Draft Horses Breaking
Draft Horses Breaking a horse-breaker of the incredibly old school once observed to me, 1 There are no bad horses; bad men make ’em. ‘ And although almost every variety of disposition and temper is met with in a large stud, there are few horses, and still fewer colts, naturally vicious, or ill-disposed to submit to control.
The education of young horses is too often entrusted to men devoid of sufficient acumen to estimate character, and who are deficient in that patient resolution so essential for the proper management of a colt. Intelligence is not by any means equally distributed amongst horses; some are terribly slow learners, whilst others appear to grasp at once what is required of them; yet ignorant men usually adopt the same means for the governance of the high-courage percipient colt as for the dull lethargic dunce.
Youth is the age of receptivity. Before the character is formed and habits are acquired, the foal should be handled daily about the head, legs, and feet, and taught to obey the voice of his attendant in all the minute details surrounding his early existence. He will appreciate a caress and the gift of a few grains of corn from his master’s hand, and quickly learn to look on them as rewards for docility or obedience.
Before being weaned he should be made to wear a head-collar, so fitted as to cause as little annoyance as possible, and so con- structed that there will be no danger of its catching projections of fencing, nor afford room for the entanglement of the feet in the nose or throat bands. The foal should be led about, taught to stop and move in obedience to the voice, and be tied up whilst eating his daily ration of artificial food. By these means he will be so imperceptibly accustomed to restraint that the loss of liberty will scarcely be felt.
From the period of this early subjection to control to the time the colt is yoked for work, no opportunity should be lost for periodically submitting him to restraint. He will never entirely forget his first lessons when they have been properly given; at the same time, he will benefit by being periodically reminded of them by repetition.
When the above precautions have been neglected, and the colt remains in a half-wild condition until the time has almost arrived for him to be put to work, the process of haltering should be undertaken with very great patience and care. Every word or gesture having the least tendency to frighten him, or to create a suspicion of ill-treatment, is to be avoided, and every inducement offered whereby a feeling of confidence in his attendant may be established.
It is a good practice to allow two or three-year-old colts to run in a large straw-yard or field, with the shanks of their halters hanging loose, before they are subjected to further restraint, taking care that the head-stalls (which should be leather) are properly adjusted, and that the hempen shanks are securely twisted into a coil during the night.
When the colt has been led about by the halter, taught to obey commands, and become familiar with the sight of and proximity to implements, carts, etc., he may be tied up to be fed alongside an older horse. He should be left so restrained for some little time after completion of the meal.
It is very necessary to tie up colts very securely, and to be assured that the halter and place of attachment are sufficiently firm to prevent any attempt at breaking loose proving successful.
When restraint has been broken, it is almost certain to be re-attempted, and a dangerous habit liable to become confirmed.
When the head and neck hold perfect relations to each other there is no difficulty in making the colt a ‘ good mouth f ‘ bad mouths ‘ are most frequently the result of improper violence on the part of the breaker or are due to unevenly adjusted bearing reins. It is good practice to put on a moderate-sized, jointless, smooth snaffle, regulated to hang near the site of the tush, and attach the reins evenly, but not tightly, to a surcingle, and allow the colt thus equipped to run loose two or three hours twice a day.
After the colt has become sufficiently accustomed to this species of control, an hour or two for a few days will be profitably spent in using him to harness; it is especially desirable to let him feel some pressure of the collar, and to become familiar with the rattling of chains.
To animals that have lived in open fields the confinement of a stable is at first irksome, and colts should not be subjected thereto until they have commenced to do a certain amount of work.
If the demand for teamwork will allow delay far enough into the spring, it is better for the newly broken colt, when his work is completed, to be pastured at night with his companions in labor; the daily meals to be partaken in the stable with his associates will gradually and pleasurably accustom him to the change.
It is a universal custom on light-land farms to work a colt when two years old, and at three-years-old off he constitutes one of an ordinary team. On stronger soils the commencement of labor is sometimes postponed for six or twelve months longer.
The labor of young horses should be in proportion to their physical strength, and it should not, as is frequently the case, be governed by the existing demands for their services. It is a mistake to over-work them; and undue call upon them and the debility of youth react disadvantageously, tending to provoke a disposition to vice.
When put to work for the first time, no coercion should be employed to make the colt draw; yoked with a team of steady old horses, and led for a short time, he will soon take to the collar voluntarily.
I am an advocate for accustoming a colt to shaft-work before he is turned to grass, after his first half season of labor, and recommend that after completion of a day’s work in the field he should be yoked to an empty cart and required to take it home in the immediate rear of his team companions.
Where breeding can be associated with the ordinary operations of farming, the number of horses should always be maintained in excess of the requirements, the fillies retained, and the geldings sold off at such seasons as they can be most conveniently spared.
See Next: The Selection of Horses for Draught Purposes