Driving a harness horse!


Build this picture in your mind as you read these lines…. “They moved so smoothly that it was hard to tell who was leading except that the pair of large horses walked ahead of the man. The horses matched his speed, as well as each others, in a calm, yet watchful, stride. The man’s touch on the lines was as soft and subtle as his voice when he spoke, thanking his working friends for making his own efforts easier and pleasurable.”  These words were spoken by L.R. Miller, an accomplished teamster about driving a horse under harness power.

Here at the ranch, we use a work harness rather than a buggy harness for our hands-on demonstrations. The biggest difference between the two types is that a work harness is of a much heavier construction and uses a collar and hames (a pair of curved metal (or sometimes wooden) pieces lying on the horse collar of a horse harness, taking the pull from the traces) instead of a breast collar. The collar and hames must not only fit the horse, but must fit each other as well. Proper fit can make the difference between a comfortable, happy horse, or a sore horse that may get choked down. The collar is made of leather and most are filled with animal hair or straw. The collar should fit against the horse’s lower neck and have the thickness of a hand between it and the horse’s neck, allowing room to breathe and swallow. The hames can be made of hard wood or steel and fit in a groove built into the collar and are secured into place with leather straps. The tugs are attached to the hames and reach about three feet behind the horse with tug chains attached at the ends to hook the horse to the load being pulled. The other parts, such as the harness body, brichen, quarter straps, pole strap, yolk strap and back pad all serve a purpose, but only secondary for pulling. A work harness consists of 13 main parts an comes in 5 basic sizes.

Now here is the really interesting part: You imagined that the horse pulls the load, didn’t you? In fact, the design of the harness converts the push into pull. When the horse pushes against the collar, pull is created. But it is the pushing that drives the outcome.

If you’ve never driven a horse under harness, it is an experience you will long remember. Until you feel the raw horsepower that you control in your hands, you can only imagine it.

by Steve Shaw photos by Roni Ziemba

Steve Shaw is Programs Director at Tanque Verde Ranch. He moved here from Nebraska where he owned and operated a carriage business in downtown Lincoln.