Ox Training Lessons by Balabhadra das
Introduction & Lesson 1: The Ring
This will be the first in a series of articles describing how we are training Vraja and Gita. Keep in mind that we began training Vraja and Gita at two and a half months.
The preliminary step to the first lesson in the ring is to develop a friendship with your ox. This can be accomplished in several ways. One is that the person who is training the ox should preferably be the person who is feeding the ox. In this way a favorable exchange of friendship is established. Another is that the ox should be given time to get accustomed to any new experience such as wearing a halter. He should be accustomed to wearing a halter before beginning the next step that is hooking him to a lead rope and taking him out for walks.
Balabhadra developing a relationship with Vraja and Gita through affection
Spending time walking with your ox in a field, lawn, or whatever quiet area you have available will help to develop a relationship with him. No commands, such as Get Up and Whoa, should be given. You will see he will follow you. You will also see, especially if you are training two for a team, that they will want to run and kick their heels up and play just like kids. So be prepared to do some jogging and occasional running.
When we first got Vraja and Gita, I would walk with one of them and one of the children would walk with the other. We would stay out for an hour to an hour and a half letting them walk, run, and graze. Occasionally, we would pet them and scratch them behind their ears and under their necks. A relationship of love and trust began to develop by being together in a positive and pleasant way. We did this for several weeks.
The training ring should be placed in an isolated location so that there are no distractions during the training session. The ring should be constructed so the animal can not jump out. I prefer training animals starting about 2 1/2 to 3 months old. The training ring in this picture is constructed of materials reflecting this age group. If you are training animals between 1 and 2 years of age, your construction should be of boards and should be 6' to 7' in height so they can't jump out. The ring in this picture is about 16' in diameter. I used "cattle panels" which are 4' high and 16' long and consist of heavy gage mesh. Also, we built a heavy-duty gate that they could not break through. When we started training Vraja and Gita, we had been walking with them on the private roadways and meadows. Each day we would also walk with them into the ring, let them sniff around, and then walk out without closing the gate behind us. So when the day came to start training in the ring, we walked in and this time closed the gate behind us. Because they had been in the ring previously and had no reason to be afraid, we were able to start the lesson without the trauma of them thinking," Why am I enclosed in this ring with the gate shut?" On the day of the first lesson in the ring, at the age of three and a half months, Vraja and Gita walked into the ring without any hesitation or fearful apprehensions.
Training in the ring should be done with one ox at a time. Since Vraja and Gita are twins they are very accustomed to always being together. To prevent anxiety I would train one calf within sight of the other. After one entered the ring the gate was closed. Our little friend, still on his lead rope, was allowed to venture throughout the ring to sniff here and there and ascertain his new surroundings. After he did this, he and I walked around the circumference of the ring side by side. In this way, I was showing him what I wanted done.
Balabhadra training Vraja in the ring
After several laps around the ring, I began training with voice commands. First, I started from a stationary position, with the ox next to the ring fencing and myself a few feet towards the center of the ring. With a slight reinforcement from the lash on his behind, a slight tug on the lead rope indicating to go forward, I gave the command Get Up.
Your ox should not stop walking around the inside of the ring until you give him the command Whoa. The training period should be short, no more than a half an hour session in the morning and the evening. Every time your ox performs correctly he should be given encouraging words such as Good Gita as well as affectionate strokes on the head, neck, and so on. Every command must be accompanied by their names so they will know that you are speaking to them. Periodically treats are nice to reinforce a job well done. Vraja and Gita like peanut butter cookies.
After the completion of each session in the ring you can walk your ox back to his pasturing area or living quarters. When leaving a ring the gate is opened slowly. You should be holding the lead rope and giving the command Whoa as the gate opens. You ox should not bolt out of the gate but should wait for the command Get Up. Now as you leave the ring and proceed back to your ox's destination use the commands Get Up and Whoa.
From now on your ox must begin to follow the voice commands. While walking give him a tap on the behind if he doesn't respond right away. The first lesson should be continued until your ox responds to the commands with little prodding. It took 1 week of daily morning and evening half hour sessions for Vraja and Gita to learn the first lesson. Obedience based on a loving relationship is the foundation of successful training.
A note on the Training article presented in this section:
Balabhadra dasa's training lessons presented here, in particular Lesson 1 and 2, are specifically aimed at young animals 2 1/2 to 3 months old. Training at a young age is practically a joy.
Footnote: Since 1991 we have trained many teams without a ring. It is much easier with a ring, especially if you are new to training.