Odd bods in a team!
We are often asked if horses that work together need to be of the same size, the simple answer to that is no, size is not important! But the dynamics do matter and lots of other attributes have to be taken into consideration, when your team gets bigger putting the different horses in the right place becomes
even more complicated!
We often work oddly sized teams together, largely because all of our horses are odd ball shapes and sizes, colours and breeds. We would think nothing of hitching together a 13hh pony with a 18hh horse. If they get along with each other they should (in theory) work fine together. They usually naturally match their paces and get on with their work as a team. They are hitched together using a double tree at the back, which means that both of the horses are pulling an equal weight. Though you will start to notice the more intelligent amongst them (Mares…) will soon figure out this design, and allow the other horse to begin moving the load before coming in to help.
When they are reined together in a pair, the driver is holding one set of reins, with each horse carrying either the left hand set of lines, or the right hand set of lines. The reins begin as a single line, but split into a “Y” shape near the horses collar, so the rein attaches to the left hand side of each of the horses bits, and vice versa (hope your following!). If the horses are of different heights you have to be careful that the reins cross over with the taller horses set on top, so that they aren’t pulled into an awkward position, which they would often blame their work mate for, rather than the person responsible!
When you are working a larger team, people often wonder how you can get them to stop… but the real issue usually is getting them to move. Larger working groups become so self confident that they often are not in the least bit concerned about where you are or that you are asking them to move, loudly. This means that you need to have your faster horses in the front of the team, and the slower horses in the rear. So when you ask them to go, they are more likely too, and that the rear team won’t be treading on the heels of the front team.
The formation we use the most is a team of 6 put together as 2 teams of 3, which is more powerful and stable then a team of 6 in hand, which is 3 pairs in a row. Making it more suitable for the type of work they do in the fields. There are a huge variety of combinations available
when hitching this team together. Different combinations of horses will give you very different results.
Your centre front horse controls the speed and direction of the entire enterprise so they need to be quick but very reliable. This is not always necessarily a job for the horse we expect, our little mare Daisy who is usually up for anything at a quick pace, and happy to pull her heart out, will do absolutely nothing, and pretend she can’t hear you, if she is the front middle horse.
We work with Mares and stallions mostly, but do have a gelding. Testosterone can be a very useful thing when there is heavy work to be done, and the stallions will retain muscle with much less work than a gelding would. Mares, if they like you, are the most intelligent and helpful workmates, if a little opinionated. Thats not to say that geldings don’t have a place on the farm but they tend not to have the same gumption in a problem situation as the others (though of course there are plenty of exceptions to this rule).
Gender is another important
consideration when figuring out where to put your horses in the team, obviously you don’t want a stallion following an in season mare! Our stallions are kept in the most natural way we can, usually in bachelor herds, out of sight of the mares, and get along once they have decided who falls where in the pecking order. This allows them to form natural bonds, and friendships, and gives them their freedom. Which produces a much more mentally balanced animal than the traditional method of essentially keeping them in solitary confinement. His social interactions are much more varied than those who only get to see other horses for breeding, he might be going in for breeding, or to do a job, or to meet new workmates, which helps prevent him making assumptions and everyone getting tangled in everyone else’s harness. They will also at some times be kept with pregnant mares, which teaches them bedside manner and respect for the mares, as most pregnant mares will not stand for ANY mischief!!
We also have a very strict etiquette for them, no funny business when you are wearing your working clothes (harness), and you always lead a mare toward a stallion, rather than a stallion towards a mare. Our stallions are usually hitched anywhere in the front team, in between and next to both mares and geldings. Mares in season can be more difficult to place in the team, as their mood, and friendships can change dramatically with their hormones.
Friendship is another important factor in
where the horses are placed in the team, you don’t want 2 horses having an argument when you have to climb into the middle of a team because a rein is caught or someone has stepped out of their traces. They are working in very close company with the other horses in the team, and they don’t want to spend time with someone they don’t like. Tempers can frey very quickly if they feel one of the others is not doing the job well! Opal out little chubby white mare will stand for no slacking, and no fidgeting in the ranks, so is useful to hitch next to more inexperienced animals. She can correct them in a way they understand much more quickly and effectively than we can. Inexperienced horses are usually hitched on to the outside of the team, on the opposite side to which you want to turn, so they don’t feel crowded by the other horses, or the equipment when making turns.
WIth activities like ploughing, rolling and chain harrowing you are usually only going to turn in one direction, until the whole job is complete. This can be a great learning experience for younger horses, as this type of team work is usually used for steady, long jobs. The confidence of the herd can also rub off on them, if no one else is worried about the fact they are being followed by a 4ton roller why should
The set up of our big teams means that all the horses are pulling the same amount of weight, we use a system of Amish rope pulley eveners, which keeps the weight distributed evenly between the front horse and the one behind it, rather than having another set of swingletrees for the front team of horses.
The evener hitch the traces of the front horse onto the swingletree of the rear horse, and can pulley backwards and forwards as the distance between the 2 horses changes.The rear team are hitched onto the other end of the rope pulley to distribute the weight between them. (see pictures! It still confuses me from time to time!) Reigning up probably requires a separate article (or articles) and series of diagrams, but the most important thing you need to know is the more horses in the team, the heavier the reins become, a 6 in hand with 3 sets of reins, one of which is over 20ft long is a real workout for the upper body!!
If you fancy a challenge of your horsemanship
skills why not come and try your hand at driving some different formations? We offer private and group tuition on our farm and are more than happy to show you the ropes (literally). Follow us on istagram @hitchinfarm, or on facebook @Hitch In Farm Working
Horses, for all our upcoming events!