The Driving Horse Harness is a type of horse tack that allows a horse to pull vehicles such as carriages, wagons, sleighs, plows, or even canal boats. If you are just getting into the equestrian sport of driving, then the parts of the horse harness can be a bit overwhelming. In the following article, each harness part is described and their functions made clear.
Collar: Is a padded loop that fits around the horse’s neck. This piece may not be included in all horse harnesses as it is designed for a horse harness that is used for heavy pulling.
Breast collar: Is the padded strap that runs across the front of the horse’s chest from side to side. This piece of the harness is used for pulling lighter loads.
Hames: This piece is only present if you are using a harness with a collar. The hames is two metal or wooden strips that take the full force of the pull.
Breeching: This strap rests around the horse’s haunches. It is typically attached to the shafts or pole of the vehicle. This piece of the harness allows the horse to slow and stop the vehicle. When driving a team of horses, the lead horses will not have a breeching strap as they are not directly attached to the vehicle. Breeching straps may also not be present in a fine harness or when the cart is very light and has brakes on the wheels.
Traces: These are the straps or chains that transfer the pull of the horse from the hames or breast collar to the vehicle.
Harness saddle: This is not the same thing as a riding saddle. This piece of the harness is also sometimes called the pad. It is the small supportive piece that lies on the horse’s back. This piece helps to support the weight of the shafts.
Girth: Similar to a riding girth, the harness girth attaches firmly around the barrel of the horse. This piece keeps the harness saddle in place.
Belly-band: This strap goes over the girth strap and around the barrel of the horse. This strap is attached loosely instead of firmly. Its function is to prevent the shafts from rising up.
Back-band: The back-band attaches through the harness saddle and attaches to the belly-band. This strap takes the weight of the shafts. In a cart, this piece may be chains. The back-band can be used in two different forms, the sliding back-band or the fixed back-band. The sliding back-band is used in two-wheeled vehicles, this is to accommodate the fixed shafts. The fixed back-band is used in four-wheeled vehicles to accommodate the hinged shafts.
Surcingle: This piece is used with a fine harness. This describes the light girth and harness saddle combination.
False Martingale: This piece attaches to the breast collar from the belly-band to ensure the position of the collar. It is called a false martingale because a true martingale attached to the bridle.
Crupper: This is a soft padded piece that loops the base of the horse’s tail. The crupper prevents the harness from sliding forward.
Back Strap: This strap connects the crupper to the harness saddle. The whole setup keeps the harness in place.
Shaft tugs: This piece is only found in a fine harness. This piece is used to hold up the shafts. On carts, this is not needed as the shafts connects to hooks. There are two types of shaft tugs, two-wheeled tugs and four-wheeled tugs. The tugs for a two-wheeled vehicle are leather loops that allow for flexibility. The tugs of a four-wheeled vehicle are leather buckles that are tightly attached so that they move with the horse.
Terrets: These are the metal loops on the breast collar and saddle that support the reins.
Reins or Lines: These are the long leather straps that run from the bit to the driver’s hands. These pieces are what guide the horse.
Bridle: Much like with a riding bridle, the harness bridle goes on the horse’s head. The harness bridle may include pieces not seen in a riding bridle, such as blinders. Blinders prevent the horse from being distracted by the cart. Harness racers sometimes also use a shadow roll on the noseband of the bridle. This has the same purpose as the blinders.
Bit: There are a variety of different driving bits depending on the number of horses in a team or single. But like a riding bit, this piece goes into the horse’s mouth to convey cues from the driver.
Overcheck: In some horse shows an overcheck piece may be used. This helps to maintain a certain head position.
Horse Brasses: These are decorative brass plates, usually seen in the working horse harness.