Rural Heritage Logging Camp

Sharpen Your Horse Logging Skills
by Tim Carroll

An old-timer came up to me one day while I was sharpening my chainsaw and began talking about my horse logging operation. He asked how it was going and I replied with my usual first line, that I was so far behind I couldn't see the light of day. He commented that my chainsaw looked pretty dull. I had to agree that I had let it go too long before sharpening it.

He began telling me a story. Years ago, he said, he was working in the woods and a new guy came on the crew. As a joke they gave him the dullest saw they could find and sent him off to cut the biggest tree in the stand. About lunch time the old-timer figured he would check on the new fellow and see how he was doing.

He found the guy sawing like crazy, but he had gotten only about 3" into the tree. Feeling sorry for the fellow he said, "Why don't you sharpen that saw?"

"Can't," the fellow replied. "I'm too busy cutting down this tree."

The old man gave me a smile and said he'd better let me get back to work so I wouldn't get any farther behind than I already was.

But his remark had hit home. I started thinking about everything I was doing and all the projects I had going at the same time. They were all at different stages of completion, but not one was done. I get paid only when I finish a project. I had 80% of nothing.

Customers were getting mad at me because I would start working on a job site, but when another customer demanded I get going on his job site I would stop working on the first job to get a start on the second job. I figured if at least I got started I could stay on the good side of everyone. Wrong. Trying to juggle 20 jobs at one time only made matters worse. I was spending more time trying to get the job done than I spent getting the job done.

Like the fellow described by the old-timer, I have the tendency to saw as long as I can before I stop to sharpen my saw, and at some point I lose productivity. The more I thought about it, the more I could see that I wasn't doing this just when I was cutting down trees—I followed the same behavior pattern in almost everything I did, whether cutting trees, sawing logs at my mill, or working with my horses. I seem to work harder and harder and get less and less done. Thanks to the old man's advice I'm gradually turning things around.

The trick is to work smarter, not harder. When you work machines and they are not well maintained, you tend to push them harder to sustain the same amount of production. As a result the machine wears out quicker.

Horses wear out quicker, too. More important, working an animal like a machine is downright cruel. This sounds like common sense, but how many times have you put your horses on a log and on the first try they did not move the log, so you backed them up and let them try again. This time the horses move a couple of inches and you think it's going to come now. So you back them up and try once more. This time they move the log 4" inches and you think it must have been stuck on something, but I have it loose now.

Again you back the horses and give it another try. This time the horses kind of bump into their collar and then back off. You're thinking this team has moved thousands of logs this size or bigger. You're getting mad at them because you just saw them give everything they had, and now they're quitting on you. You know they can do better, so you get a small branch and the next time you tell them to go you crack them in the rear end with the branch to get them started.

The result is the same—the log doesn't move. But the horses do. They dance up and down in one spot. They're not sure what to do. They can't go forward, but they know if they don't they're going to get hit in the rear with that stick. By this time you've spent about 15 minutes to move the log 5".

Now you begin to wonder, maybe it isn't the horses' fault. So you check the log and it looks clean, but you can't see under it. You turn the horses to one side of the log and reset your chain to roll the log over. Now the horses walk the log off with no effort. As the log rolls over you discover a 3" diameter branch coming out that had been driven about 10" into the ground. So now you have a team that is becoming balky because they've broken half the capillaries in their shoulders from slamming the load.

I know this sounds exaggerated, but I've seen people work like that. In lesser ways I've been guilty of it myself. Nine times out of ten, if a horse can't do what you ask of him it's not the horse's fault, it's your fault. The horses may not have enough leverage, an obstacle may be in the way, or you're simply asking too much of your horses.

The old man was right—it's not how much time you spend at a job that counts, it's how sharp you are at using your time.


Tim Carroll is the owner/operator of Cedar River Horse Logging and president of the North American Horse & Mule Loggers Association. This article appeared in the Spring 1999 issue of Rural Heritage.

Table of Contents

Subscribe Homepage Contact Us
rural heritage logo    PO Box 2067, Cedar Rapids IA 52406-2067
Phone: 319-362-3027    Fax: 319-362-3046

29 April 2012 last revision