Horse harness

Horse in harness with horse collar
A closeup of a horse harness.
A horse with a breastcollar harness pulling a sleigh

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 plow or canal boat.

There are two main categories of horse harness, "breaststrap" or "breastcollar" design and the collar and hames 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; also heavy loads can constrict the windpipe and reduce a horse's air supply.

By contrast, the collar and hames 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.

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 is usually put on first.

Parts of the harness

An illustration of a horse harness with full collar
Complete breastcollar harness and bridle, laid out

Parts of the harness include:[1]

Harness bridle

Types of harness

Show harness

Show 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.

Carriage or van harness

A combined driving team in carriage harness

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.

Racing harness

Main article: Harness racing
Racing harness

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.[2]

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.[3] Reins are of rope or leather, depending on region of the world.

Plow harness

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 (or in larger teams may attach to further whippletrees).

There are two main plow harness types: the New England D-Ring and the Western harness. The New England D-Ring makes use of a metal D shaped ring that allows for a ninety degree angle to be maintained at the junction of the front trace and the hames regardless of the height of the implement being pulled. The Western harness does not provide this flexibility but has other useful characteristics such as a strap that runs from the britchen to the collar which stops the pull from riding up and hitting the horses in the face when descending a steep incline.

See also


  1. Harness parts
  2. Harness racing equipment
  3. Miller W C, Practical Animal Husbandry, Oliver and Boyd 1959 ed, p 313
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 4/9/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.