Dayton Hyde – Handling horses | TSLN.com

Dayton Hyde – Handling horses

Courtesy photoDayton Hyde runs the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, an 11,000-acre ranch in western South Dakota dedicated to protecting wild horses.

Dayton Hyde grew up on a ranch in Oregon where he learned how to handle and train wild horses. The ranch bordered an Indian reservation where there were many wild bands. “The Indians put down any inferior horses and turned loose the good mares to raise foals,” says Hyde. “Some of the best ranch horses we had were part mustang.”

After spending nearly a lifetime ranching in Oregon, he moved to Hot Springs, SD 21 years ago to start a sanctuary for feral horses rounded up off public lands. Handling those horses has added to his experience in horse psychology and finding the best ways to work with horses in a natural habitat.

“We have 13,000 acres of mountainous terrain, with big canyons,” says Hyde. “It was an old cattle ranch so the periphery is fenced. We put in drift fences and can now gather horses from the whole ranch without them even getting out of a walk. We just bump along behind them with a pickup.

“When we started, these horses didn’t know anything about barbed wire and had never been around people. It was a nightmare for a few years, trying to gather them for management purposes. Many of the original horses were captured by helicopter and men on horseback and were scared to death of these methods. So we handle them quietly and are now set up to do that. I’ve been around horses for more than 70 years, and you just have to outthink them.”

Hyde’s secret to handling horses: “When they’re doing what you want, you don’t make a sound or do anything, because they can only think about one thing at a time,” he says. “If they are doing the right thing, don’t mess it up. We are very quiet with them, and drift them along on foot if we have to, when moving them from one pasture to the next. We don’t get in a hurry, and eventually we get them into the corral.”

Hyde says when they get them in a corral, they are always nice to them. The horses get some good hay and make it a positive experience for them.

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“The advantage of having tourism (people coming here to see the horses) is that the horses close to the ranch headquarters see a lot of people and are pretty calm,” says Hyde. “They keep grazing and never even raise their heads when a tour bus goes by because they are used to this. Tours and donations are what support this operation.”

Working with these horses has helped Hyde learn more about how horses think and react, in order to move them where they need to go.

“If there’s a hill, you know they are going to go around that hill and try to get away, to go back to where they came from,” he says. “So you get them started around the hill and then dash over to where they’ll come around it – and be standing there. Afterwhile they think you’re a pretty smart guy and they don’t try it.”

You never let them get away with anything; you just take time and patience and go with their instincts, working with them instead of against them in order to have them do what you want them to do.

“These horses tend to be smarter than domestic horses,” says Hyde. “We’ve bred domestic horses for racing, rodeos and everything else without much regard for smarts. We think we pick for smart, but we really don’t. These wild horses had to be smart to survive. I can train four wild horses in the time it takes to train one domestic horse. What helps is that these wild horses are in a herd/family situation all the time.”

The horses learn a lot from socialization in a herd structure.

“They are herd animals, so if you take a wild horse away from his family group and he’s alone, he’s going to see you as a buddy,” says Hyde. “Once he learns that you’re not going to hurt him, it’s amazing how quickly he’ll be following patiently behind you.”

The foals on the ranch are weaned in the fall.

“We have limited water out there, and pump water for the horses with a corral built around the watering area, and loading chutes,” says Hyde. “If a band has foals we want, I drift behind them with the pickup when they are coming in to drink. I have a long rope attached to the gate and can park the pickup 100 yards away and quietly pull the gate shut after they go into the corral. They’ll be scared to death for a minute, but I don’t move and I don’t rush down there immediately. They never associate the fact that it’s me that’s closing the gate.”

Without ever going into the corral he can go there alone and corral the horses, then let the mares back out.

“It’s like a series of rodeo bucking chutes. As I drift them up this long alley with side gates, I can quietly separate them,” he says. “Once I get the mare away from the foal, I quietly close the gate between them. When I let the mare go she gallops off. Most mares never look back. She goes back to her herd, and the foal is left with his buddies. We wean 20 to 30 at a time that way.”

The foals are trucked down to the main ranch in a trailer. It doesn’t seem to bother them much because they’re with other horses. Hyde says the important thing is that they don’t see their mother being scared. Foals learn a lot from their mothers and if you have a dingy mare that’s obviously petrified of you, her foal picks up her fear and distrust and is petrified also.

After the foals are weaned, Hyde halter breaks and gentles them.

