Wagonteamster Book Order Click Here

Available Now!


The Wagonteamster Channel has it’s first video production - Journey To the Valley Of the Wild Horses


Please Sign my Guestbook

Please Read my Guestbook


6-17-09 004_edited-1-2
Ruben & Royal Start Training


1/31/13, Blair, NE - While working here in Nebraska, I have a wonderful way of taking up some of my spare time.  My good friends Taunia and Don Kurtti have a nice set of twin, 4 year old Shire draft horses. These brothers (born only minutes apart) have been broken to lead and have good barn manners, but have not yet had any serious training.  Like most draft horses, they are level headed and easy to work with. I thought it would be fun to break them to drive and ride while I’m here.  I also thought it might be fun for my readers to see what it takes to break a team to drive.


Ruben was handy, so I started with him.  I like to use a round pen to start a horse off. It’s easy on the horse, easy on the trainer and provides some rather startling results.

If you want to learn more about this type of training, I recommend the book “Training Work Horses, Training Teamsters” by Lynn Miller (available at www.smallfarmersjournal.com ).  I’ve also written about this training technique in the story “Cowgirl Up” and in my online book “Guide to Modern Wagon Travel”, available on the “Stores” page.


Ruben’s training started with me running him around the round pen. This simulates a dominant horse chasing away a subordinate horse, but the round pen doesn’t allow the horse to get away or hide. After about 30 minutes of this, Ruben was ready to ‘Join-Up” and recognize me as the dominant ‘horse’.  I knew this because three things occurred: 1) His eyes stared following me instead of looking for a way to escape.  2)  He licked his lips - In horse talk this means that he’s thinking about the situation and realizes I’m a dominant horse. 3) Finally, he turned in and walked up to me with a submissive posture.


To move the horse around the pen, the trainer has to take a position slightly off the horse’s hindquarters and start pushing him forward by moving closer, using hand gestures and occasionally tapping him on the butt.  The driving whip is used only to extend the reach of the trainer’s hand. When you first start moving a horse, it’s not unusual for the horse to throw a half hearted kick in the trainer’s direction - this is where the whip comes in handy to keep you out of range.

After a couple of revolutions, I step towards the front of the horse and raise the opposite hand.  As the horse comes to the stop I say “whoa”.  Then, I start him in the opposite direction using my hand signals and touch from the whip if necessary. As he starts to move the other direction, I say. “Get Up”.

It took Ruben about 30 minutes to join-up. As I go through his brother Royal’s session, I’ll explain further.


Royal was the more tractable of the two horses.  After 10 or 15 minutes, he accepted his subordinate position in the herd and was ready to join-up.


In this picture, Royal is ready to join up.  He met my three criteria and is about ready to walk up to me. After he does that, I test him by asking him to follow along side me as I walk around the pen. I frequently say ‘Whoa’, at which time he should stop. After he comes to a halt, I do as well. Then I say “get up” and he should start moving and follow me as I walk around the pen.

After a couple of minutes, I say ‘whoa’ and he should stand still while I walk over for a lead rope. Then I clip it to his halter, say ‘whoa’ again, then I walk around him.  He should stay absolutely still as I ‘look him over’.


As his new lead horse, Royal dutifully follows me around the pen.  (This is after only 15 minutes with no previous training!)


After clipping on a lead rope, I walk around Royal and ‘look him over’.  He stood completely still until I returned to his head.


Then, as I ended the short lesson on a good note, Royal faithfully follows my ‘slack’ lead as I lead him back to the barn.

This is the first lesson in training the horses. Because horses are a lot like kids, I’ll have to repeat a shorter version of this lesson the next time I take him out.  But, I’ll then add a couple of twists to bring him along a little further.

Stay tuned for the next Royal and Ruben lesson.


All Photos by Taunia Kurtti.