Treating Leg Mange: Advice from Doc Hammill DVM

Bethany Caskey

Scratches and leg mange are characterized by very similar symptoms in equines but the causative agents and treatment of the two conditions are very different.

Scratches, also known as greasy heel, dermatitis, dew poisoning, mud foot or verucossa, can be caused by less than sanitary conditions and a resulting infection caused by bacteria, fungi, or virus. “Scratches” is characterized by slowly enlarging redness, crusts (scabs), and open sores on the back of the heels, pasterns and fetlocks. Unchecked this condition may spread even further up. The sores are painful and can cause lameness. Along with scabbing, you might find hair loss or areas of blood, fluid or puss. Most commonly the affected area is observed on the hind legs. Treatment usually consists of antimicrobial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory agents.

equine mange mite

Leg mange, also known as Chorioptic mange, foot mange, or heel mange is caused by a small insect called a mite. Chorioptes equi is the most common type infecting horses. These microscopic mites have eight legs and are closely related to spiders. Scab like lesions will be observed below the knees and hocks on the lower limbs with crusts and sores on the thickened skin. The wounds are caused by the mites puncturing the skin to induce fluid they can then feed upon. The mite’s feeding causes intense itching and affected horses will stamp their feet, chew their legs and rub their legs together in attempts to alleviate the itching. In long standing cases the skin often becomes severely thickened with deep creases, and permanent damage can occur. These mites do not transmit to or infest humans or other species and are exclusive to the equine family. There is a higher incidence of leg mange and scratches in the draft horse breeds, especially those with thick feathers such as Shires, Clydesdales and Brabants.

It is important to attempt to determine whether you are treating scratches, leg mange or both. The symptoms can be very similar and the two can exist concurrently. This is because once the skin is damaged by the mites it easily becomes infected by the opportunistic bacteria, fungi, viruses commonly found in scratches. If mites are present and traditional antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory treatments for scratches are used without treating with an insecticide, the mites will not eliminated and the process will start over. In the experience of Doc Hammill, DVM, it is common to treat draft horses for what is thought to be scratches without being aware that the underlying cause is leg mites. A microscopic exam of scrapings from the lesions is the diagnostic test used to confirm the presence of the mites. However, it is not uncommon for even multiple skin scrapings to come up negative, when in fact mites are present and causing the problem.    

Contrary to common recommendations, Doc Hammill advises not clipping the hair on the affected legs. His experience has shown clipping or shaving can make the skin problems worsen whether they are from scratches or leg mange.


In his 1886 book, Magner’s Standard Horse and Stock Book, the legendary horseman, Dennis Magner, states: “Clipping the hair from off the legs is regarded as a very serious cause of scratches, as it leaves the skin so bare that it cannot readily resist the effects of irritants of any kind as when protected by its natural covering; but the most common cause is the habit of washing the legs with cold water, and not drying them thoroughly afterward.  The sebaceous glands in the hollow of the pasterns become inflamed, their secretion is increased, the skin cracks, and discharges an ichorous matter.”


Doc first completely cured a case of leg mites in one of his own horses in the 1970s by experimenting with a powerful dose of an insecticide for mange in hogs that was later banned. So for years he was limited to the use less effective leg mange treatments and mineral oil in his practice and with his Clydesdale horses. Unfortunately, mineral oil and many other treatments typically only reduce mite populations and alleviate symptoms temporarily rather than eliminating the mites completely.

Injectable ivermectin is no longer licensed for use in horses due to some problems with infections at the injection site. However, many veterinarians have found injectable ivermectin products for cattle (such as Dectomaz) to be reasonably safe and very effective when used in horses, IF: (1) injected into the muscles of the thigh, (2) the injection site is surgically prepared, (3) absolutely sterile injection technique is used. Consequently, Doc Hammill recommends having a veterinarian administer the ivermectin injections. It is imperative that the hair be shaved off of the site and that the area is surgically scrubbed and disinfected before injecting. A new sterile needle must be used for each injection and it should touch nothing except the freshly sterilized stopper on the ivermectin bottle prior to the injection. Sterility is of utmost importance to prevent potentially dangerous infections. Many veterinarians will not administer ivermectin to horses by intramuscular injection since it is not licensed for use in equines. If you find one who is willing to inject your horse(s) with ivermectin they will likely require you to sign a liability release first.    

Thanks to the advent of ivermectin we now have the potential to eliminate Chorioptic mites completely and cure long standing and severe leg mange with a very specific treatment regime. In Doc’s experience ivermectin administered orally or topically will affect mite populations, but the results are often transitory. On the other hand, the cure rate is excellent when ivermectin is administered by intramuscular injection, and even better when accompanied by topical treatment with a specific flea and tick spray, and followed by rubbing mineral oil into affected leg areas between the series of injections.

Since treatment does not destroy mite eggs the ivermectin dosage must be repeated every two to three weeks, to not only kill the adult mites present initially, but to also kill the newly hatched mites before they can lay more eggs and re-infest the host. The timing is critical. Doc Hammill recommends a minimum of three treatments. The first treatment is to kill the existing adults, the second to kill the newly hatched and the third to eliminate any late hatching survivors.

