Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Ask A Teamster: Bridle Safety

An interview with Doc Hammill, Story by Steve Wood, and Comments by Barb Lee

Note: When I use the word horse or horses it is my intentions for it to be extended to include mules, donkeys, and ponies unless otherwise specified. – Doc Hammill

Question: Doc, I understand that you are preparing an article on Bridle Safety, it seems to me that just a year and a half ago you wrote an extensive article on Bridle Safety in the Small Farmer’s Journal (“Ask a Teamster”, SFJ, Volume 34, #4 and SFJ, Volume 34, #1); what has prompted you to write again so soon about Bridle Safety?

Doc: Well, as you know, I am always seeking to learn, trying new things, and experimenting in an effort to make what we do with horses and how we do it safer and better. Since I wrote the previous article I’ve learned about a type of driving bridle design which has a crown piece and throatlatch system that is very different from the traditional driving bridles we use in this country. The bridles are specifically designed to prevent them from being rubbed off or pulled off over the horse’s ears. They are based on a design used for some Australian stockmen’s bridles.

As you know from my previous article one of the most dangerous things that can happen to drivers and horses in any driving situation is for a horse to break or lose its bridle. After testing these bridles I’m convinced that using them instead of conventional driving and workhorse bridles would prevent a lot of mishaps and wrecks. My concern for the safety of people and horses is what motivated me to revisit the subject of Bridle Safety here. In addition to all the considerations and techniques I mentioned in my first article I want folks to know about this bridle option, and hopefully start using it BEFORE they have a wreck.

Like Cathy and I, our good friend and top driving horse trainer, clinician and instructor, Steve Wood, from Minnesota recently made the decision to convert his bridles to this design. Steve is one of the most conscientious, skilled, safety conscious, and meticulous horsemen that I know. Some of you will recall his contributions to this “Ask a Teamster” column in the past. We recently received the following heart wrenching but very relevant and important story from Steve:

Cherrie and I had a Driving Accident

and here’s what we are doing about it

by Steve Wood

This past Saturday Cherrie spent the first of several nights in intensive care at a hospital in the Twin Cities. While lying awake that night I replayed 30 seconds of the afternoon over and over in my mind. I have made several decisions about how I will change my driving routine to avoid a repeat of that 30 seconds in the future.

While thinking of what Cherrie might be going through, it occurred to me that I had read in a driving club newsletter that she had a new driving pony at my barn. We have been working on preparing a future CDE prospect for her. My immediate thought was that folks who hear of Cherrie’s hospital stay would assume that Cherrie and her new horse had a driving accident. That did not happen!!


Cherrie was driving one of my teams to get some pairs experience. I was seated next to her. We drove a trail through the trees, out in the open for a short time, and then came back to the buildings. Cherrie then made an expert stop at a spot where my teams have stopped perhaps hundreds of times. As I stepped down from my seat, I turned and walked to the back of the wagon to unload some cargo, but never touched the back of the wagon. In the space of a few moments my right hand horse reached over to her teammate and rubbed off her bridle, jerked her head up high, and immediately bolted to the left. The team, the wagon, and Cherrie were traveling at full speed away from me. They were headed for some thick trees where there was no trail. The team dove into the trees and turned a sharp right. The springy wagon seat ejected Cherrie. The team and wagon continued for about another 30 seconds, diving onto trails and off through small trees.

Seeing family headed for Cherrie, I ran to cut off the team. Now I have not tried to run this fast for about 25 years, add the winter boots and small trees, and I went tail over teakettle. I got up and started springing off in a new direction. The team was now headed across an open field. As I was getting closer, it was apparent that both horses were now without bridles.

They began to slow down, then stopped when I hollered “NOW STAND.” I thank the Lord above for that. Cathy (Steve’s wife) envisions a wall of angels. I can just see a row of stern faced winged creatures with their hands pushed toward the team saying. “You shall not pass.” Stopping probably had little to do with me hollering.

They stood while I and two passersby from the road (more angels) disconnected them from the wagon and collected lines and bridles that were dragging behind them. They lead off fairly quiet when asked to walk and we went back to the buildings.