“I average about 15 minutes, getting a horse to lead,” he says. “I put him alone in a round corral. I used to try to put the halters on while we had them separated – getting them to where I could eventually walk up and put a halter on – but that took too long. Now we just run them through the chute and vaccinate them, and put halters on then. We have good chutes that don’t make much noise. We put a long drag rope on the halter. Then when we get them separated and alone in the corral, overnight they practically halter break themselves.” When they step on the rope and it restrains their head, they learn to give to pressure.

“The halter and rope is already on them so when I go into the corral and quietly pick up the rope I just stand there with it,” he says. “It only takes a few minutes. I can’t overpower these horses, so I teach them to face me. I don’t let them turn and get their butts toward me or they can pull too hard. So I get them to face me, first, and eventually work my way up the rope, talking to them.”

Hyde adds the horses do a lot of grooming and nibbling on their friends. “So I rub on them and within minutes the horse thinks this is pretty good. We are very careful not to scare them, because it doesn’t take much to scare them.” They are used to immediately reacting to anything different, to run away from danger.

“We had a beautiful young stallion here that I was going to keep for breeding, but when the guy working for me brought them in, he slammed the gate behind the herd and that colt never did settle down,” he says. “It scared the heck out of him and a few years later he was still scared to death of people.” You must be careful to make sure their first experiences with people are good ones and not frightening.

Handling the horses takes patience, proper timing and intuition.

“As we train them, it’s just standard horse breaking,” says Hyde. “We sack them out, for instance, but very quietly, with a soft sack we drape over them. In just a matter of minutes they become at ease with us. Every now and then, however, we get an individual that is more challenge. Maybe something happened to him earlier. With the ones that are brought here, you don’t know what treatment they’ve had.”

Regarding handling or training any horse, he says the key is to take advantage of the horse. Don’t scare him. Think ahead to how your actions will affect the horse.

“As soon as you can, do the same thing that other horses do, in touching and rubbing,” says Hyde. “You can even talk to them in nickers. All these things help to make them more comfortable around a person.”

When the horses go through the chute the first time, he just lets them drift through it a time or two before catching them there.

“We let them circulate through the chute a few times,” he says. “Then when they’re standing there in the chute we lay our hands on them and do a lot of scratching and petting, and speaking to them in a low voice. From then on, it’s easy.”

Dayton Hyde grew up on a ranch in Oregon where he learned how to handle and train wild horses. The ranch bordered an Indian reservation where there were many wild bands. “The Indians put down any inferior horses and turned loose the good mares to raise foals,” says Hyde. “Some of the best ranch horses we had were part mustang.”

After spending nearly a lifetime ranching in Oregon, he moved to Hot Springs, SD 21 years ago to start a sanctuary for feral horses rounded up off public lands. Handling those horses has added to his experience in horse psychology and finding the best ways to work with horses in a natural habitat.

“We have 13,000 acres of mountainous terrain, with big canyons,” says Hyde. “It was an old cattle ranch so the periphery is fenced. We put in drift fences and can now gather horses from the whole ranch without them even getting out of a walk. We just bump along behind them with a pickup.

“When we started, these horses didn’t know anything about barbed wire and had never been around people. It was a nightmare for a few years, trying to gather them for management purposes. Many of the original horses were captured by helicopter and men on horseback and were scared to death of these methods. So we handle them quietly and are now set up to do that. I’ve been around horses for more than 70 years, and you just have to outthink them.”

Hyde’s secret to handling horses: “When they’re doing what you want, you don’t make a sound or do anything, because they can only think about one thing at a time,” he says. “If they are doing the right thing, don’t mess it up. We are very quiet with them, and drift them along on foot if we have to, when moving them from one pasture to the next. We don’t get in a hurry, and eventually we get them into the corral.”

Hyde says when they get them in a corral, they are always nice to them. The horses get some good hay and make it a positive experience for them.

“The advantage of having tourism (people coming here to see the horses) is that the horses close to the ranch headquarters see a lot of people and are pretty calm,” says Hyde. “They keep grazing and never even raise their heads when a tour bus goes by because they are used to this. Tours and donations are what support this operation.”

Working with these horses has helped Hyde learn more about how horses think and react, in order to move them where they need to go.

“If there’s a hill, you know they are going to go around that hill and try to get away, to go back to where they came from,” he says. “So you get them started around the hill and then dash over to where they’ll come around it – and be standing there. Afterwhile they think you’re a pretty smart guy and they don’t try it.”