For long standing, severe cases or cases resistant to treatment Doc includes a topical insecticide for dogs and cats called fipronil which is marketed as Frontline Flea Spray. Doc shies away from using insecticides in general, but spraying the legs once on the day of the ivermectin injection and once a day for two more days has helped cure some tough cases. Wear rubber gloves to rub the product into the hair and skin thoroughly. Whether you use the spray or not Doc recommends treating the legs with mineral oil between injections and for a few weeks afterwards.

If you are reluctant to use the injectable ivermectin regime your veterinarian might be willing to prepare a topical ivermectin, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory ointment for you. Wear rubber gloves and thoroughly rub the mixture into the affected skin areas 2 to 3 days in a row at intervals of two to three weeks. Treating the legs with mineral oil between ointment treatments will improve success. However, Doc warns that the results are often temporary except in some early and mild cases.

Applying mineral oil

Mineral oil is easily found and purchased from most general merchandise stores. To purchase gallons or larger quantities, the horse owner can obtain supplies from a veterinarian or a bulk oil distributor. Application is simple. Rub the oil into the affected skin areas of the leg twice a week initially and then once a week or every other week for maintenance after the lesions are healed and the itching gone. Plan a regular schedule and massage the oil thoroughly into the affected skin areas. A handy way to dispense the oil is to fill a plastic liquid dish soap bottle with oil and use it to squirt the oil onto the leg and rub it in. When the oil begins to soften the crusts and scabs, gently rub and pull them from the hair each time you treat the area. Accumulation of dirt on the hair can occur with the application of the oil but does not seem to be problematic. The oil seems instead to provide a necessary barrier for the skin against future dirt and moisture.

The key to success is to treat each leg thoroughly and regularly. There is no need to pick up the horse’s feet during treatment. Horses unwilling to have their legs massaged in this manner need to have some daily grooming and desensitizing by grooming further down the legs each day until they are comfortable with your hands on their legs and feet. If the horse is really difficult, you can loop a rope around the upper leg and rub it back and forth around the leg, gradually working up and down the leg until they can accept the touch. Switch to using your hands only after the horse is non-reactive to the rope.

The supposition is that the oil suffocates the mites by plugging their breathing holes. The oil is beneficial to the skin of the horse regardless if suffocation is the effect on the mites. Doc wipes the excess oil from his hands after a treatment onto the horse’s mane and tail to make them shiny and soft as well.

It is extremely important in the treatment of leg mange to treat all of the horses that have contact with one another, and to treat them on the same schedule. It’s also a good practice to check any new horses for symptoms before they come on to your property. A horse does not need to have visible symptoms to be carrying the mites and passing them on to other horses. Close contact between individuals is the most proven way of contamination. There are some claims that mites can live in the horse’s bedding for several months but those claims have not been proven. To be safe, removing bedding from the area is never a bad notion. Power spray the stalls a couple times during the treatment process if possible.  You can also clean the stalls and then let them stand for two to three months without horses in them to out wait any mites.

In summary, there are potential sources of bacterial and fungal infections everywhere. Scratches can appear as a single condition or be the result of a condition created by leg mites. Keep barns, corrals and legs as reasonably clean and dry as practical and use mineral oil as a grooming habit. Disinfecting grooming equipment with bleach and water occasionally can also help prevent the spread of unwanted skin conditions. 

Originally published in Rural Heritage, Spring ’08

Using Gee and Haw

By Bethany Caskey

Let’s start with a quick quiz. Read the following and pick out the errors:

A driver and his team are traveling down the lane with a wagon. As they near a left handed curve the driver shouts “GEE!” in a loud voice. The team picks up speed and trots around the curve.

You probably picked up on the first error immediately. A left hand turn would mean the driver should use “Haw” as the verbal signal. Secondly, a soft voice is more effective in cueing horses than a shout, which would indicate the driver’s tension or haste.

But did you know?

Traditionally and technically, the verbal “gee and haw” commands should be used only when the horse or horses are required to make a turn from a standstill? 

On the farm the driver’s hands are often needed to operate the machinery and it is necessary to rely, at times, on one line attached to the near horse and on verbal commands, to drive his team. Since the driver must rely in part at least upon spoken words to convey his directions, at least the near horse must be taught the extra signals and commands, such as “gee” and “haw.”

The working horse should be taught a few words and each should stand for a definite action. It is especially valuable when horses pass from one owner or driver to another if the standard vocabulary is taught to each horse.

There are six standard words of general use:

“Whoa” means to stop and stand still.

“Get up” means to move forward.

“Back” means to move backward.

“Steady” means to give attention to the work at hand and slow down.

“Haw” means to turn to the left.

“Gee” means to turn to the right.

For the purpose of this article, we are concentrating on the “Haw” and “Gee” commands and how to teach them to our horses.

Some call it “swinging,” or in different parts of the country, “fanning” to the left or right when asking for a turn that goes to the side without going forward. When gee and haw are used exclusively for that type of turn, it warns the horse that the only direction required of them is to the side, not forward or back.

Gee means “go right” and Haw means “go left” and many teamsters rely on the use of these verbal commands.