Family had called for an ambulance by the time I got to Cherrie. Having recovered from getting the wind knocked out of her, we began to concentrate on her tender knee and shin. The ambulance crew checked Cherrie, gave her some ice packs, talked about her tender tummy, and drove away. So we sent Cherrie on her way home to rest.

Fast forward several hours.

Cherrie calls from the emergency room while waiting for an ambulance ride to the intensive care unit at North Memorial Hospital. Immediately after driving home, Cherrie experienced severe pain in her abdomen, called an ambulance and the same ambulance crew came to her home, gave her a ride to a local hospital where they found that her spleen was bleeding. Trees are a very hard landing pad.

By Tuesday, Cherrie had impressed many doctors with her healing powers and was already out of intensive care! Cherrie and I have discussed the lessons we have learned and want to share them with you.

Cherrie’s 9 year old niece hit the Lesson Learned nail right on the head. “If you don’t have the proper equipment for driving – you shouldn’t drive your horse.” I have a thought on equipment to propose to all of you, but first Cherrie and I have some procedural changes we will make that we want to share with you.

We both have learned that the groom or helper for the pair needs to go directly to the heads of the horses as soon as they stop. Teams will usually try to rub heads together as soon as they come to a halt. If I had stepped to the heads of the horses as soon as I got off the wagon, I would have seen them rub, would have scolded them and put any leather back into place that the team had displaced. The groom needs to be quick. My team did not take 10 seconds from the command to stop until they removed a bridle, probably closer to 5 seconds.

A pair driver needs to be aware of the need and be prepared with line handling techniques to discourage heads from getting together. Any time in the future I go to a commercial job with a pair, I will have a helper stationed at the location where I expect to stop the pair. The moment the pair stops, the helper will be at the heads. No climb down time. If we do a parade, we will have two walkers. Parades always come to a stop several times.

Now for the equipment proposal.

Most of us have heard of the Gullet Strap. It can be used to connect the throatlatch and the noseband of most carriage bridles. It’s effective for keeping the bridle in place and I have recommended it many times. However, most farm/ draft bridles don’t have a full noseband and there is no way to use a gullet strap. That is the case with my bridles. Then what do we do? We could add a noseband. However, I feel there is an even better option.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

About a year ago I read a magazine article that described remolding a farm bridle to build a double crown bridle. Now there is a harness builder in Iowa who is building new bridles with the double crown available as an option. I bought one new pair of bridles for my most commonly used team a few months ago. This second crown has its own throatlatch that can be tightened around the smaller area of the throat of the horse. This second crown can catch the bridle if the primary crown is pushed over the ears.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

I have 10 bridles, so unfortunately I have not yet bought new double crown bridles for the whole herd. I won’t use a single crown bridle anymore. Fortunately, this harness maker, and I suspect others also, make an adapter to add to your bridle to create a double crown bridle.

Jeff and Ginny Pomije at Big Black Horse LLC are my contact to the harness maker that builds these adapters. The adapters use a replacement brow band so you may need to do some measuring, but the additional security is well worth the effort.

Single driving horses are not immune to bridle removal. They can catch the end of the shafts, rub on trailers or buildings, or they can even catch a post on a hazard during a CDE (Combined Driving Event). So please add this double crown to all bridles.

Lesson Learned #1 – If you don’t have the proper equipment, you shouldn’t drive a horse. Helmet, gloves, bridle, harness, and I am even looking into protective vests. It all makes good sense.

Lesson Learned #2 – Helpers should get to the horse’s head as soon as possible after pulling to a stop. Drivers need to be aware of line handling techniques that will discourage the horse from messing with their heads.

Lesson Learned #3 – If someone brings an ambulance for you, go with the ambulance to a hospital and get checked out thoroughly.

On Thursday Cherrie was released from the hospital. She is on her way to recovery. It will take some time. CDE’s and her new pony, Lady, are in the near future, and for that reason I may be the luckiest guy around. Praise the Lord for his army of angels and medical personnel that have done what they do best these past few days.

