Horse Brasses: How to Identify Them and What They Mean

The History and Present Use of Horse Brasses

If you have ever watched a parade of horses, you’ve likely seen horse brasses on the leather straps that attach the horses to the carriage they are pulling.

Brasses are most commonly seen in use on draft and cart horses. 

A Brief History of Horse Brasses

Unless you know a thing or two about horse tack, chances are you haven’t given much thought to them serving any purpose beyond making the horse look pretty. 

Decking horses out with brasses is a practice that’s been around since before the Romans, although the metal used then was not actually brass but rather bronze. It is thought that horse brasses in pre-Roman times were amulets used to ward off evil spirits. While this may have been true, horse brasses on leather straps were more widely used as status symbols for the wealthy.

The development and use of brass in horse tack did not occur until the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st (1559-1603) in England. Even with the introduction of brass, a brass-like alloy of copper and zinc known as “latten” was commonly used until at least 1830. 

The English town of Walsall, already established as a prominent place for the manufacture of horse tack from 1830 on, became a sort of landmark for the production of—and growing interest in—horse brasses.

From large producers down to solitary craftspeople, the manufacture of horse brasses grew from that point until some 2000 designs had come into existence.

These days, horse brasses can be found decorating the saddlery of working horses regardless of the social class of the horse’s owner or handler. Brasses have also been made as commemorative pieces for horse clubs, corporations or event coordinators and are often used as decorations in pubs and restaurants. 

As jewellery, horse brasses have even crossed the species barrier to become a popular motif for necklaces and earrings. 

To this day, all additional uses aside, brasses are still used in horse finery.

Common Motifs on Horse Brasses

Although there are over 2,000 horse brass designs in existence, there are some designs and motifs that are commonly found, such as: 

  • The crescent moon was considered to be lucky by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  • Apollo’s lyre is a motif that comes from Greek mythology.
  • Trees and barnyard animal motifs were popular with farmers.
  • Family crests and heraldic motifs were used by the titled gentry.
  • Trade-related motifs, such as brewery barrels, were used by people associated with those trades.
  • Hearts, moons, stars and so on have Romany origins.

Manufacturing Methods for Horse Brasses

There were two traditional ways of manufacturing horse brasses: casting and stamping.

The casting method is the oldest way of manufacturing these horse decorations. The patterns were first created in lead, which was then pressed into tightly packed sand-filled boxes, with up to 10 to a box. Small channels were made in the sand, connecting each pattern indentation so that molten metal could pass from one indentation to the next. After the metal cooled, the patterns would be separated from each other and then sanded and polished smooth. This finishing process used to be done by hand, but it is now done with machinery.

The stamping method came along around 1880. It involved using a fly press to stamp a pattern onto sheets of metal, one punch at a time. In later years, machines were developed that could stamp out an entire design at one time. 

After WWI, the demand for heavy horse harness furnishings died down considerably, and the stamping method of production suffered as a result. It was through the work of small-time manufacturers specializing in casting that horse brasses lived on and eventually enjoyed a renewed interest. 

Horse Brass Use Today

Where horse brasses used to be status symbols for the wealthy and then tack furnishings for draft and carriage horses, they are now largely used in parades or other events where a horse’s finery is expected to be displayed. For example, a carriage driver that has been hired for a wedding may deck their horses out in brasses to fit the elegance of the occasion. 

In addition to their traditional use on horses, brasses are also used in several other ways, including:

  • As decorations in homes, pubs, country clubs, restaurants and many other social spots. 
  • As jewellery.
  • As commemorative art for important events, such as royal coronations.
  • As advertising.
  • As souvenirs for places and social events.

While horse brasses are not among the most financially valuable collector’s items, they do enjoy immense popularity. In this way, they have a kind of value that money simply cannot buy. Theirs is the value of history, culture and charm.

Are Horse Brasses Lucky?

Things that are considered to bring good luck are generally items that are steeped in history and superstition, such as the horseshoe, the lucky rabbit’s foot, or the 4-leaf clover.

  • In the case of the horseshoe, hanging a horseshoe—open end up—over a doorway is said to accumulate luck for the household. 
  • As for the rabbit’s foot, the animal itself was considered to be sacred by many early civilizations, so it was thought that having a rabbit’s foot as a talisman would bring one good fortune. 
  • Finding a 4-leaf clover was such a rarity that the Irish felt the extra leaf brought good luck to those who found one or had it on their person.

The horse brass is, likewise, steeped in history and superstition. If you consider that horse brasses used to be thought of as amulets to protect a horse (and thus its handler) by warding off evil spirits, then they sit alongside the best of the best as a good luck charm. 

At Tally Ho Tours, we treat our draft horses as if they are the luckiest of good luck charms: with love and respect. 

Stop by our tour location in downtown Victoria, BC, to meet some of our horses and drivers face to face, or book one of our carriage tours to make memories that will last a lifetime. 


All About Tack: Why Horses Wear What They Do

What Tack is Used When Riding Vs Pulling a Carriage?

