Friday, February 22, 2019

HORSE HARNESS by Zina Abbott

I have a secondary character in my most recent book, Diantha, named Buck Kramer. He drives a wagon pulled by the mare, Mabel, and the ornery mule, Charley. He discovered by accident Charley holds a special affection for Mabel the horse. The two make a good team. With all the hitching and unhitching going on in my story, it was time to find out the proper terms for the equipment, as well as the process.
Plow harness
A horse harness is a type of horse tack that allows a horse or other equine to be driven and to pull carriages, wagons or sleighs. They can also be used to hitch animals to other loads such as plows or canal boats.

There are two main categories of horse harness:

(1) the "breaststrap" or "breastcollar" design. For light work, such as horse show competition where light carts are used, a harness needs only a breastcollar. It can only be used for lighter hauling, since it places the weight of the load on the sternum of the horse and the nearby windpipe. This is not the heaviest skeletal area and heavy loads can constrict the windpipe and reduce a horse's air supply. 

Breastcollar harness to pull a sleigh
 (2) the collar and harness design. The collar and harness places the weight of the load onto the horse's shoulders, and without any restriction on the air supply. For heavy hauling, the harness must include a horse collar to allow the animal to use its full weight and strength.
Putting harness on a horse is called harnessing or harnessing up. In North American, attaching the harness to the load is called hitching. The order of putting on harness components varies by discipline, but when a horse collar is used, it is usually put on first.

Parts of the harness include:

A collar to allow the horse to push against the harness with its shoulders and chest. Two main alternative arrangements (with some intermediate types):

Horse in harness with horse collar
A horse collar (or full collar). A padded loop fitting closely around the horse's neck, pointed at the top to fit the crest of the neck. Used for heavier pulling, especially when used without a swingtree or whiffletree, which is a crossbar, pivoted at the middle, to which the traces of a harness are fastened for pulling a cart, carriage, plow, etc.

A breastcollar. A padded strap running around the chest from side to side. Used for light work, or for somewhat heavier work it is used together with a swingtree evenly on each step without rubbing.

Hames (if a full collar is used). Two metal or wooden strips which take the full force of the pull, padded by the collar.
Close-up of harness with hames and wooden strips
Breeching. 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 (also known as thill). Used for a single horse, a pair, or in a larger team, only for the wheelers (the animal or pair closest to the vehicle). The leaders in a team do not have breeching, as they are in front of the shafts or pole and so cannot slow the vehicle. Breeching may also be omitted when the cart is very light or has efficient brakes on the wheels.

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

Harness saddle or "pad". A small supportive piece of the harness that lies on the horse's back, not the same as a riding saddle.

Girth. A strap that goes firmly around the girth of the horse to attach the harness saddle.

Driving Set
Belly-band. A strap that goes more loosely under the belly of the horse, outside the girth. Prevents the shafts rising up, especially on a two-wheeled vehicle (where weight on the rear of the cart may tip the front up).

Back band. A strap going through the harness saddle to join the belly band either side. Takes the weight of the shafts or pole. In cart harness it is replaced by a chain running in a groove in the harness saddle, hooked to the shafts either side. In a four-wheeled wagon such as the one I describe in my latest book, my character would have used a fixed back-band. The shafts or pole must be allowed to hinge up and down, to allow the horse and vehicle to pass over hillocks and dips. Often the shafts are independently hinged, and on a side-slope these will each hinge to follow the horse, and a sliding back band is not needed. However, if a sliding back band was used with independent shafts it might allow one shaft to ride up higher than the other, and so for such shafts the back-band is normally fixed to the harness saddle. On other four-wheeled vehicles, the two shafts hinge together, and a sliding back band is needed as for two-wheeled vehicles.
A combined driving team in carriage harness
Surcingle. A term used within certain light fine harness designs to describe the combination of a light girth and harness saddle.

False martingale. A strap passing between the front legs, from the centre of the collar to the belly band, to hold the collar in position. Called "false", because unlike a true martingale it does not attach to the bridle or have any influence on the horse's action.

Crupper. A soft padded loop under the base of the tail, to keep the harness from slipping forward.

Back strap. A strap attached by looping through the crupper D at the rear of the saddle / pad or surcingle to attach the crupper.

Shaft tugs, or just tugs. Loops attached to the back band to hold up the shafts of a vehicle in van or fine harness (not needed in cart harness, which attaches to hooks on the shafts). Two types:

For two-wheeled vehicles the tugs are stiff leather loops, fitting fairly loosely around the shafts (which are rigidly attached to the vehicle), to allow flexibility as the animal and the vehicle move against each other.

For four-wheeled vehicles with independently hinged shafts, the tugs (Tilbury tugs) are leather straps buckled tightly around the shafts so they move with the animal.

Terrets. Metal loops on the saddle and collar to support the reins. The bridles of the rear animals of a large team may also have terrets to take the lines of the animals to the front of them.

Reins or Lines. 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 needs to hold only 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 blinders behind and to the side of the horse's eyes, to prevent it from being distracted by the cart and other activity behind it.
Driving bridle
Bits for harness may be similar to those used for riding, particularly in the mouthpiece, usually operating with a curb bit and adjustable leverage to help balance the effect of the reins on different horses in a team. The bridles of the rearward horses in a team (the wheelers in a four-horse team, and both wheelers and center horses in a six-horse team) often have rings at each end of the browband, through which the lines of the forward horses pass.

In some cases, a specially designed running martingale may also be added. A looser overcheck used to hold a horse’s head in a certain position may also be used in a working harness to prevent the horse grazing. The overcheck hooks to a pedestal on the harness saddle.

Harnesses have been used since ancient history throughout the world. Images of what is known as the 'throat-and-girth' harness was used for harnessing horses that pulled carts. Since it constantly choked at the neck, it greatly limited a horse's ability to exert itself. Through the years there have been great improvements in harnesses, including specialization for specific purposes. Here are a few examples of different types of harnesses:

Racing harness

Cart or wagon harnessed to mules

For an excellent online source of parts of a harness, CLICK HERE to go to the Equine Heritage Museum site.

In my book Diantha scheduled to be published on June first. Trust me. In the story, there is more “hitching” going on than just with the equines.

Diantha is now on preorder. To read the book description and access the purchase link, please CLICK HERE.


No comments: