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close this book Animal traction
close this folder 4. Training draft animals
View the document Before training begins
View the document General comments on training procedure
View the document Training cattle
View the document Program for training cattle
View the document Training horses, donkeys and mules
View the document Program for training horses, donkeys and mules

General comments on training procedure

Training draft animals is the process of teaching them to obey commands, accept harnesses and yokes, and pull loads. The person who gives the commands and controls their speed and direction is called the driver. The goal of training is to teach animals to obey the driver's signals so he/she can steer the load (plow, wagon, etc.) and regulate the power of the animal(s) at the same time.

Before an animal is trained, it is "broke" or "broken" and made to recognize the authority of the trainer Breaking an animal is a matter of introducing it to new schedules, procedures and expectations-and teaching it to obey. The word also describes the process of getting an animal used to new behavior or equipment. A bull is broken of aggressive behavior, but broken to harness.

Animals learn at different rates. An animal is considered trained when it responds consistently to commands. This may take as little as two weeks, or as long as two months. Many factors influence the rate of learning: species and breed, individual temperament, health and condition, type of harness equipment used, and skill, patience, and persistence of the trainer.

Animals learn faster, and new owners acquire training skills, when training advances in small, clear steps. Generally speaking, one-and-a-half-hour sessions are used. Two of these sessions are given per animal per day. Training is done in the same location and during the same hours each day. Early morning and late afternoon are good times, as this gives animals time to rest and graze between sessions.

Before any draft animal is harnessed as part of a team, it must individually recognize and obey the voice commands stand, walk, stop, left, right, and back. Commands are given in the language the driver will use. The importance of teaching voice commands cannot be overemphasized. Drivers who must rely on an assistant to control their animals with pulls of a rope or constant whipping get limited performance and results.

Sometimes it is possible to train an animal by putting it in a yoke or harness with a veteran animal. This is a good technique, but it does not eliminate the need for individual training. The driver must be able to control each animal within the team if the team is to pull evenly. This is especially important during turns, or when one animal lags or acts up.

Finally, it should be understood that handling and training methods for cattle differ from those used for equines. This is because these classes of animals have different strengths and temperaments. With horses, donkeys and mules, the overall approach is to use the least severe methods possible, resorting to greater force if needed. With cattle, and particularly bulls, it is important to break the animal of its independence quickly and with carefully applied force. Forceful handling is rarely needed once a bull recognizes your strength and your ability to make it obey.