For example: While your team or horse is stopped and on a slack line, the left line will need the slack taken up. The horses should be thinking about moving forward and to the left. You say “Haw” in an audible tone and continue with the amount of pressure you need to swing the horses to the left with the left line and at the same time restrict any forward movement with steady pressure on the right or supporting line.

The use of the “outside” or supporting rein is one of the most important tools of the driver. When a horse is ridden, the rider puts the horse ‘on the outside rein’ using their weight, inside leg, outside leg, outside rein and possibly, a whip. When driving, although lacking many of the same aids, the driver can accomplish the same goal. If the horse is properly cued by the inside rein, the supporting rein will control speed, arc of the bend, lateral movement and more.

Any horse hitched to a vehicle or a load will move his body differently than he does when at liberty or when being ridden. A horse has to learn to keep his body straight while going around a tight corner in shafts. The horse will have to not only keep his body straight, but will have to scissor his feet laterally as he moves around the turn. The horse is most comfortable making a tight corner turn in shafts with his head and neck straight out in front of his body and letting his feet make the scissoring movements into the turn. If the horse bends his head too far around the corner, his opposite hip will push into the shafts causing the horse to stagger around the turn instead of stepping around.

The movement performed by the horse is partially what would be known in western riding as a “side pass” or a “full pass” in English riding. A true side pass (all four feet moving to the left or right with the long axis of the body remaining parallel to where it started) cannot be done when hitched but is possible in harness if the horse(s) are not hitched to anything. “Fanning” or “swinging” to one side would mean the front legs travel farther sideways than the rear legs and the long axis of the body changes.

The driver needs to handle the lines so that the horse can keep his body straight and centered in the shafts. Instead of only pulling on the inside turn line, the driver needs to know how to keep tension on the opposite or supporting line, to control the turn of the head and neck. Many times, the driver will initiate the turn with the inside line and then uses the opposing or supporting line to keep the head and neck in front of the body as the horse completes the turn. The same method works for a single horse or a team.

Teaching or training can begin long before the horse is old enough to actually be hitched and driven. Conditioning the young horse to a verbal command will aid in the performance of that command once in harness. In the horse and driver relationship, the horse’s ability to understand the request of the driver is limited by the driver’s ability to provide proper cues and the horse’s ability to physically perform the request. In developing the relationship, it helps to use as many naturally logical aids as are possible.

Here are some exercises to teach your horse the proper way to “Gee” and “Haw” regardless of their age.

Put yourself in the safer area to avoid being flattened or struck in case of problems.

From the ground, with a halter broke horse and a driving whip or stick in hand, take your horse to a good solid wall or fence. Not a barbed wire or electric fence, but a sturdy board or paneled fence, or a building wall. Using the solid object in front of the horse makes it easier for the horse to understand your requests.

Start on the left or right side, it does not matter which, but realize wherever you start you must repeat the exercise on the opposite side. Your horse should be at a right angle to and about one foot from the wall. Do not stand in front of the horse. Face the shoulder of the horse in the area that will keep you from getting run over or struck if the horse should move forward too suddenly.

Take the halter rope in your hand. The left hand if you are on the left side, the right hand if you are on the right side. Grasp the rope close to the snap, about six to eight inches from the horse’s mouth. You can also do this exercise with a snaffle bridle. Your hand should be like a fist with the thumb up. This may seem like a minor detail, but the angle here gives added strength. Your other hand will be holding your whip.

Horses are excellent at remembering patterns, so keep the same cues and systematic routine for each move you ask of the horse. Remember to say the horse’s name first. This is to wake them up and let them know you will be asking for their full attention in a moment.

Pull back on your lead just enough to rock the horse’s weight back over his hindquarters, but not so much as to have them step back. If you want to teach the cue for the right, use your left hand to move the horse’s neck and head over to his right (or your left) just a little as though asking for a turn. Don’t get confused here because your left and right will be a mirror image of the horse’s left and right sides. The right hand with the whip comes up against the left side of the horse’s barrel and acts like the supporting rein. The wall or fence keeps the horse from going forward. Your whip hand is blocking turning to the left. You have narrowed down the choices the horse can make. Speak the command “Gee” in the same tone and volume you use when driving. If the horse does not move, repeat the command and use the whip to gently tap the left side of the neck and barrel. If the horse steps over or even starts to lean in the direction you asked for, stop all pressure with both hands, relax and pet him. The harder time he has understanding what you are asking, the longer you should wait and pet before asking again. When you feel he is ready, start over from the beginning by asking for a weight shift back and then a step or two over. Keep repeating until you can ask for and receive a couple of steps sideways. Repeat the entire process on the other side. Before long, and the amount of time it takes will depend on you and the horse, when you give rein or rope pressure to the side and command “Gee” or “Haw” the horse will step sideways without the tapping of the whip. Try for more and more steps each time after a success.

Move this exercise out into an open field without the support of the wall or fence. See how well the horse does without the barriers. If you have problems, go back to the barrier.

You should have the horse understanding the basic left and right verbal commands now. You can enhance the power of your supporting rein with another exercise on the ground and in a halter. Loop your lead rope over the withers on the opposite side from where you are standing. You should stand now between the horse’s shoulder and his head facing him. Say his name and then state your command, either “Gee” or “Haw.” With light  pressure on the rope, use your whip in both hands to move the horse away from you. He should move his forequarters away while his back feet stay relatively still, as you walk the horse around his hindquarters for a quarter of a turn. If he does not move, bump his face and neck with the wand of the whip. Never strike the horse with the whip. If he steps backwards to avoid you, bring him back to the spot you started, rub him, place your body a step back toward his shoulders, and ask again.