I will document the recovery process for the horses that were involved in this incident. I firmly believe they will be good and comfortable driving horses again. The challenges, reasoning, and progress will be in another letter.

Sing loud, talk to your maker, and have a blessed Christmas.
Steve Wood
Wild Wood Sleigh and Carriage

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Question: Doc, is this bridle design a new development or has it been around a long time?

Doc: The concept of a second crown and throat latch has apparently been used in Australia for certain types of stockman’s bridles for quite some time (above). One of my earliest clues about the existence of double crown bridles came when Cathy and I rode a couple of darned fast and frisky Fjord carousel horses in Missoula, Montana. The horses were carved and painted in Missoula in the early 1990s and their tack appeared to be traditional Norwegian style. The headgear was definitely of a double crown design (below). Thereafter, Cathy spent some time researching the origins and history of such bridles with limited success. She did find some photos and film footage of Swiss army horses wearing headgear with double crown features. Barb Lee, who you will soon read about below, sent me the drawing below which shows a double crown halter from a late 1800’s German harness catalog. One would suspect that they may have used double crown bridles at that time as well. We are anxious to learn more about the history and distribution of such bridles and would love to hear from anyone who could enlighten us further.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

I first hear about double crown bridles for driving early last year when our friend, Walt Bernard, told me about Barb Lee, a former harness maker from Oregon. Walt, who is very safety conscious, was testing Barb’s double crown driving bridle design on his horses. Then that summer Cathy and I read an article in which Barb shared her design and instructions for making the bridles. When Walt reported to us how convinced he was that the bridle was a safer option, Cathy and I made the decision to convert to double crown bridles ourselves. Steve and Cherrie’s incident further emphasized the importance of safety in general and bridle safety in particular. Steve and I decided to collaborate on an effort to redouble our efforts to share our concerns and recommendations about driving horse safety. Barb Lee has generously agreed to let us use the article on her KRIO (Kant Rub It Off) bridle in our efforts. In her letter below she shares some of her history, experience, and perspectives.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Dear Doc, Your letter and (Steve’s) story have brought tears to my eyes!! OF COURSE you have my permission to use the article!

I am sure that everyone on the continent heard of the tragic parade disaster last 4th of July where a woman was killed, and the way I heard the story, it was because of a lost bridle (this has been verified). I thought to myself, this will never happen again if I can stop it!!

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Years ago, I designed a double crown driving bridle around the Australian Stockman’s bridle design (above). It never caught on, so although I’ve used them extensively, the idea simply languished in my computer files for years. The biggest problem for carriage drivers was acceptance. It was too “not pretty.” Besides, it was very complex to make, which made it unattractively expensive. Carriage drivers fancy the gullet strap, but I have very little faith in it. Many people with small-eared ponies and miniatures complain of being unable to keep bridles on without braiding part of the mane around the crown.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

After the accident, I “cleaned up” the design for carriage drivers and posted pictures on my favorite driving chat groups, including Rural Heritage and there was a significant response. Joe Mischka asked for the article based on my post to his “front porch” forum, and the leather workers’ “Shop Talk!” magazine subsequently picked up the article. So the concept is in the hands of many harness makers now, and people are beginning to demand the design.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

I have a friend who logs with Percherons and he ordered a set of the double crown halter bridles years ago. He actually had one of his horses rub the (primary) crown off over his ears, but there wasn’t the slightest whiff of trouble because the safety crown held the bit in the horse’s mouth. This was at a large public event, where he was giving wagon rides through heavy crowds. That same year, his friend, doing the same type of event, didn’t have such good luck when the exact same thing happened (with a conventional bridle). I have a great picture of Roger’s team around here somewhere, wearing the double crown bridles. Will send it along when I can find it.

On either style, I believe that the safety feature is almost undefeatable if a small strap connects the two crowns together at top center. This should prevent the primary crown from even thinking about being pulled over the ears.

