GRELLTON — As the large drone hovered over the horse arena at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days midday Thursday, the animals did not mind the hum.
That is because their trainers taught them to not fear the new technology.
Equestrians Terry “T.J.” Clibborn and Lee Sackett brought their training skills to the 66th annual agriculture show that took place at Walter Grain Farms in the Town of Milford crossroads of Grellton Tuesday through Thursday. Assisting with the drone was Tyler Queen, a licensed drone pilot and creative director of TyQueen Productions.
“This is the first I have ever heard or seen this,” Paul Majors, Whitewater High School agriculture instructor and announcer for the show, said. “Most horses would be running (if they saw and heard a drone).”
Queen maneuvered the drone into the horse show ring, where both Clibborn and Sackett were riding. Clibborn was on an 11-year-old Mustang that he has had for nine years. Sackett had been training his horse for fewer than 30 days.
The ears on both animals stood up straight as the drone flew into the air above the ring.
Clibborn told the audience of about 20 how to position the horse facing the drone.
“She needs to know where the drone will fly around,” he said.
The drone was slowly lowered in front of the animals as they did not move. The drone made its way around the ring, in front of the animals.
“Horses are not afraid of anything going away from them,” Clibborn explained.
“We make a game to track the drone,” he said as he and his horse followed the drone around the ring. “We follow it so she doesn’t get scared of it. We can chase it all day. It is just like tracking a cow, but we are using a drone.”
At one point, the drone was 5 feet in front of the horse and its rider.
Clibborn also laid his horse down and amazed the audience as the drone flew over.
“She had no reaction to that at all,” Clibborn said. “I know I did good work with my horse. I could not be any more proud of our horses than I am right now.”
“Most people’s horses would not respond this way,” Majors said, noting that he never had experimented with horses and drones.
Clibborn said it is a first for horse trainers.
“I thought they (the horses) may have run off or bucked off, but not a thing.”
If a horse does react to a drone, Clibborn told the audience, they need to keep riding around until the animal settles down.
More than drones can upset a horse, one audience member pointed out. He explained how his horses get spooked when helicopters fly over high wires on his property. But after time, the horses become accustomed to the activity in the air, he said.
Clibborn is an Australia native who moved to a farm south of Deerfield in 1990. He works with wild mustangs and competes in the Extreme Mustang Makeover in which participants are given 90 days to train a wild horse and show what the horse has learned.
He has worked with horses for the past 40 years, and said horses must learn to trust first, and with trust anything is possible.