Whenever you see a horse with a rider or pulling a carriage, you will notice that it is wearing various straps and harnesses, known collectively as tack. Horse tack is used to help the rider or driver communicate with the horse and ensures both are safe and comfortable.

Depending on the horse’s task, different tack may be required. In this article, we’re going to focus on the type of tack needed when riding a horse and pulling a carriage.

What is Tack And What Is It For?

Horse tack is all the equipment and gear required to handle, ride or harness a horse. Tack is not just one item but a range of things needed for different activities with a horse.

Some of the most commonly seen and used horse tack includes:

  • Bridle
  • Bit
  • Reins
  • Harness
  • Collar
  • Halter
  • Saddle / saddle pad
  • Cinch/Girth
  • Stirrups
  • Lead rope

Why Does Different Tack Need To Be Used Sometimes?

Depending on the horse’s activity, the tack required will be a bit different. Although a few core items will remain constant, some tack items may differ slightly, or you may need some unique equipment.

*Think about how a horse moves when pulling a cart vs doing show jumping, for example, and you can understand why tack needs to be adapted to the activity.

What Tack Is Needed When Riding A Horse?

When riding a horse, there is different tack required than when a horse is pulling something. As such, riding requires equipment to keep the rider in place.

Both rider and horse need to be comfortable, and the tack needs to allow for gentle but precise communication between them so the horse understands what the rider is asking it to do. 

Common types of tack required for riding include:

  • Bridle – horses’ headgear, usually made up of a halter (sometimes called a headstall), a bit and reins. 
  • Halter – a piece of equipment, usually made of leather, that wraps around the horse’s head to which a bit, reins, or a lead rope can be attached.
  • Bit – a piece of metal that sits in the horse’s mouth and attaches to the bridle and reins. When the reins are pulled, the bit puts gentle pressure on the side of the horse’s mouth, causing it to change direction. A bit is a crucial communication tool between the rider and horse. Read more about how Tally Ho Carriage Tours train horses to work with bits here.
  • Reins – a leather or rope strap attached to the bit and held by the rider to control movement.
  • Saddle – this is a leather seat for the rider. Different styles are available depending on the type or style of riding you prefer, such as western saddles or racing saddles.
  • Cinch /Girth – a strap that holds the saddle firmly but comfortably against the horse’s body.
  • Stirrups (optional) – foot holders attached to the saddle that make the rider more comfortable and secure

What Tack do Horses Wear to Pull Carriages?

Pulling a carriage or cart requires different tack from riding. The primary purposes of the tack for a carriage pulling horse are:

  • To secure the horse and the carriage together in a way that allows the horse to use their entire body strength to easily move and stop the carriage without risk of discomfort or injury.
  • To ensure the driver can communicate clearly with the horse. This is important when horses are working in unpredictable environments like city streets.

The tack used on a working horse that is pulling a carriage is similar to tack used when riding a horse: bridle, bit, and reins. There are, however, some other vital pieces of horse tack required for this job, including:

  • Harness – a set of straps and devices that attach the horse to the item it is pulling
  • Collar – part of the harness, a pair of curved wooden or metal pieces (called Hames) that help distribute the weight around the horse’s shoulders
  • Traces – leather or chain straps linking the collar to the load
  • Breeching (Britching) strap – a strap that ties behind the horse’s haunches and enables it to slow or stop the item it is pulling

Did You Know? The horses that pull carriages for Tally Ho are all draft horses – breeds with the strength to pull at least 6 times their body weight. Pulling a carriage uses only 20% of this capacity.

Why is Clean and Well-Fitting Tack Important?

Clean and well-fitting tack is essential for the well-being and comfort of the horse (and rider when there is one). Conversely, poorly fitting tack can result in:

  • Saddle slippage – can result in injury or a fall for the rider and rubbing/discomfort for the horse.
  • Sore mouth – if a bit is too large or tight, it will put excess pressure on the horse’s mouth resulting in damage to the soft mouth tissue. As a result, the horse can suffer pain, infection, and inability to respond correctly to commands.

Failure to keep tack clean and sanitary could put the horse at risk of infection and damage the equipment over time, leading to loss. So follow in the footsteps of the team at Tally Ho Carriage Tours and make cleaning of tack your priority after an outing on your horse.

At Tally Ho, our entire team is dedicated to the well-being of our horses and to the safety of our staff and customers. Thanks to our extensive training with our horses, they are all very responsive, which means drivers only need to use minimal pressure when giving instructions. In addition, as you can see in this video, our horses are comfortable in their tack and happy to wear it.

Experience The Strength of Draft Horses on a Carriage Tour with Tally-Ho

Meet our delightful draft horses in person when you take a scenic carriage ride with Tally Ho Carriage Tours. Enjoy a historical tour through the streets of downtown Victoria, BC, a relaxing ride through the country on the Sea Cider Picnic Experience, or one of our special seasonal tours. Contact us today to book your tour.