Enhance the power of the supporting rein by driving your horse away from you for a turn on the hindquarters.

The time is right to transfer this movement and command to ground driving the horse. The tools you will need are a harness with turrets or a training surcingle, a snaffle bridle or a halter, driving lines and your whip or stick.

Start again with your horse parallel to the wall or fence. This time you are behind the horse with the driving lines run through the turrets and to the halter or bridle. Speak his name and ask for the little shift of weight backwards with the lines. Give your command to “Gee” or “Haw” then support that command by using light and steady pressure on the supporting rein to keep the horse from forward movement and initiate the turn with the opposite rein. The horse’s front and back legs should cross in a modified sidepass. If the hindquarters lag to much, tap the top of the rump with your stick or whip to motivate his rear. Be polite! You are not in a position where rudeness will benefit your health.

Transfer your position to behind the horse and give the same cues.

Practice these turns in both directions.

Enhance this exercise by practicing with a set of false shafts. The horse will get accustomed to the shafts or the traces touching his body and you will have a visual of how straight your “gee” and “haw” turns are.

A pair of homemade false shafts can help train your horse to make accurate turns before hitching to a cart or wagon.

Assuming you have continued the other basic training necessary for driving your horse and you are ready to hitch to a wagon or an object, making a left or right turn from a standstill will be easily understood. If you feel the horse or team still needs to practice, put the horse while hitched at a right angle to a wall or fence. Do not get too close and get your tongue or shafts stuck against your obstacle! Some teamsters will use their brakes if they have them to keep the horse(s) from backing instead of turning. Give your cues, make your turn and come around to practice the turn in the other direction.


In any group of teamsters or drivers you can usually create a long and sometimes heated discussion on whether or not to use verbal or vocal cues with a draft animal. Some will use a non-verbal but vocal cue, such as a cluck or a smooch, but never use any words other than “Whoa.” Opinions are varied and all have their staunch supporters. A book from Storey Publications, Draft Horses and Mules, covers the pros and cons in detail in the chapter on harnessing and driving.

Horsemen who tend to work their horses with heavy use of voice commands, such as loggers, often use verbal gee and haw commands in combination with forward motion to minimize the need to use lines.

Most of the teamsters interviewed, use the lines as well as vocal commands for their horses. It becomes a double system with less chance of misunderstanding by the horses.

Doc Hammill says: “I personally choose not to use the gee and haw commands verbally when I have forward motion as I can steer anywhere I want with the lines. Fanning can also be accomplished by communication only with the lines without the verbal commands, but I do use them for fanning because I think it makes it easier for the horses to understand what I want. When fanning I do not want forward or backward movement, just a swing to the side. The reason I choose not to use gee and haw verbally with forward motion is that I am trying to limit its meaning to only fanning to the side with no forward or backward movement. By using the verbal gee and haw commands only for this maneuver from a stop and not when I have forward motion, it seems the horses are less apt to try to go forward rather than (or in addition to) swinging to the side. This way this pair of verbal commands each only means one thing instead of two.”

Originally published in Rural Heritage, Holiday ’08

To Bit or not to Bit

By Bethany Caskey

Archeological evidence suggested animals were domesticated for work in this order: the ass, the ox, the camel, the water buffalo (and perhaps even the reindeer and elephant) before the horse. It appears that toward the end of the New Ice Age (11,500 years ago) humans began using horses in a new way. Previously, horses had been kept as we do cattle today; chiefly for milk, meat and hide. Horses were put to work. The only metal work at that time was copper and pure copper would have been too soft and ultimately too poisonous to be used as a bit.

While there is some anthropological evidence that horses were ridden before they were driven, the most substantial evidence of domestication and use of the horse as a driving animal are the Sintashta chariot burials in the southern Urals, (Russia) circa 2000 BC. Horses may have been driven even earlier. The Standard of Ur, in ancient Sumer, c. 2500 BC, shows horses or some type of onager (an Asiatic wild ass) or donkey hitched to solid wheeled carts with a yoke around their necks and a ring in their nose, in a manner similar to that of oxen.

The Numidians of North Africa were introduced to horse riding from Spain around 1000 BC. They rode horses without any headgear at all, only a strap around the neck and a light crop to apply directional cues.

Somewhere among the nomads of the steppes between the Black Sea and Mongolia, the first “bits” were made of twisted rawhide pieces and cheek pieces of stag horn. At least these were the first “bits” anyone has discovered. If made of natural fibers or hide, early examples of “bits” would have not survived the ages.

Bits flourished with the bronze age and European horsemen hardly rode horses at all. Transportation was dominated by the driving aristocracy. Most bits were of the snaffle types we know today.

In North America, the natives found the white faced intruders had discovered the secret of controlling the “magic dog” to carry them. Like the nomads of Asia, they had only stone and bone tools and they learned to control the horse with a loop around its lower jaw and a another thong passing back over the withers. The Indian “bridle” worked well for over a century and no real improvements were made to it.

