Horse Skidding Advice

Thoughts on horse temperament and tips on harness, feed, training, and handling. May 18, 2010

I have read that a number of you use horses for skidding logs. I was in harness racing for 20 years and did get a driver's license. Not that I was any good at it, but my wife and I had a lot of fun. I do know a little about the care of horses, but...

What is the best breed for working? I have heard that pound for pound, the Clydesdales are tougher and stronger than some of the bigger breeds. What skidding equipment is used? I have seen pictures of 2 wheeled carts with shafts that the top end of the tree length log was lifted onto. Any books on the subject?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
The percheron are the horses of choice. They have been used for logging here in northern MN since the 1880's. The Minnesota Historical Society's Forest History Center still uses them.

From the original questioner:
Thank you. How are the percheron temperament wise? I have a friend who kept them at his farm and gave hay rides to under privileged kids in the summer for 3 weeks. They are a very beautiful animal. I am in central Ontario just north of Toronto. Our weather would be much the same as yours in MN - frozen log trails in the winter.

From contributor E:
A few things to keep in mind:

They eat a lot more than non-draft horses.
Tack is more money.
Make sure there is a ferrier in your area to trim/shoe your horses. Some won't do draft horses. More money also.
They don't fit in a regular trailer. How will you get them to your place?

I'm not trying to knock your plan. I'm getting ready to get a pair to do farm work, including some logging. These are just some of the common things sellers and others working with horses have consistently talked about. I really think mammoth jacks would be fun to play with.

From the original questioner:
The feed bill is one of my concerns. I know with the smaller standard breeds, half a bale of hay per day and 3 gallons of sweet feed was more than enough. I understand with the bigger horses it will be double. A team of standard breds might work for small logs but they are very fine legged and much higher strung. I would be in my element with them. Perhaps two that were not fast enough for racing. Has anyone tried them?

From contributor R:
We feed thirty pounds of hay per day, plus one quart of oats for every one hundred pounds when working. The oats are divided into three feedings. They are very calm work horses, easy to work with. They skid wood to my sawmill. Never had any get excited.

From contributor D:
I've used Belgium horses for the past 30 years in the woods. When I was a kid, my grandpa had percherons. Temperament and training are key, not breed. Unless working on ice, my horses work barefoot. Don't know what it's worth, but Grandpa always said a long leg breaks easier, so he wanted squat, heavy set horses, not tall lanky ones. My experience is that horses that do well in pulling competitions do not work well in the woods. My ideal horse would have a quiet disposition, work as well with voice as with lines and would not be a quitter when something sticks.

From the original questioner:
Your comment on pulling horses for competition not working well in the bush brings up what a teamster told me when I was racing - that it is the mental attitude. Horses that pull need to have the object move; if it doesn't, they quit or back off. It was the same in racing - if a horse was constantly racing over its ability and getting beat badly, it learned to quit and not try.

I suppose asking what a comfortable load for horses to skid is would be like me explaining how to drive a race. It basically came with time, experience and common sense. It will be combining a number of things I love - horses, the forest, sawing lumber.

I was also wondering about help in regards to harness - perhaps books on the subject?

From contributor J:
We have had horses for years, and I agree with the comments about the horse's behavior. It is all about how you handle the animal - this has a lot to do with them being crazy or sane. All of our horses are treated like pets, meaning they are groomed, etc, on a daily basis, and the same would be true for a draft. Also, plan on spending much more on harness work than saddle and bridle type of tack. I would also agree with the eating observations. Incidentally, none of our horses have been small and often times similar to smaller drafts. Right now, our biggest is a percheron/thoroughbred cross mare, 18hh, 2000 lbs, right up there with the draft, and she is kind but does not know her size, still needs to learn some manners. So, if you get a draft before it is trained, understand you will have work to do.

From contributor C:
I'm from Ontario as well and have done some investigating on horses for logging. I run a small bandsawmill and in my area there are a number of farmers who'll contract out. There are also a number of associations and other people who run horse logging workshops.