Like you, I have no motivation whatever to make money off the design, or anything else I can offer to help keep people safe. What a fine little footprint to leave on this earth. Best Regards, Barb Lee

Question: “Doc, these designs sound like really great safety innovations. Do you think the designs for the double crown bridles and the adapter systems are foolproof pieces of equipment that will make it impossible to get a bridle off accidentally?”

Doc: There is probably nothing 100% foolproof when dealing with horses. However, I am convinced that well designed, well made, well adjusted double crown bridles will stay on the head in almost all situations where conventional bridles would come off. If I believed otherwise I would not be using them myself or recommending them to others.

Keep in mind that bridles not only get rubbed off or pulled off, they can also come off because they break in some way. As we lead, tie, drive and work horses in harness there are an amazing variety of things that horses can potentially hook a bridle on and then tear it apart fighting to get free. Just like conventional bridles double crown bridles are vulnerable to breaking in such situations, although the duplication of parts and functions help and could possibly save the day.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

It’s amazing what horses can find to get into trouble with. I know of a driver who let his horse momentarily get her head down in behind the neckyoke near the tongue. She caught her bridle noseband on a nut on one of the bolts to the center ring of the neckyoke. When the noseband hung up on the nut she jerked her head and broke the bridle. The broken nose band was no big issue but had she hooked some other part instead the bridle could easily have come off. In the past neckyokes were not put together with nuts, the bolt ends were peened (riveted) so there were no nuts sticking out for anything to catch on. By comparison the metal neckyoke in the photo has a smooth surface with nothing protruding to catch harness parts on. Even if a horse does not break the bridle by catching it on something, bridle parts could be damaged or weakened and be subject to failing at some other time.

I want to emphasize that any bridle used must be in good condition. Check your bridles frequently for wear spots, weaknesses, loose stitching! Do not use any bridle that is faulty or has weaknesses. The greatest wear usually occurs where leather or synthetic parts contact and work against metal hardware. Be sure the holes for buckles (tongue buckles, Conways, etc.) show no signs of wear or tearing, and examine stitching for worn, broken, or loose threads.

Another concern of mine is when bridles are put on by people who are uninformed or timid about buckling the throat latch so that it is snug, not uncomfortably so, but nice and snug. I see very few throatlatches buckled up short enough to suit me. Double crown bridles will be of little advantage if the throat-latch(s) aren’t positioned correctly and buckled up snugly. When buckling a throatlatch the horse’s head should be at the height where he normally carries it when driving and working – otherwise it could be too loose or too tight when he lowers or raises his head to work.

Question: “Well Doc, these bridles sound like something that many people are going to want. Are they a ‘patented design’ or will they be widely available? Where can I buy one or find either the bridle or the adapter design to take to my harness maker?”

Doc: We certainly hope people will see the wisdom and use them, and help us spread the word about them. There is certainly more awareness about the bridles and more people making them since Barb Lee generously shared the details and instructions for making her version of a double crown bridle in a magazine article last summer. At the conclusion of that article she states, ‘I am no longer a harness maker so cannot build a bridle for anyone else. Please take this article to your favorite harness maker! May all your drives be safe ones!’

As we become aware of more sources of ready made double crown bridles and adapters we will add them to the list on our website. At this time Big Black Horse is the source I’m aware of. However, I’m sure there must be others by now. If anyone knows of others, please tell us so we can share them on the list.

I don’t know anything about patents on the designs, but I’ve certainly been impressed by the fact that no one I’ve talked to about the bridles and adapters is trying to protect these designs. Everyone has been more than willing to share and help make this information more available with no concern about personal gain – only in the spirit of wanting to help keep more people and horses safe.”

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Question: “Doc, I think a consideration people will have is the cost of new double crown bridles. Do you have an idea of the range of cost for the new bridles and for the adapters to convert a person’s existing bridle?”

Doc: As with any new bridle I’m sure the cost of double crown bridles will be highly variable depending upon the specific type of bridle you choose. Size, quality of workmanship, type of materials, decorative features all come into play. Here are some examples of prices that I’m aware of: $160 for a new double crown bridle in horse/cob size, constructed of a combination of leather and beta as shown on the horses in Steve’s story above. $108 for the same bridle in mini or pony size. $95 for a draft size biothane double crown work bridle (above). Each one of these double crown bridles costs only $20 more to purchase than the same bridle without the double crown feature.