The snaffle bit or variations thereof, has dominated the driving world up to the present time. Some of the modern clinicians start colts in a snaffle bit, but many more start the animals in a rope halter.

            “There is currently a fad for bitless bridles. They work – most proponents of natural horsemanship start colts in simple halters. But, bitless bridles are not the optimum way to communicate with the horse. Skillful fingers, delicately handling reins attached to a bit, are the most effective and humane means of communication between horse and rider.

Are the advocates of bitless bridles correct when they say that the bit is a cruel instrument? Unfortunately, many riders misuse the bit. Go watch a John Wayne movie if you want to see a coarse and inhumane use of the bit.

*Dr. Robert M. Miller “Natural Horsemanship Explained” page 135

Dr. Cook’s Crossunder bridle

Horsemen, and in particular, teamsters, are tradition minded. With all of the resurrected techniques of natural horsemanship flooding the horse world, why do teamsters seem the last to change?

If you do an internet search, you find the bitless bridles being used in combined driving over courses where speed and accuracy count. Why would teamsters, who tend to work slowly and methodically, not embrace the use of the bitless bridles?

For the most part, tradition plays a heavy hand. It is difficult, if not impossible to find a work harness with a bitless bridle. Most teamsters do not care for the look of a rope halter on their horses in harness and also want blinders. There are manufacturers of bitless bridles specifically for the driving horse that produce quality leather and biothane bridles that could replace the traditional bridles of a harness. Unless a bridle breaks, most teamsters would not replace it just to go bitless and most would replace the bridle with something easily available from the harness shops or a farm auction.

So why would a driver go bitless?

Historically, lightness with a horse is the mark of a truly superb horseperson. As a species, man has used force to get what they want from an animal. Using force and fighting methods, we loose rapport with the horse. Does force and intimidation work? Of course it does. It has worked throughout history. It is not the best way of getting along with a horse. The best method is to handle our horses in a way that they want to be with us and they want to do what we want.

When we begin with severe signals, and then lighten up later, we never develop the degree of lightness that we can get if the process is reversed. If instead, we give the minimum signals until we get a positive response from the horse, the horse will begin to anticipate the signal and respond to the slightest request. Horses learn extremely quickly and after three or four experiences, will feel the lightest signal and anticipate the request and move in the direction we desire. We allow the horse to do what we want with a minimum of fear on his part and a minimum of effort on our part.

An older or “problem” horse or mule is more challenging to train than an unbroken or untrained animal. The solution is to start over from the beginning as though they had never been driven. Most horses and mules that are labeled “hard mouthed” are not hard-mouthed, they are hard minded. They have stopped responding to and resist the bit because they have been handled too aggressively during their training or working life.

The natural horsemanship clinicians have made the new information available to everyone. The majority of people do not, or can not achieve lightness, and do not understand how it works. The power of the bit is used by most as a method of force. It is effective in soliciting compliance from most animals. It serves as a safety measure for use by the less skilled. In the hands of a skilled horseperson though, it can be used to achieve the ultimate in communication.

Nutural Driving Bridle

Driving without a bit is obviously not for everyone. There are many reasons to keep using bits from a safety viewpoint. Changing the headstall to a bitless model or a rope halter without some remedial training for the animals can also be hazardous. The next time you start a colt, or are thinking about sharpening up an older animal, please think about the aspect of the bitless bridle.  Know that there are handsomely made bridles available if you decide to change and at the very least, when you drive with a bit, drive as though you don’t need one. There are good reasons for the changes in horsemanship these days. There are good reasons why the methods are better than most traditional methods and the drivers that are still clinging to the old methods may someday be left behind.

Originally published in Rural Heritage, Holiday ’08

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Bethany A. Caskey

“There are no shortcuts,” Doug “Doc” Hammill proclaimed at the beginning of his four-day driving clinic at the Natural Gait outside of Harper’s Ferry in northeastern Iowa. “Or should I say, there are no good shortcuts.”

His white hat, collarless shirts, gentlemanly manner and matter of fact statements were all in keeping with a country horse doctor from another century. Some may also consider the subject matter of his clinics a by-gone and lost skill as well.

The students were for the most part older baby boomers from all over the upper Midwest who were getting into horses again or first time horse owners who at last could satisfy the desire they had for a horse. Each had personal reasons for wanting to learn to drive, from the romance of it, to rounding out their horse’s education, to fine-tuning the driving skills they already had. The horses they had brought to the clinic ranged from a two hundred pound miniature to two thousand pound Brabant crosses.

Doc was joined for this clinic by his stepfather, Tom Triplett, who had spent 30 years with the forest service packing mules into the wilderness and driving teams.

Doc credits the horses and the mules as his greatest teachers as well as other talented horsemen and women. “The way to develop your own horsemanship is: if it works, hang onto it. If not, move on. The horse will find the holes in any technique.”

Doc’s approach is non-violent and less forceful than many old “traditional” ways of training a horse or mule to drive. He believes in training the human. “It is up to us with our reasoning abilities to learn how they learn. Our horses should trust us and respect us, but allow us to be the leader.” Doc’s teaching is a way of learning to interact and communicate with another intelligent being and not a list of rules. Our relationship with our horse is the greatest insurance of our safety. Intimidation works only as long as our intimidation is greater than the horse’s fear of other things.

