work with a friend out in Montana once who always said “move over”; didn’t matter who, how much, or which way, some how his horses figured that out for them selves.August 12, 2013 at 3:42 pm #80739Carl RussellModerator
It is important to remember that we down want the horse to bend when turning. I like the exercise with a single of creating a rectangle out of my shoulders parallel to the bit, and reins as the long sides. Keeping the rectangle perfectly square, I step to the left or right to turn them the opposite way.
When in a team even when virtually stepping sideways I like to allow the inside horse to step ahead slightly, allowing them to cross over by stepping one foot in front of the stationary one.
I use reins almost exclusively. I think of turning, more as holding the horse back, rather than pulling them over. I only use voice to enhance the command if I need more sideways action, but I am more inclined to say easy than gee or haw. Especially in the woods I want to have precise control when turning. I have seen a lot of horses told to turn, and them allowed to turn with basically very little guidance. I have found that to create unnecessary anxiety.
I recently was going over this very same issue with an intern here. The hardest part in describing this is that it takes hundreds of turns to develop the sensitivity to these things. Horses will turn, and they will step over, but finding the way to guide them so that they can continue to apply power, or so that the maneuver is comfortable, takes the creation of an image in your mind of what you want to accomplish, and then it takes a lot of practice to accomplish the consistent communication to get the desired result.
As I was trying to explain this to John, I used a phrase that rang true to me…. And I intend to repeat it often. “The objective is not to get logs to the landing, it is to have responsive horses”. I don’t just get them around to hook up, I turn them the way I want them to turn, and if that means stopping and going back to do it over that is what I do.
To illustrate, the other day I was cutting wood in my wood lot, on a very steep slope. I drove my horses up to where the trees were cut, and turned them around on a small plateau that was the remnant of a blown over tree. It gave me only just enough room to step them over a few steps, back, then repeat until in position. Remember my off horse is blind, and on that slope I want perfect response for safety, and comfort, otherwise I’m just asking for a fiasco.
When I turn my horses I barely change pressure on either side, but a slight increase on the inside is immediately compensated with corresponding pressure to hold back to the control the rate. My friend Dave was there that day, and as in that situation I did reiterate the verbal commands, he said it appears although I am using voice entirely because by movements are imperceptible. But as I wrote before, it really is all in the lines.
Pressure and release. Intent and reward. Recognize the slightest tries. The horse learns on the release. Same old saw….
When in the field, or turning under way, I expect the inside horse to step ahead slightly to lead around, getting the straight forward muscle action.
CarlAugust 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm #80740
Carl, You are right- it takes practice. That is what makes the skill of being a teamster so fun and rewarding. When you finally get to that place in the woods, and you know that your hands and your horses can thread the needle.August 13, 2013 at 11:54 am #80742Hopewell FarmParticipant
Your rectangle analogy is one of your many ideas that I remember from our first meeting. I use this more when driving with both lines in one hand, which I realize isn’t exactly a rectangle but if I’m holding a single tree or chain in the other hand I can indicate a turn as needed by moving my body and there by changing the angle of the bit in the horses mouth as you describe above without having to adjust the lines. I use this approach along with gee or haw when hooking to logs in the woods.August 21, 2013 at 5:07 am #80854JayChaseParticipant
Thank you all for such an informative thread that makes me reflect on my own practice!
JayAugust 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm #80856Does’ LeapParticipant
From Carl…..“When in the field, or turning under way, I expect the inside horse to step ahead slightly to lead around, getting the straight forward muscle action.”
Having the inside horse step ahead some also gets both horses evenly on the bit. I have been raking hay with one of my less polished horses turning haw and the end of each windrow to double them up. She (the near horse in this case) has a tendency to back off the bit some and then meet it when I ask her to step forward. My challenge has been to provide enough pressure to turn her while keeping her slightly forward and on the bit while she is on the inside. She has been making steady progress.
I find learning opportunities such as this – and countless others – make working horses so challenging, enjoyable and rewarding.
GeorgeJuly 29, 2014 at 11:36 pm #83826J-LParticipant
In my mowing teams I prefer my outside horse to be able to help turn. Even hustle around the corner. He’s having to travel further after all.
Having a team that is handy and snappy on corners is a big deal in my smaller meadows.
Having the right horses or mules on the outside of the turns is amplified when more animals are strung abreast.
Donn puts it well relating how both lines are important in making good turns. Coming from a riding horse background, I like to start a turn with forward movement (however slight) and check it back then signal direction, until they’re broke solid. This helps keep their feet moving and crossing over without tangling them up.
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