Hitchin' Horses at the Double Heart Ranch

By Lyn Odom
Reprinted with permission of The Picayune/River Cities Tribune, Marble Falls, Texas

Step. Gee. Haw. Whoa. These are the commands 4-year-olds’ Bud and Charlie are becoming accustomed to as they are put through the paces of their training. That’s no way to treat a 4-year-old, you say? Well, it is if they weigh 2,000 pounds apiece, wear metal shoes, and can consume a bale of hay and drink 30 gallons of water a day.

Bud and Charlie are a pair of Percheron draft horses Lee and Gay Gaddis, owners of the Double Heart Ranch in Marble Falls, have recently purchased. The Gaddis’ are draft horse enthusiasts who decided to get into hitching horses for several reasons.

“The main reason we bought the team is so ranch guests can horse around a little,” Lee said with a grin. “We have friends and clients who come out here and want to ride, but have never been around horses. Gay and I thought a team and wagon would be a great way for them to experiences horses safely.”

Lee said he’s also interested in having the team do ranch work.

“We can do a little logging, work the hay fields, and use the team for other farm and ranching needs. Plus, they can go where a pick-up truck can’t,” he said.

Double Heart Ranch Manager Hardy Vaughn is gentling the team and learning to drive and hitch the horses with the help of an experienced draft horse trainer and instructor.

“I’m really enjoying this,” Vaughn said. “I’ve been around horses all my life, but handling these two guys is real different than handling the lighter breeds.”

The training is becoming more intensive as Bud and Charlie settle into their new home. Safety is the most important factor in horse handling, and this team will experience all kinds of sights, sounds, surprises and circumstances as they are trained to handle the unexpected.

“We started out ground-driving (walking behind) the team through an obstacle course of construction cones and PVC pipe,” Vaughn said. “It wasn’t long before we split them up and they did the course under harness by themselves. Now we are working them on an exercise sled both hitched as a team and single. The sled has some weight to it, so they are getting a workout. It’s a pleasure to see them get down and pull…put some muscle into it.”

Bud and Charlie also get to experience popping balloons, umbrellas being snapped open as they walk by, large rubber balls being kicked across the ground in front of them, rifle fire, blowing bubbles, horns honking, and rocks being rattled in a can.

“We’ll expose them to the atmosphere they may experience in the public,” Lee said. “We don’t want people pulling over and stopping their cars as we pass, or going out of their way to be quiet around the team—not everyone will think to do that. So the more Bud and Charlie experience sights, sounds and the unexpected, the better team we will have. We’re building trust. They’ll trust us to keep them safe in any situation. We’re learning to build that bond, but we’ll still gain the experience through training to handle the team if they are ever surprised.”

Finding the team in the first place was somewhat of a challenge. Lee did some Internet research and found a Side Hill Farm connection in Marble Falls. Through phone calls and e-mail, Lee contacted Jim Cherenzia of Hopkinton, Rhode Island. Cherenzia is a fulltime draft horseman with more than 40 years of experience in harnessing and hitching draft horses. He harvests his own hay by horsepower (the hairy kind) exclusively and has trained and traded drafts all his life.

“I never met Jim until he delivered the team to me,” Lee said. “But through phone conversations I found him to be reliable and trustworthy and put my faith in him. He took the first team he purchased for me at an auction in Pennsylvania to his farm in Rhode Island. He got them home, worked them and decided they wouldn’t do for novice teamsters. He sold them, attended more auctions, bought Bud and Charlie in New York and took them to his place for a few weeks. Once he was satisfied they were the team for us, he hauled them down here to us, then spent a week showing us the ropes.”

Cherenzia also guided Lee through the purchases of proper harness, bits, collars, a wagon and other draft horse equipment.

Vaughn said each time they expose Bud and Charlie to a new experience successfully, he’s got to credit Cherenzia for having a good eye for horseflesh.

“Jim told us when you buy horses at auction you never know what they’ve been through before,” Vaughn said. “He watches for what he calls a quiet eye, a certain headset and gait. He can tell by the way they act when they are handled, hitched or tied up what kind of personality they have. That can only come from years of hands-on experience.”

The Gaddis’ couple are looking forward to sharing the experience of heavy horses with the people of Central Texas and plan on participating in parades and other events throughout the Hill Country. Lee is putting the finishing touches on a ‘people-mover’ he’s building himself. The horse-drawn wagon has easy-access stairs and a handrail leading to comfortable seating on built-in benches.

“We’ve gotten good advice about pacing ourselves and doing all of this right the first time,” Lee said. “Bud and Charlie are young and inexperienced, but are doing remarkably well. We’re looking forward to participating in the Bluebonnet Festival’s parade next year. Depending on how the team progresses, you may see them out and about sooner than that. We’ll see.”

You can follow the progress of Bud and Charlie’s training through the Gaddis’ ranch website.

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