Communication is much different in a driving situation than in a riding situation. We have only two ways to communicate – our voice and our line contact. We give up our body contact with the horse when we drive. There are no leg aids and no weight shifts. Instead we need to use our voice effectively with volume, speed, tone, rhythm and inflection to communicate our desires. Doc also recommends the use of a “stick” or wand to reassure and caress the horse. We also need to learn effective communication through the lines, and Doc teaches a rhythm method of driving using pressure release alternating left and right. A mechanical “team” was on hand for the students to practice this technique before they moved on to a real team. They also took turns driving each other around so each could feel not only what the driver feels, but the communication – or lack of it – that is transmitted through the lines.

It was not until the afternoon that the student’s horses added to the teaching. One mule came into the arena, brayed and pawed, digging a hole in the sand. When her owner corrected her, she replaced the pawing behavior with a yawing movement of her lower jaw until she could return to digging a ditch in the sand. The owner took her for a walk, but once she returned to be tied, the mule returned to her displaced behavior. Tom Triplet came over and commented on the excellent quality of the bray in the mule and laid his hand on her. He rubbed and stroked her roached neck and withers. Within moments the molly sighed, cocked her rear leg, lowered her head and relaxed.

Proper harness fitting was next on the agenda. Correct collar fitting was described and demonstrated. The ratios of hames to collar length, the proper positioning of snaps and pole straps, sweeneys and the problems of collars that are too long or too short were all discussed. Each horse that had harness was harnessed and the harness adjusted to fit. Each one had a place or an adjustment where the students could learn from the many examples.

Should we use blinders or not? “Let the horse decide.” Doc advised. “All horses should be desensitized enough to allow for not having blinders.” He recommends training both ways and then make an educated choice.

Several carts and wagons were on hand. Aspects of tongue and shaft weight were discussed and analyzed. Pointers were given on the things to look for in a vehicle and the things to avoid.

All parts of the clinic were hands on for the participants. Steady, well-trained teams were present so students could experience actually driving a horse or team if their horse was not yet ready to drive on a vehicle.

Build a foundation! We now have the tools, the techniques and the time to build our relationship with our horses correctly. When you get a horse, trained or not, start from scratch and build. This is your relationship with this particular animal. It is never too late for a new beginning.

Doc Hammill

As the needs, problems and interests developed, one on one instruction began, some with Doc and some with the capable co-instructors he had on hand to assist. Theresa Burns gave several students their first experience in driving and Steve Wood’s easy and straightforward help put both new and experienced students at ease. Groups and singles spurred off into different areas of the facilities to work on what they needed or wanted to learn. Some of the student horses had their first drive by the end of the clinic; some just got introduced to the concept while their owners gained knowledge to continue on after the clinic. Each time, the horse decided the pace of the lesson.

Doc Hammill was born in Iowa in 1944. He was born with a passion for driving and was always more excited by the idea of driving than riding. When his parents still lived in town, Doc remembers getting up early only on the mornings when a pair of older ladies and their horse and buggy would make morning deliveries of produce to the house. Later when the family moved to a small acreage, a young Doc Hammill would watch for hours as an elderly Slavic neighbor worked his market gardens with a single old gray horse and machinery. At the end of each row, the neighbor would stop, take off his hat and mop his brow and chat a while. The rhythm of the work, the steady pace, the cadence of the machinery, was all hypnotic.

Doc’s first attempts to drive were with a goat and a little red wagon. He fashioned his own harness and rigged it so when the goat would move forward the handle of the wagon would rise. His second vehicle was an old buggy that sat in the yard. With a set of pretend lines and plenty of imagination, the buggy bounced along for millions of miles. So many, that the wheels fell off and the buggy continued its journeys sitting on its axles on the ground.

Doc’s family were not horse people and they did not have a family history using horses, but one year as a present, Doc received a Welsh pony, a saddle and a bridle. He quickly talked some neighbors out of a flat bed garden cart, nailed pine 2 x 2’s to it as shafts and tied the 2 x 2s to the stirrups of the saddle. No one knows if the pony knew how to drive or not, but Doc jumped up on his wagon like Ben Hur and drove off.

Eventually, Doc also got to experience his first runaway and wreck. Remnants of the cart, shafts and saddle came rolling to a stop in the driveway. His saddle was replaced for his birthday with a new set of harness for the pony.  An old wagon was found and repaired and Doc and his brothers made many camping trips using the pony and wagon to haul their gear.

Early in his life, after a trip out west, Doc knew he would never be content in the Midwest. After graduating vet school, he and a friend traveled west, looking for opportunities. In a small town in Montana, they stopped to talk with the resident vet there. As it turned out, that very vet had been calling the school, looking for them, but no one knew how to contact the travelers. The Montana clinic needed another vet and Doc was the one lucky enough to be chosen for the job. It was about this time that Doc acquired his first draft horses, and has had drafts ever since.

Doc later opened his own vet clinic in Kalispell. A side business of horse marketing and consulting led him to helping manage breeding farms and ultimately riding the wave of the Arabian horse popularity. Like the tulips in 17th century Holland, the Arabian market showed signs of waning and Doc decided to leave that business and let his partner carry on while he developed another sideline business in an old west recreation town at a Montana ski resort.

