A fun thread for a rarer topic. Have you ever trained a pack horse/donkey/mule? What was the hardest part of training? How about the best part?
Pictures, if you have them!
I'll start by saying I have trained one horse successfully to pack. A bay tobiano Mustang named Trigger. He was a sweet boy who was very willing, though stubborn at times. At the same time, I was training his pasture mate, a Kiger Mustang named Corona, to be the lead horse. The owner left the decision as to who would lead and who would pack up to me; the dynamic and work ethic between the two decided the order for me, as both were solidly built and fairly level-headed.
The hardest part for me was teaching Trigger to pony. I resisted the urge to wind my lead rope around my saddle horn and pull, so instead I rode Corona bareback while exercising an approach and retreat method. This method proved itself to work and soon I had Trigger packed up and ponying on a loose rope with Corona on a loose rein, venturing into BLM forest trails.
The best part was finally breaking through to Trigger and getting two light, happy, responsive horses packing in a month.
I would also be interested in learning more about packing. Its a dumb question, but how did you learn? I know enough about it to know I don't know enough. The issue of weighing a pack and balancing. Other then taking a summer being camp whip is there a way to learn to pack?
Honestly, I combined my knowledge and experience in other areas, ie ponying, teaching to lead, teaching to hold a rider/weight, etc to train these boys. The owner had his own gear, and I worked a fair bit on getting them both used to the pack and weight as well as things like tarps/etc in case of emergency. Really, it was by the grace if God that all of it came together to work out.
In the end, both boys could pack well, and only needed the miles put on them to polish them up.
It was quite an experience, learning how to train a pack horse, and working on getting them to work as a team.
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The first guy I ever worked for while I was in school was a packer.(the same guy I started Mustangs for). We packed for the Forest Service trail crews and hunters. I learned a little about mules and packing..it was fun. That was a good way to start colts, pack them first. And it was great if we didn't feel like working colts at home, just jump a couple of horses and colts in the trailer and a pack saddle or two and go fishing for the day in some high mountain lake!
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Cowchick, what was the hardest part of teaching a horse to pack?
I have still yet to go on a full ride with others and pack horses - I would like to sometime. Fishing! Fun! :)
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Like I said I learned just a little bit about it, but teaching a young horse to pack was no different than teaching one to be saddled and accepting weight. And we didn't have any older veteran horses for packing. They were all mules, we just started the saddle horses that way. But I did notice that mules have more of a sense of where their packs stick out than a horse for going around trees and obstacles. Granted we didn't have any horses that packed for any length of time, perhaps with horses it comes with experience as well.
I will say with a colt learning crossing water can be exciting...having a good solid saddle horse to lead him from is key. Some didn't want to cross, then they get drug in or all of a sudden they take a big jump and spook themselves.( I never put my good fishing pole on a colt!)
I would advise taking your time and start with small trips on easy trails. You will get hooked! Nothing beats a high mountain lake during the dog days of summer :)
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I like to pack almost every horse I train, it is great for them to learn to stand while having a tarp thrown over their back. It also teaches them to be careful not to rub on things (such as trees or the arena fence) when they have something or someone on their back because the packs boxes don't give when they hit something.
Usually the hardest part of teaching a horse to pack is getting them used to giant orange boxes coming at them. Also getting them used to britching and a breast collar is important if they have never had one on beofre. Having them stand still long enough to tie your diamond (I am slow at it so it is not really fair to expect them to stand that long at first. More experienced packers can pack much quicker) is a bit of a challenge sometimes.
I find packing is a great tool for horses that buck with either a saddle or rider as you just fill the boxes with water and let them go to town in the roundpen or arena. They soon discover that bucking with two boxes full of water is hard work.. and they get wet.. it stops them from bucking pretty quick!
The most important thing to remember is to make sure your pack saddle is on straight and in the correct position and that it doesn't slip to either side when you tie your boxes on and tighten them. Do your cinches tight enough that they won't slip (much tighter than you would do a normal saddle) and also that they are not pinching or slipping into an incorrect position. Ensure that you have enough rope to tie your diamond but not so much that there will be a long tail that can get caught up and cause a wreck. If you are going to be putting on a top pack ensure that it is well balanced so as not to put more weight on one side or the other. Ensure your tarp covers everything so nothing sticks out or gets caught on trees and causes a wreck.
