Carl Russell is an accomplished teamster, farmer, forester, and “founding father” of Animal Powered Field Days and DAPnet. Carl has been logging and farming with horses since 1986 and is the co-owner/operator of Earthwise Farm and Forest which produces certified organic garlic, potatoes, raw milk, flowers, herbs, perennials, poultry, eggs and pork. For nearly three decades Russell has used draft animals to harvest saw logs and firewood on his 125 acre woodlot while utilizing forest management principals which maintain ecological integrity.
In 2007 Carl and Lisa McCrory founded the Northeast Animal Powered Field days as a way to promote draft animal power in the region. This effort ultimately led to the creation of the Draft Animal Power Network or DAPnet. After his efforts in promoting several field days and managing the forum, Russell helped to create a Board of Directors for DAPnet in 2011 and now limits his participation to presenting in various workshops including the Draft Animal Powered Field Days in 2013 as well as other DAPnet events.
Carl’s recent efforts in promoting effective use of draft animals have been focused on the creation of a Draftwood program in the Northeast. The program will utilize certified Biolgical Woodsmen that can deliver legitimate forestry services through harvesting, providing investment in ecosystem services, biological productivity, timber-stand improvement, low site-disturbance, and craftsmanship. During the spring of 2014, Carl will convene a one-day Draft Animals in Forestry Summit to discuss what is needed in order to establish a workable Draftwood model. This will be followed by a Northeast Biological Woodsman’s week in the fall. This event will be an opportunity for regional operators to work together on a legitimate forest improvement operation where they can reinforce their shared professional and social connections, and test, through use, the model and standards that will be established during the Spring summit.
In addition to his efforts in promoting draft power, Carl is an innovator in selecting appropriate tools which maximize horses’ effectiveness in different working situations. While most horse loggers use a logging arch, Carl has been a big proponent of the bobsled and scoot as effective logging tools for horses, particularly for moving logs over long distances and minimizing draft. Through various workshops at DAPnet and Animal Powered Field Days events, Carl has passed on what might well have been the dying art of using bobsled. He has often been quoted as saying “it’s not about skidding logs with horses, it’s about working horses in the woods.” Carl has also contributed to many discussions on these topics including posting videos of his work. Here is a video of Carl loading a bobsled:
Here is another link to a video of Carl using a Barden logging cart with his blind mare:
Here are some of Carl’s thoughts on working horses:
What separates someone who drives horses from the truly accomplished teamster?
Other than time and experience, it comes down to perspective. I think a driver is someone who believes that horses somehow are gifted with knowledge about what they are supposed to do, and just go along for the ride. Being able to understand specifically what is expected of horse, and therefore also of the human, in order to accomplish the desired task, is fundamental to creating clear communication. An accomplished teamster sees what the horse is supposed to do next, and knows how to communicate it clearly. Once understood it is an ever advancing goal, never quite attainable. I think another purely physical difference is the preparation and reaction time between impetus and reward when performing a task; a thin crisp line versus a smudge.
What advice do you have for novice and aspiring teamsters?
It takes five years to become proficient. It takes ten years to become fluent. Be prepared to earn your knowledge, either by paying for teaching, or by working through the learning. Find somebody to work with, and disregard the leather until you know the work.
What are some major tenets in your work with horses?
Never trust a horse, be the trustworthy one. There is no such thing as sort of patient. Patience is nothing without persistence. If you’re in a hurry you should have started 2 weeks earlier. It takes a lot of work to work a horse. If you want to drive a horse across bridge, drive him, don’t lead him. Always stop a horse before they show signs of stopping on their own. A working horse is a walking horse. Pressure and release, impetus and reward, recognize the slightest tries. Respect and dignity are not validated when investing the horse with human-like thoughts and understanding.