Driving a team of horses is quickly becoming a lost part of our heritage. Once upon a time, two-, three- and four-horse teams of massive drafts, such as Shires, Clydesdales, Belgians and Suffolks, did the work that is now done by machinery. There are still some people trying to keep driving horses alive, using them to work small homesteads, or showing them or driving for exhibition in parades and wagon trains. The art of assembling a harness on your pair is exact and must be done properly for your safety and the comfort and safety of your animals.
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Tie the horses in an open area where you have room to move around them safely. You may also teach the horses to stand untied, which makes harnessing a little easier as you do not have to work around the leads.
Unbuckle the neck collar, or slide it over the horse's head with the widest part pointed up. Turn it right-side up once you are past the horse's eyes. Buckle in place, and make the necessary adjustments so that it sits parallel to the horse's shoulder and you can fit your fist between the collar and the neck at the front centre.
Fasten the hames to the neck collar.
Fasten on the false martingale. This buckles around the collar.
Fasten on the tugs and make sure they sit at a 90-degree angle to the collar. Tie them up so the horse doesn't step on them.
Fasten the girth strap after putting it through the martingale. It is not a cinch and should not be tight; check that you can slip your hand between the girth and the horse.
Put the pad just behind the withers, and place on the backstrap. Leave the belly band unbuckled until after the horses are in the traces.
Fasten the breeching to the collar and tugs, or traces, making sure all the straps are flat against the horse and fitted like a basket over the back and rump of the horse. The breeching strap should sit at the midpoint between the top of the tail dock and point of the hock; the strap should not grab the horse anywhere.
Bridle the horse and adjust the blinders so they cup the eyes without touching the lashes.
Repeat Steps 2 through 9 for the second horse.
Back both horses up to and attach the tugs to the swingletrees.
Fasten the lines to the horse's bits and pass through the heart rings between the horses. This keeps the lines from getting entangled as they pass up to the driver's hands.
Tips and warnings
- It is best to harness each horse separately, or to have two people working on them in tandem.
- There are many different types of harness for different applications, and they all go on a little differently. Work from the neck to the rear and finish with the bridle with any type of harness.
- Be sure all loose and unfastened straps are kept secured out of the way of the horses' feet to keep from damaging the harness or harming the horse.
- Check all harness parts for weak spots and breaks before every use.
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