You’ve been around horses most of your life and you love drafts. The farm you’ve been training with has asked if you’d like to be an outwalker. By definition, an outwalker is a person who walks next to, in front of or adjacent to a horse or horse-drawn entry in a parade or other event. It sounds simple enough. However, with your promotion comes great responsibility. As an outwalker, you must know how to handle horses in ways that allow their drivers to keep everyone safe. Additionally, you need to know how to foresee and prevent potential emergencies, as well as how to handle the horses in the unlikely event a true emergency occurs.
Knowledgeable outwalkers are needed for many situations. They’re often used when first schooling young drafts or drafts that have worked in a team but never as a single. Outwalkers are also used as required safety measures in crowd situations such as parades, fairs and other nonroutine public outings.
Young drafts, especially ones just getting used to ground driving and bridles with blinders, will often balk or hesitate as they try to comprehend the new sights and sensations of being driven. Having an outwalker walking several feet ahead of the young draft gives the horse a margin of comfort and familiarity. An outwalker used in this fashion acts a leader, giving the horse its visual direction as well as a degree of comfort and confidence.
After a few outings, the young draft often establishes enough self-confidence, and the need for an outwalker is reduced. Once a horse is moving forward well, the outwalker can step back a bit, and after a few positive outings can eventually back off completely. If an outing, new route or new routine might have a known or predictable target hazard, such as a bridge or aggressive dogs, establishing the use of an outwalker is advisable. Young or inexperienced horses, along with a knowledgeable driver, will eventually become confident enough to navigate new areas and potential hazards on their own.
When it comes to parades and organized horse-drawn events on public roads, outwalkers are almost always part of formal rules, with one outwalker per harnessed horse the standard of most contracts. One of the most important responsibilities of an outwalker is keeping the horse’s pathway safe and clear. Warning the crowds of approaching horses and keeping the crowds away from the horses is also vitally important. The general public is often unaware of the need to stay out of the path of horses. In addition, kids will often want to pat the horses and may not understand that they’re in a parade and not available for patting at that time.
Skilled outwalkers are invaluable for preventing a negative situation from becoming an emergency. As an occasional outwalker for parades, two incidents come to mind. One was with two teams as we were driving them in a four-up for a Memorial Day Parade. We always put an outwalker with every horse and had four outwalkers that day. We were approaching the busiest part of the route when I noticed a large dog that started barking and lunging aggressively toward the horses and against the leash its owner held tightly. As we passed the area, the dog broke free and charged the left lead horse, which was also the most fearless and obedient of the hitch. As the growling dog leaped for my horse’s shoulder, I somehow managed to catch its collar and in one motion flung it back toward the owner, who grabbed the dog’s leash and hung on for dear life. All three of us were stunned with the swiftness of events. My driver for the horses looked down at me and said, “Nice catch.” The hitch kept perfect pace, and the trusting leader didn’t seem to realize or care in the least what had almost happened.
The second near miss came when I was an outwalker for a friend’s six-hitch in a large parade on the outskirts of Boston. Even though equipment is checked as teamsters are harnessing, the stress of a certain movement can break even the best of snaps, harness or other equipment. As we were in full parade motion and heading toward a hill on the route, one of the martingale snaps on the swing team broke, causing the pole strap to fail. The team danced around, but was quickly brought to a halt.
The hard part about an emergency stop in a parade is letting those behind you know that you’ve had to stop and you’re not going to start for a few minutes. I was given the immediate order to stop the band behind us. Since I had been in my high school’s marching band, I knew I needed to get the attention of the band marshal. Getting the attention of a band marshal and a marching band that is pretty much on autopilot is not easy. We did get them stopped, and quick work to replace the martingale snap got us all back in the parade within a matter of minutes.
- Some parade and public route events will require additional outwalkers to be utilized at each wheel of any horse-drawn vehicle. This is to watch for damage to the wheel that might cause an accident, as well as to prevent the public from interacting with the vehicle or from falling into the path of the wheel.
- Most insurance companies require outwalkers to be at least 18 years old. Signing a liability waiver may also be part of the requirement for participation.
- Rules of most parades also state that horses be kept at the walk. This is also true at any event where outwalkers are required.
- In general, only touch or communicate with the horse if necessary, and only at the direction of the teamster you are working for. If you have to help hold a horse, do so by holding only the cheekpiece of the bridle, the halter or the lead rope. Never touch the lines except with explicit permission and direction from the driver.
- Know the horses, their harness, other equipment and the vehicle. Let the driver know of any issues and know how to assist with correcting them.
It is a lucky outwalker who is also asked to assist with loading and unloading equipment and harnessing and caring for the horses. Once you’re part of the group that keeps the teams safe and sound for all parts of the trip, you can be confident in your value as an outwalker.