You never let them get away with anything; you just take time and patience and go with their instincts, working with them instead of against them in order to have them do what you want them to do.

“These horses tend to be smarter than domestic horses,” says Hyde. “We’ve bred domestic horses for racing, rodeos and everything else without much regard for smarts. We think we pick for smart, but we really don’t. These wild horses had to be smart to survive. I can train four wild horses in the time it takes to train one domestic horse. What helps is that these wild horses are in a herd/family situation all the time.”

The horses learn a lot from socialization in a herd structure.

“They are herd animals, so if you take a wild horse away from his family group and he’s alone, he’s going to see you as a buddy,” says Hyde. “Once he learns that you’re not going to hurt him, it’s amazing how quickly he’ll be following patiently behind you.”

The foals on the ranch are weaned in the fall.

“We have limited water out there, and pump water for the horses with a corral built around the watering area, and loading chutes,” says Hyde. “If a band has foals we want, I drift behind them with the pickup when they are coming in to drink. I have a long rope attached to the gate and can park the pickup 100 yards away and quietly pull the gate shut after they go into the corral. They’ll be scared to death for a minute, but I don’t move and I don’t rush down there immediately. They never associate the fact that it’s me that’s closing the gate.”

Without ever going into the corral he can go there alone and corral the horses, then let the mares back out.

“It’s like a series of rodeo bucking chutes. As I drift them up this long alley with side gates, I can quietly separate them,” he says. “Once I get the mare away from the foal, I quietly close the gate between them. When I let the mare go she gallops off. Most mares never look back. She goes back to her herd, and the foal is left with his buddies. We wean 20 to 30 at a time that way.”

The foals are trucked down to the main ranch in a trailer. It doesn’t seem to bother them much because they’re with other horses. Hyde says the important thing is that they don’t see their mother being scared. Foals learn a lot from their mothers and if you have a dingy mare that’s obviously petrified of you, her foal picks up her fear and distrust and is petrified also.

After the foals are weaned, Hyde halter breaks and gentles them.

“I average about 15 minutes, getting a horse to lead,” he says. “I put him alone in a round corral. I used to try to put the halters on while we had them separated – getting them to where I could eventually walk up and put a halter on – but that took too long. Now we just run them through the chute and vaccinate them, and put halters on then. We have good chutes that don’t make much noise. We put a long drag rope on the halter. Then when we get them separated and alone in the corral, overnight they practically halter break themselves.” When they step on the rope and it restrains their head, they learn to give to pressure.

“The halter and rope is already on them so when I go into the corral and quietly pick up the rope I just stand there with it,” he says. “It only takes a few minutes. I can’t overpower these horses, so I teach them to face me. I don’t let them turn and get their butts toward me or they can pull too hard. So I get them to face me, first, and eventually work my way up the rope, talking to them.”

Hyde adds the horses do a lot of grooming and nibbling on their friends. “So I rub on them and within minutes the horse thinks this is pretty good. We are very careful not to scare them, because it doesn’t take much to scare them.” They are used to immediately reacting to anything different, to run away from danger.

“We had a beautiful young stallion here that I was going to keep for breeding, but when the guy working for me brought them in, he slammed the gate behind the herd and that colt never did settle down,” he says. “It scared the heck out of him and a few years later he was still scared to death of people.” You must be careful to make sure their first experiences with people are good ones and not frightening.

Handling the horses takes patience, proper timing and intuition.

“As we train them, it’s just standard horse breaking,” says Hyde. “We sack them out, for instance, but very quietly, with a soft sack we drape over them. In just a matter of minutes they become at ease with us. Every now and then, however, we get an individual that is more challenge. Maybe something happened to him earlier. With the ones that are brought here, you don’t know what treatment they’ve had.”

Regarding handling or training any horse, he says the key is to take advantage of the horse. Don’t scare him. Think ahead to how your actions will affect the horse.

“As soon as you can, do the same thing that other horses do, in touching and rubbing,” says Hyde. “You can even talk to them in nickers. All these things help to make them more comfortable around a person.”

When the horses go through the chute the first time, he just lets them drift through it a time or two before catching them there.

“We let them circulate through the chute a few times,” he says. “Then when they’re standing there in the chute we lay our hands on them and do a lot of scratching and petting, and speaking to them in a low voice. From then on, it’s easy.”