The adapters that Cathy and I purchased to convert our existing bridles into double crown bridles are available in the $25 to $35 range per bridle depending on size and style of bridle. Anyone with some good basic leatherworking skills should be able to make the double crown adapters themselves. However, whether they are professionally- made or homemade, it is essential that they be strong and durable with top quality leather or synthetics and the very best hardware. As demand for double crown bridles and the adapters increases, as I hope they will, we should see them become more widely available.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Question: “Doc, for clarification on the ready-made double crown adapters that you are aware of, could I switch one from bridle to bridle? Is it as simple as buckling a buckle or two? Many of us have several bridles and several horses. Will this be an investment for each bridle?”

Doc: The adapters are made in different sizes for animals in different size categories such as; mini and pony size, horse size, and draft size. In spite of the size options it is possible to have a horse, mule, or donkey that lands between two size categories – one might be too small and the next size too large. In a case like that I pick the crown piece that fits best and then select a longer or shorter throatlatch to make the overall adapter buckle up nice and snug around the neck – with plenty of options to tighten or lengthen it if the neck diameter changes. For example, this could mean using a draft size crown piece and a horse size throatlatch on a draft horse with a slim upper neck, or a horse size crown piece and a draft throat-latch on heavy necked smaller horses such as Fjords.

Bridles come in a wide variety of types and styles with infinite minor variations, so it takes a little investigation to select an adapter that will work with a specific bridle, let alone on several bridles. Depending on the specific design details of the bridle to be converted it can be as simple as attaching with two Conway buckles or complicated enough to require cutting and stitching, or replacing parts.

With most ring crown work type bridles it will be a matter of simply using a Conway buckle to attach a strap on each side of the adapter to a crown ring on each side of the bridle as in photo up top center. In most cases converting ring crown bridles should be quick, easy and the least expensive – just one more reason they are my favored style.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

To convert split crown bridles (photo top right) the existing brow band will generally need to be replaced with a longer specialized brow band which will likely be pre-attached to the adapter system. Before you order adapters for split crown bridles make sure the brow bands on your bridles can be removed. Cathy and I have a pair of split crown bridles with the blinker stays and a decorative piece sewn to the brow bank which complicates things. The brow bands cannot not be removed and replaced with the longer one without cutting things apart and reconstructing it all afterwards. Steve experienced this with a couple of his bridles as well.

Ultimately, it will depend on the size of your horses, the neck diameter where the adapter sits, and the similarity of your bridles that will determine if it is possible or feasible to switch adapters form one bridle to another for different horses.

Question: “Doc, I have been reading through Steve’s compelling letter and it is so emotional and powerful. His information is obviously shared in the spirit of helping people and horses stay safe and comfortable while they drive. He makes some safety suggestions other than equipment, some procedural changes that he has incorporated into his harnessing and driving process. You discussed many procedures you follow in the SFJ Fall 2010 “Bridle Safety” article. Some are training elements and many are details with harness and equipment. Have you thought about any others since then that you have or will put into practice as well as using this safer bridle equipment?”

Doc: I want to encourage folks to read or re-read my previous article and the addendum to it which followed in the following issue of SFJ. Most if not all of what I covered there is important whether or not double crown bridles are used.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of checking bridles frequently. Since my previous article numerous people have told me about such things as finding a horse with one ear out of the bridle before, during, or after a drive. Check everything on your hitch often and check bridles and lines even more frequently.

There is a point that I did make in that article that I am compelled to reemphasize because it is critically important. That is what I call driver or teamster responsibility. In most cases when a horse in harness gets her head near something she can rub her bridle off with it is when the attention of the person on the lines is drawn elsewhere momentarily. We must watch our horses like a hawk and diligently and persistently manage where their heads are in order to prevent this bridle loss thing from happening as best we can.