There are weekend courses or summer camps on packing, just look them up online. I think the best way to learn if you can is find an old outfitter who has done it a million times and just go out and learn.
I have never tied a diamond; do you have instructions or know where to look to learn?
The boys I trained had big orange bags on their pack saddle as opposed to boxes. I thought this was an even greater opportunity to work on tolerance and patience, as the bags made all kinds of noise and when empty were more prone to move around.
Also, can you explain a "top pack"?
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There are 2 excellent books that have photos of every hitch (from packing salt blocks to every kind of panniars that can be bought or made). I am sure both are out of print but may be available on E-Bay or Amazon.
One is 'Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails' by Joe Back.
The other is 'Horse Packing in Pictures' by Francis Davis.
The first one is the one that taught me all of the hitches back in the 60s when no guy would show a 'girl' how to pack a horse. [Thank goodness there aren't quite as many male chauvinists around.] I took out many pack trips and hunting groups into the Colorado Wilderness areas and did a pretty good job of it. I used to pack a lot of young horses and mules, especially if they were already pretty spoiled when they came to me. I did have a couple of spectacular wrecks. One included picking up camp gear and groceries along a 5 mile stretch of trail. Finally found the horse -- minus all packed gear --so tangled up in his breeching that he could not move.
The 'top pack' is usually a tent or big tarp folded up and laid on top of the panniars in the center of the horse's back. The diamond hitch or double diamond is what holds everything on. It is made from a 30 foot rope with a lash cinch on one end. It goes around the horse and pack and then catches every corner and holds the whole mess together.
I'm training two! Minina, a pony of 13.1hh (not as butt-high as she looks in this photo; her front feet are in a hole that she's just been digging...)
and Canelo, a Percheron cross of around 14.2hh:
Neither has packed before. Being from the UK, and the horses being in Chile, I've had to depend a lot on books and various out-of-the-way websites. I have used these books a lot:
Blue Creek Outfitting book
Le site officiel d'Emile Brager, cavalier au long cours - Le livre "Techniques du voyage cheval"
and I have found some useful things on the websites for Outfitters Supply (plus stalking them with questions by email). Useful knots are dealt with in the Blue Creek book, and I learned other ones from the internet.
We bought one pack-saddle and decided to make the other, in fact we more or less decided to buy one set of pack equipment, and manufacture the others according to our ideas.
This is Minina sporting the purchased pack saddle, home-made pack pad (not finished in this photo), home-rigged double girths and a breast-collar that isn't the final version (it was just doing service):
and Canelo in his rig at some point during its development (basic saddle bars adapted for pack-rigging; Y-straps for the girth; pack pad just getting started for size; purchased harness):
(please excuse nice poo-pile... :lol:)
We started with basic leading and ground-work, moving hips over, mostly, and backing up. We practice ponying very often, since we have four horses to bring in and the top pasture is around a mile away. Generally, Minina will probably pony with Quillay, my boyfriend's riding horse, and Canelo will come along with Luna, my horse. Canelo is still learning that ponying with another horse doesn't mean 'lead from the front', but Minina is a gem.
We have packed both of them very lightly and I swear by taking them for long walks in woods: after a couple of times of running their bags into a tree and getting poked in the ribs, they pay more attention. We have loaded the packs with all kinds of things, including rattly metal things and rustly tarps.
I second making sure that the girths are done up properly: we first rigged Canelo with a double girth as Minina has in the photo above. He didn't move a muscle as we were tacking him up, even with pad flapping and straps flying everywhere. But as soon as we untied him and went to walk a few steps, he exploded, ripped the rope out of my boyfriend's hand, went on a bucking frenzy coming horribly close to the support posts of the house verandah - and the pick-up - and then galloped off in the direction of the woods and his pasture. Of course I had all the visions that everyone has - he'll wrap his foot in the rope and go flying, he'll try and roll to get the saddle off and he'll break his back, he'll get a branch caught between him and the saddle trying to rub it off and he'll lacerate his back, etc. etc. - but finally we just found him standing peacefully at the broken bridge that leads to his northern pasture. The saddle was still in place and just a few leaves here and there. He led back just fine and didn't give a problem since.
My next objective is to teach both of them to ground tie (in fact, all four of them) and to be OK with a top-tarp being thrown over to cover everything. Plus, we have to get better at our knots.
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