horse harness

4 Functions of a Working Horse Harness

How a Well-Fitting Harness Helps a Horse Pull a Carriage 

Horses have worked alongside humans to achieve many tasks throughout history, but most wouldn’t be possible without the use of a horse harness, which joins the horse with its load.

A harness is part of the tack that a horse will wear depending on the activity it is doing. In the case of carriage horses, the harness helps the horse to pull its load safely.

Draft horses are built to pull heavy items, in fact, the term draft horse comes from the old English word ‘Dragan’ meaning ‘to draw or haul’. A well-fitting harness helps to maximize the natural ability of a draft horse by allowing them to transfer all their energy into pulling their load.

Read on to find out what parts make up a harness, what the main functions of a working horse harness are and why a harness must be well fitted.

The Main Parts of a Horse Harness

A working horse harness is made up of over 30 parts, each of which has an important role to play in helping the horse safely and successfully pull a load. These include:

  • Collar – made from thick padded leather, the pressure of the horse against the collar is transmitted into the forward motion of the carriage.
  • Hames – connect in deep grooves in the collar and are held together, at the top and bottom, by hames straps.  Lines are guided through Terrets (aka ‘keepers’), found near the top of the hames, while Traces are connected to the lower end, enabling even distribution of the pull along the horse’s shoulder.
  • Traces – link the Hames to the vehicle or load they are pulling.
  • Saddle acts as the central harness anchor and includes shaft loops that support the shafts in a single carriage.
  • Girth/Bellyband & Overgirth – used to keep the saddle correctly placed on the horse’s back.
  • Breeching – a wide strap that passes around the hindquarters of a horse in harness.  It is part of the apparatus that allows the horse to stop or reverse an attached carriage.  The breeching is held in position by the hip straps, running over the rump.
  • Holdback Straps – run from the breeching to the shafts.  They are used to stop the forward motion of a carriage when the horse stops and allow for reversal when a horse backs up.
  • Blinders – ensure the horse cannot see behind him, focusing his attention forward. Part of the Bridle is a headpiece that helps the rider/driver communicate with the horse.
  • Lines/reins: A key communication tool that allows the driver to direct the horse gently. 

Tally-Ho staff and drivers all receive detailed training in the role of each part of a harness and how they work together. 

4 Key Functions of a Working Horse Harness

Harnesses have 4 key functions when used on carriage-pulling horses:

  • Allows the horse to pull the carriage (via the front part of the harness – collar and traces).
  • Provides a stabilizing mechanism (via the middle part of the harness – saddle, shaft loops and belly band).
  • Provides a braking mechanism (via the back part of the harness – breeching and holdbacks).
  • Provides a steering mechanism (via the bit, bridle and lines).

The Importance of a Well-Fitting Harness for Working Horses

Proper harness fitting is imperative to the horse’s comfort, soundness and mental well-being, as an ill-fitting or dirty harness may cause lameness, soreness and mental fatigue. 

Without the support of a complete and well-fitting harness, the effort required to pull a load would tire and possibly injure the horse and impact the driver’s ability to communicate with it effectively. 

How Should a Harness Fit on a Carriage Pulling Draft Horse?

At Tally-Ho, our staff are taught to fit a harness properly to our draft horses and how to recognize when the fit needs adjusting. A proper-fitting harness is vital not only for the well-being of the horse but also to ensure an effective draw /pull.

To work effectively and with no risk of injury to the horse, the harness must be fitted in a very specific way. For example, some of the things we focus on when fitting a collar are:

  • When under load, the pull on the collar should align with each horse’s physiology. For example:
    • The angle of the collar should parallel the horse’s natural body contour. 
    • The collar should sit against the muscle in front of the scapula and slightly ahead of the horse’s shoulder.
  • Collars that are too big (long) can rest on the suprascapular nerve, causing it to pinch, and can result in the traces being set too low on the horse’s body, making the load pull down on the horse unnecessarily.
  • Collars that are too small (short) can impact the horse’s windpipe and breathing.
  • The traces need the proper angle and line to the point of pull on the carriage.

Regular Harness Checks Can Prevent Rubs and Injury

At Tally-Ho, the comfort and safety of our horses is paramount. Each harness is custom fit for each horse and is labelled and stored for their use only.

Our team checks the fit of the harness every time a horse is driven, as the horse’s body can change shape and condition throughout the year. We make any adjustments that are required before we take a horse out to pull a carriage.

At day’s end, we remove, check and clean the harness and equipment.

Rubs can happen quickly and unexpectedly and can be both painful and debilitating for horses.  We take steps to prevent rubs by making sure:

  • The harness is clean. Dirt and grime are key culprits of rubs.
  • There are no sharp or rigid objects against the horse’s skin.
  • The harness is adjusted evenly on both sides of the horse (an uneven harness will not distribute the pulling weight evenly).
  • No parts of the harness are too tight and creating pinch-points.

Experience the True Power of a Work Horse on One of Our Carriage Tours

When you take a carriage tour with Tally-Ho, you will experience firsthand the amazing pulling power of our draft horses. With their custom-fitted horse harnesses in place, they can effortlessly pull a carriage and its passengers around beautiful Victoria, BC, using less than 17 percent of their actual physical capacity.

Your driver will be glad to tell you more about your horse guide, what equipment they are wearing and how it helps to support them while they work.

Whether you are looking for a short and sweet taster tour or one of our longer experiences, we will delight and entertain you as you sit back and enjoy the ride. We run tours year-round. Contact us today to book one of our city or farm tours.