Old West Adventures began as a recreation of a western boomtown with canvas covered buildings. Sleighs in the winter or wagons in the summer would bring up to 600 people at a time to a full blown old west dinner, replete with country musicians, historic talks, a barn dance and barbeques. Doc would also host three or four authentic wagon train trips through the Flat Head and Black Foot reservations each year. The wagons would travel around ten miles a day, everyone wore period clothing and only limited technology was allowed.

Old West Adventures sold in 1995 and because he had always promised himself a year off at some time in his life, Doc retreated into the Montana mountains as a caretaker to the ranch he now calls home. When he sold Old West Adventures, Doc took his brief case and his wristwatch with an alarm to the Good Will and melded into the mountains.

Doc realized he would have to generate an income again at some point and started giving old west historic talks for Elderhostels on Indians of the northwest plains, cowboys and cattle drives, horses and mules of the west and legendary horse whisperers. From there, his life experiences started to merge and he began offering five-day workshops at his ranch.

During all these years, Doc learned from many mentors. Among the teamsters he remembers best were “Addy” Funk, Tom Triplett, Glen Phanco, and George Moore. The northwest part of Montana was “frozen” in time then and still inhabited by people that had lived their lives with horses. He feels it was unusual and fateful to have known so many old timers that were as detailed and dedicated to their craft and took horsemanship to a higher level.

Dr. Robert Miller gets credit for opening Doc Hammill’s eyes to a gentler horsemanship when he gave a speech and demonstration in the 1970’s at a state vet’s meeting. Doc returned home from that meeting determined to convert and practice this new methodology. He studied the horse masters of the turn of the 20th century and the new horse masters of the turn of the 21st century. In his vet practice, he had plenty of horses and situations to practice his new skills. Over time, with trial and error and constant study on many horses, the process unfolded.

Driving and draft animals have been left behind for some reason in the natural horsemanship movement and Doc has dedicated his retirement life and skill to educating people to find a better way of communicating with their animals.

Today it is no longer a matter of life or death for most of us to depend on the working ability of our horses. A resurgence of horse farming as a hobby, hand in hand with natural horsemanship – or gentle horsemanship – has given us more consideration for the horse’s emotional and physical wellbeing. We have more time to look at the world from the horse’s viewpoint. We are beginning to realize that intelligent animals should not have to suffer needlessly to provide us with work or pleasure. Doc Hammill offers a gentler way of teaching the human and the horse to drive and to work together.

Originally published in Rural Heritage, Autumn ’07

Use of the “War Bridle”

A few enterprising individuals recently have come up with rope gizmos used for restraint and training that are merely remakes of simple teaching devices from the 19th century and before.

Using a length of soft and strong rope, you can achieve the same results. Just remember, any tool is only as good as the operator and a feather can
become a torture device in the wrong hands.
Rope size should be from 5/16” to 3/8” in diameter and 15’ to 20’ long. For
the simplest form of bridle, take a piece of cord and tie each end in a hard knot.
Make another knot of loop about 20 inches from one end and bring the end around the horse’s neck, passing it through the loose knot or loop, Regulate the size of the loop to the size of the horse’s neck. Catch the free end hanging down and pass it between the cord and neck to form a loop with the free end on the near side. Pass this loop through the horse’s mouth or over its lower chin. Use this arrangement with quick pulls followed by immediate release to teach the horse to follow the direction of the handler. Use only the necessary amount of pull and release as soon as the horse offers any movement to the side. Fig. 1


To move the horse straight ahead, take off the cord and make a single loose knot or loop about a foot from the end. Put the end knot through the loose knot or loop and draw it tight. The loop should be just large enough to go over the horse’s lower chin. Pass the cord from the off side over the poll and through this loop back to the chin until the slack is taken up.
Figs. 2 & 3

Fig. 3

Another modification of this rope has the effectiveness of a twitch and may be applied as needed, instead of continuously as a traditional twitch is normally applied.
The second loop places the pressure against the upper gums. Fig. 4

Fig. 4

The Lazy Woman’s Guide to Hoof Trimming

I was never good at trying to stand on my head and hold a thousand plus animal in my hands while brandishing a pair of nippers and a rasp, or any tools, for that matter.

Bethany A. Caskey

I was never good at trying to stand on my head and hold a thousand plus animal in my hands while brandishing a pair of nippers and a rasp, or any tools, for that matter. As I aged (gracefully) I found the task of trimming hooves even more of a strain. If I was lucky, I could get a hoof or two done a day. By the time I had gone around the herd, it was time for number one again. My bruises were always maintained in a fresh and varying colored state and I was permanently frozen into a bent over posture.

I am an original do-it-yourselfer: Translation: cheap. I would rather do something myself, if at all possible, instead of waiting around for someone to finally show up at the worst possible time. Worse yet was the “honey-do method” that only guaranteed general resistance from both partners.

I use natural horse-man-ship teachings, so I would not recommend that you go out to the worst bronc in your herd with a five-gallon bucket, a pair of nippers and a rasp and plop down under them expecting anything but what you deserve.

