Ask A Teamster: Positioning of the Breeching
by Dr. Doug Hammill D.V.M. of Montana
I am trying to learn about draft horses and go to every event I possibly can to study the way things are done. I have noticed that on some horses the brichens are high on the rump while others seem to be down on the back of the leg.
I’m confused. Could you please give me some advice on how high or low to adjust the brichen on a horse? I don’t have horses yet but I want to learn to do things right for when I do get a team.
The breeching (also brichen) is a component of the hold back system. It permits a horse or team to slow down, hold back, stop, or back up the load when they are hitched in shafts or to a tongue. It’s critical that the breeching be adjusted at the proper height and angle for safety, proper function, and comfort of the horse(s). As a reference, my finger marks the point of the buttock (POB) in the photos.
The proper height for the breeching (photo 1) can be determined by placing a hand on the POB and sliding it down the back curve of the buttock. A relatively flat area can be felt from a couple to a few inches below the POB, then almost immediately the curve resumes.
If the breeching is positioned below the flat area (photo 2) it can cause problems for the horse and safety concerns when significant loads must be held back, stopped, or backed up. To accomplish these tasks a horse shifts his weight back and shortens his body to counteract the “push” on the breeching.
With the body length shortened, the breeching moves down even lower and “pushes” on the back of the legs rather than on the buttock (photo 3). This interferes with the horse’s ability to use his rear legs, keep his balance and control the load. Unfortunately, most of the horses I see being driven and worked in harness have breeching much lower than in photo 2 – often dangerously low.
There is also potential danger in having breeching adjusted too high (photo 4), as it’s apt to work upward.
If it gets above the POB it can easily become wedged under the tail and irritate, injure, or frighten the horse(s) (photo 5).
The entire inner surface of the breeching should make contact with the skin of the rear quarters (photo 6).
However, if the breeching is hung so as to be level, as is often done, the top edge will contact the skin but the bottom edge will not (photo 7). This concentrates the force and friction along the top edge and can result in discomfort and harness sores. Shortening the front hip strap will angle the breeching so it fits the curve and makes contact from top to bottom.
Be kind, be safe, and enjoy those horses,
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. www.DocHammill.com