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Horse Driving Harnesses


Horse harness

A horse harness is a type of horse tack that allows a horse or other equine to pull various horse-drawn vehicles such as a carriage, wagon or sleigh. Harnesses may also be used to hitch animals to other loads such as a plough or canal boat.

For heavy hauling, the harness must include a horse collar to allow the animal to use its full weight and strength. For light work, such as horse show competition where light carts are used, a harness needs only a breastcollar. Harness components designed for other animals (such as the yoke used with oxen) are not suitable for horses and will not allow the horse to work efficiently.

Putting harness on a horse is called harnessing or harnessing up. Attaching the harness to the load is called putting to (British Isles) or hitching (North America). The order of putting on harness components varies by discipline, but when a horse collar is used, it usually is put on first.

Parts of the harness include:

A horse collar or a breastcollar (breastplate). A padded loop or padded straps which allow the horse to push against the harness with its shoulders and chest.

Hames (if a collar is used). Metal or wood strips which take the full force of the pull, padded by the collar.

Breeching (pronounced "britching"). A strap around the horse's haunches allowing it to set back and slow a vehicle, usually hooked to the shafts or pole of the vehicle. When there is only one horse used, breeching is required. In multi-horse teams, only the wheelers (the animal or pair closest to the vehicle) need breeching, as only they can slow the vehicle.

Traces. The straps or chains which take the pull from the breastcollar or hames to the load.

Saddle. A small supportive piece of the harness that lies on the horse's back (not the same as a riding saddle).

Surcingle, girth or bellyband: A strap that goes around the girth of the horse, with or without a harness saddle.

Crupper. A strap attached to the rear of the saddle or surcingle that places a padded loop under the base of the tail, to keep the harness from slipping forward.

Shaft tugs, or just tugs. Loops attached to the saddle to hold up the shafts of a vehicle.

Terrets. Loops on the saddle to support the reins.

Reins. Long leather straps (occasionally ropes) running from the bit to the driver's hands, used to guide the horses. In teams of several animals these may be joined together so the driver only need hold one pair.

Bridle: When working in harness, most horses wear a specialised bridle that includes features not seen in bridles used for riding. These usually include blinkers (or blinders), to prevent the horse from being distracted by the cart and other activity behind the animal.Harness racing horses usually have an added shadow roll on the noseband of the bridle.

Bits for harness may be similar, particularly in mouthpiece to those used for riding, and usually operate with direct pressure and minimal leverage, but there are additional designs of bit ring and shank that are not used in riding bits.

Some horses pulling lighter vehicles, particularly at horse shows and other public exhibitions, often have an overcheck added to assist them in holding a desired head position, and for safety reasons. In some cases a specially designed running martingale may also be added.

Types of harness:

Show harnesses for light cart driving have a breastcollar instead of a horse collar and are made with strong but refined-looking leather throughout, usually black and highly polished. In draft horse showing and combined driving, horse collars are seen, but harness leather is still highly polished and well-finished.

Lighter weight but strong harness similar to show harness, used for pulling passenger vehicles such as buggies or carts, or other lighter loads. The traces attach either to the shafts of the vehicle or to the vehicle itself, and the harness may have either a horse collar or a breastcollar.

The racing harness, like the show harness, is a breastcollar harness. Horses are hitched to a very lightweight two-wheeled cart, called a sulky. Most race harnesses incorporate a running martingale and an overcheck. Sometimes harness racing horses are raced with an "open" bridle, one that does not have blinkers. Specialized equipment, called pacing hobbles, are added to the harness of race horses who pace in order to help them maintain their gait.

Cart or wagon harness:

Harness for pulling heavier vehicles always has a horse collar. The traces are often made of chain and attach to loops on the shafts of the vehicle. A chain attached to the shafts may be passed over the saddle to carry their weight. Reins are of rope or leather, depending on region of the world.

Plow harness:

Similar to cart harness but without breeching, used for dragged loads such as plows, harrows, canal boats or logs. This style is also used on the leaders in a team of animals pulling a vehicle. The traces attach to a whippletree behind the horse and this then pulls the load.


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