Probably the most common scenario for a bridle being lost is when a horse that is teamed up with one or more other horses reaches over and rubs his head on his partner, thereby catching his bridle on ‘something’ and pulling the bridle off his ears. That ‘something’ can be a part on the hame, a trace, a breast strap, the other horse’s jaw bone – you name it. Any part of the other horse, the harness, or the equipment that a horse can reach with its head can be a potential source of something to hook a bridle on and rub it off. If we are going to do our job well as teamsters, then we need to be hyper-attentive and highly skilled at preventing horses from touching each other, the equipment, or anything else when in harness. I say hyper-attentive because, as Steve described in his story, it can and does happen in a flash. I bet you’ve all seen how fast a horse can flip its head around and swipe a fly from its ribs. Their reaction time is 5 to 6 times faster than ours.

Some of my greatest moments of concern come when I see the person holding the lines on a horse or horses in harness take their attention and eyes off the animal(s). It often happens because they look at someone who is talking to them or when they look at a person they are talking to. I must sound like a broken record in workshops ‘watch your horse’s, ‘don’t look at me when I talk, watch your horses’, ‘watch your horse, don’t let her rub on her partner’, pull his nose back, watch the horses’, and on and on. I worry about such things because I understand the risks and I care about the people and horses.

Steve brought up the point that it takes drivers a while to learn how to prevent horses from getting their heads out of a safe position and to get them back when they do. There is training, practice and timing involved. One of my plans as an instructor is to put more emphasis on teaching and practicing this particular skill set in the workshops, and to develop new exercises to teach it more effectively.”

Question: “Some people believe that when a bridle comes off horses run away because they are spooked by what they suddenly see moving behind them. Do you have an opinion on this?”

Doc: There is no doubt that many runaways occur because horses are surprised and frightened by something suddenly and unexpectedly becoming visible to them. This can certainly happen when a bridle comes off. But horses don’t necessarily have to rub a bridle off to see what they are pulling, or other things behind them. They can, if allowed, flex their head and neck to the side and look almost straight back. If they raise their nose up high enough they might see over the top of blinders. By flexing at the poll, bringing their muzzle back, and rotating the head to the side they can often look under the blinders. If blinders are not adjusted properly it can be even easier for horses to see around them. Horses can also be frightened by things that approach them from behind and suddenly pop into view from behind the blinders. The list includes motor vehicles, bicycles, dogs, other horses, balls, and many more.

I feel it’s illogical to rely on blinders to keep horses from seeing potentially frightening things. They are a dangerous substitute for thoroughly desensitizing and training our horses. Horses in harness need to be comfortable with and accept the sights and sounds of what they are pulling as well as the other things they will encounter as we drive and work them. It is also important to understand that this familiarization and desensitization process ultimately needs to be repeated in a variety of different locations and environments before it is fixed in their minds.

I have trouble accepting that a couple pieces of leather the size of my hand will keep one of the most perceptive animals in the world from seeing and reacting to something behind. Therefore, when I first start driving horses I do so without blinders. I want them to see everything, including me, learn to feel safe, and not be frightened by sights, sounds, etc. For safety, this process is initially taught in a small, safe enclosure, then in a variety of gradually larger enclosed areas before ever going out into the larger world. Once the horse is completely comfortable with all aspects of being driven without blinders I make a decision whether to use blinders on them or not – usually I do but not on every horse. One would think that a horse well-trained being able to see everything like this should not panic when a bridle accidentally comes off. However, this is not necessarily the case.

I firmly believe it’s an oversimplification to attribute the cause of horse spooking when a bridle comes off to only something they see. For example, I’ve heard of cases where apparently well-trained horses ran off when bridles came off as they were being ground driven. Some of these horses were not hitched to anything so there was nothing to be seen moving behind them.

It has taken me a lifetime of interacting with horses in driving situations and otherwise, and studying their nature, body language, logic, reactions, behavior, etc. to come up with a theory of what losing a bridle when being driven might be like for them. I feel I have a sense of what it’s like for them but not being a horse I can’t be sure. I’ll do my best to explain.