The idea is to get the horse comfortable with being handled everywhere and the notion that as humans we can change shapes and locations around them quickly. For more details on the natural horsemanship methods, check out

Here are the basic steps to preparing your horse for the sit down method of hoof trimming. I have found in the many horses I have trimmed this way since, the worse they were about standing still the traditional way, the better this method succeeds. My assumption here is that the position is less stressful for them also and that the handler is more relaxed, therefore that attitude transmits to the horse.

This mare is a Friesian Morgan cross that was brought to me for basic handling and training at the age of four. One of her issues was not standing for the farrier to trim her feet and she had been untrimmed for several years. Here Norene shows rubbing the mare’s legs with a long piece of soft rope. This allows you to stay out of the way of any strikes or fear reactions. Notice the horse is not tied. At no time do I tie the horse while working on the feet. They should be allowed to move their feet if they feel they need to move their feet. If you do this right, they won’t feel the need.

The touching continues on all four legs and feet.

When the horse is comfortable with the rubbing sensation of the rope, we ask her to yield her leg to the pressure and hold it up. The legs are asked to lift both forward and backward.
Depending on your horse, getting to this step can take five minutes or five days. Don’t rush. Horses can live past 30 so that is a lot of years you will have a willing horse making life easier for you. Pick up each foot with the rope and then transfer the leg to your hand and hold it there for a while until the horse is comfortable. If the horse should grab the foot away, just persist and lift it up again and again until you can set it down when you are ready.
Back legs get the same treatment as the front legs. Each one gets lifted forward and back and held in the hands and rubbed.
We ask the horse to accept an object next to her feet. Since this block was a part of her pasture surroundings, she had no mistrust of it. I have used buckets, toolboxes, running boards and short barrels on their sides. Find a height that suits you and the height of the horse you are trimming.
When all is calm and right, have a seat. Spend some time just stroking the horse’s legs and giving a massage.
Squeeze the chestnut and ask the horse to yield their leg and place the leg across your lap. Do not tie the horse! If they need to move for any reason they can move away and not step on you. If you have given them an option to move away, they will not step on you.
Move to the back legs and ask the horse to give you the leg by squeezing the cap of the hock.
Place the hoof and leg onto your lap and begin cleaning, trimming and rasping.

I recommend getting the best hoof tools you can afford. I have always heard that a poor craftsman blames his tools, but in the area of hoof trimming, quality tools make a huge difference especially if your upper body strength is not the best. See below for my recommendations. Read up on the proper trim for your horse. I do not use steel shoes and just keep a nice barefoot trim going on my horses. Several trimming and shoeing techniques can be found in many good books and on the internet. You do not have to be a great hoof expert to trim the snags off a horse hoof, but it pays to study the basics.

If you have ever tried to hold a front leg between your knees and maneuver a pair of nippers or worse yet, crouch with the rear hoofs on your knees, you will welcome this method for even the most simple of hoof tasks.

The better-behaved horses will now even position themselves for me when I sit down beside them and offer the nearest foot. What more could a lazy woman want?

Originally published in Rural Heritage, Autumn 07.

Note: in the years since this article was written, I acquired a HoofJack hoof stand and it has been invaluable. For all who can’t invest in this piece of equipment, have back problems, or have a horse that has trouble standing, the sitting method is still my favorite.

Colored Pencils

When you are ready to purchase colored pencils, look for a professional grade. Check out reviews and buy good quality pencils.

Better quality pencils are easier to blend and mix. The colors are more vibrant and there are more color choices.

Quality pencils will cost more initially, but once you try quality pencils, you’ll never go back to the cheaper ones.

I prefer Prismacolor Premier. These are soft pencils, with rich vibrant colors that are great for mixing colors and blending. I also use Verathin. A harder pencil, the color is not as waxy or intense and they are great for coloring small details.

If you’re just beginning to use colored pencils for coloring pages or artwork, start with buying the smallest available set and see if you like working with the pencils. Then you can buy more colors individually or in sets.

Sort the colors. I like to group my pencils by color groups -browns, greens, blues, red-orange, yellows, neutrals. Having them in groups will make your color selection easier and you can easily see which color is warm or cold.

Use a piece of scrap paper to test colors and color combinations, blending techniques, etc. Sharpen the pencils before working. Continue sharpening them as you work. Practice shading with small strokes. Your wrist should rest on the table, don’t move it as you shade – move only the pencil with your fingers – this way your strokes are tight and they are small. Reposition your wrist, then apply a new set of strokes – they can overlap, can be placed at different angles, or you can rotate the worksheet itself – whatever is more comfortable for you. Don’t try to lay down a saturated color all at once. Use several layers to build the color. Keep a clean sheet of common typing paper under your drawing hand to keep the working surface clean of oils from your hand or smudges.

Blending: A colorless blending pencil has wax but no pigment. It can be used to burnish the surface of the paper, filling in all the little white flecks from divots in the paper, without changing the underlaying color. If you choose to blend your work, it should be the last step in your drawing. Once the paper is burnished, it will be difficult to add more layers. Other methods of smoothing the pencil strokes are petroleum jelly, baby oil, mineral spirits and a Verithin pencil. More details about how to use these will be in an upcoming post.