Yak Halter Training

By Grant Pound

I have had mixed results with halter training in the past. I could easily be out-classed by any novice 4-H kid. I have worked with a lot of animals, but not ones that could be led on a rope. There is very little need to halter train coyotes, prairie dogs, pygmy rabbits or sage grouse. I have been left to develop my own halter training methods from scraps of information I could fine.

The final blow came when I showed a two-year old cow and six-month calf in the ring. The cow confused the show ring with the mixed martial arts ring and I got a host of bruises from being smacked with her horns throughout the ordeal. She got a lot of ribbons, which I used to bind my wounds.

So, I doubled up my calf work at weaning time. I tied them up for short periods and brushed them and touched them. I put halters on (in the squeeze chute) and led them across the pen to food and water. This helped mellow them, but I never could get them to lead without them dancing at the end of the lead, while I planted my feet.

Last month I hired Terri Bowen Lindley, an exotic animal trainer I heard about through Bob Stuplich. I had her come for three days and invited Tim Hardy to come down with a couple yearlings. Michelle Orwick and Kurt Kovacs joined us, but did not bring animals.

Day one did not start well. I had managed to round-up only one of my yearlings and she had skipped town during the night. Terri wasn’t bothered a bit. She helped lure half the herd down the alley and we closed them in. Then we went out for the others. It was a long walk and a bit of back and forth before three of us could move the suspicious animals down to where the others where penned.

We sorted the animals into the various pens until we had my three yearlings together and the moms and calves together. Tim’s yearlings went in another pen and we sent my bulls on their way.

Terri demonstrated how to get a yak accustomed to being touched and de-sensitized to the rope. Using a rubbing stick comprised of a stick with a sock duck-taped around the end she rubbed the animal all over. When they quit fighting that she moved closer until she could touch them. She then used a rope to touch them until she could drape the rope over their necks and reach under with a stick to get it.

With the rope attached she got them to bend their heads and turn toward her. She did this for quite a while working both sides of the animal. When they seemed calm enough she started rubbing them on the back and neck. This made them used to the touch and she was able to slip a knotted rope halter under their necks and then over their noses. This is a bit harder than it sounds here. It’s like watching a magician–I know they have the playing card between their fingers, but I don’t know how all the subtle moves happen.

Over the course of three days we got ten yearlings and calves to walk up and down the road on leads, load into and out of a trailer, and even climb over objects. I felt like that was a great deal of progress for the time spent.

Now, of course, the instruction must continue. It has been very difficult to set aside the time to train, but I am determined to keep at it. It should get easier as we go along, no?

If you are a newbie to yak handling I strongly recommend getting some training help. I am very glad we did.

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