There are always multiple factors affecting horses in any situation. When a bridle is accidentally jerked off over the ears of a horse and gone, it is a sudden, unexpected, and no doubt uncomfortable event for the horse – and likely one that he has never experienced before. Imagine the trauma to the ears, the choking pressure of the throatlatch, and the bit clanking on teeth as the bridle is stripped from the head. Horses by nature are not comfortable with things that happen fast, surprise them, cause discomfort, and are unfamiliar! Just such things alone can set the stage for a fright/flight reaction.

A horse that loses his bridle in this unpleasant, upsetting way is suddenly a free horse in one respect (his head). However, this claustrophobic animal is confounded because his body is not free. It is encumbered and restricted (entrapped) by harness, whatever he is hitched to, and perhaps another horse or more. For some what they can suddenly see behind them is enough to cause them to flee, for others the surprise and unpleasantness of the bridle being ripped off will do it. I believe many horses could perhaps handle one or both of those things were it not for the inexplicable circumstance of a free head and a trapped body.

A restricted head and a free body are of little concern to most horses because they have been taught to be led and tied by the head. Once trained for it we can bridle and harness, hitch and drive horses with both their head and body restricted and confined by bridle and harness. But a free head and an entrapped body is so foreign that it can cause a high percentage of horses to panic. As a veterinarian I experienced this unfortunate reality many times with horses whose bodies were entrapped in fence wire, cattle guards, wells, etc., but whose heads were not necessarily restricted.

No one I know attempts to train horses to accept such a predicament rather than panic and fight or flee, but perhaps we should consider it.

When a horse loses its bridle he also loses the leadership, instructions, and support that come through the lines from his driver. We are suddenly no longer there for them in that respect. Few people have a level of emotional control that allows them to remain calm and not signal alarm to horses when something like a bridle coming off happens. We tend to react in ways that increase the horse’s concern and fuel their panic rather than help the situation. Moving too fast (especially toward the horses) and yelling is almost sure to make things worse. Urgency in our mind and body will be transmitted to the horses. If we can stay calm and quiet at least we will not be making things worse and might be able to make them better.

Please, Please, Please, always put halters on under your bridles and keep lead ropes attached to them. If a bridle comes off and the horse is not wearing a halter and lead rope there is no way for anyone to get control of the head to calm, control, or stop the horses.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Good news as we go to press:

Steve Wood in his typical engineer fashion has discovered a way to attach the double crown adapters to most split crown bridle brow bands without the need for replacing or remodeling the brow bands. The side straps on the adapters can be attached by using a quick link. Be sure to use a thread glue of some type so that the nut on the quick link doesn’t loosen, then check it often just in case.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Steve has also created an adjustable crown piece and a highly adjustable throat latch design for the bridles and adapters (diagram). This design makes them more widely adjustable for horses of different sizes. One of the other of three adapter sizes (pony, horse, draft horse) should adjust to fit almost any horse or mule without the need to change the throat latch. Consequently using the same bridle or adapter on different horses is now an easier and cheaper proposition. Bridles and adapters on this new design are now available from


Steve Wood and Cathy and I are always teaching and preaching about safety with horses. It’s an extremely important part of what we do and who we are because we care deeply about both people and horses. When we talked shortly after Steve and Cherrie’s accident we resolved to redouble our efforts by recruiting others to help spread the word about bridle safety. Our goal is to inform as many people as possible about the dangers of bridles being broken or rubbed off and what can be done to prevent it. We feel it is extremely important to promote the manufacture and use of well designed double crown bridles and bridle adapters.

We need your help to spread the word. Please contact us and refer other people to our websites for more information. Please contact us if you know of individuals, groups, businesses, organizations, etc. who would be receptive to free information about this and other safety issues with respect to driving and working horses in harness. Help us keep more people and horses safe and happy.

Take care, Stay safe, and Have Fun!

Doc Hammill

Doc Hammill lives on a ranch in Montana. He and his partner Cathy Greatorex help people learn about gentle/natural horsemanship and driving and working horses in harness – through writing, workshops, demonstrations, lectures, and his horsemanship video series.