Small Farmer's Journal

or Subscribe
Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

Ask A Teamster: Ten Common Wrecks with Driving Horses

Their Causes and Prevention

by Dr. Doug Hammill D.V.M. of Montana

Unfortunately, trading wreck stories seems to be a common pastime of some teamsters. I’m sure those of you fortunate enough to not have experienced a wreck with horses have certainly heard stories of another teamster’s misfortune.

In those few seconds when our horses are panicking and out of control they can injure or even kill themselves or us. Even if no one is hurt, those moments of panic can destroy the horse’s trust and make him unsafe or psychologically unable to work any more.

One of the things I’ve learned over time is that the truly great teamsters rarely – if ever – have upset horses, close calls, mishaps or wrecks, while the less meticulous horsemen often do. Even though it may take a few minutes longer, the master teamsters constantly follow a series of seemingly minute, endlessly detailed, but always wise safety tips.

Here are 10 of them:

Safety Tip #1: Always fasten breast strap snaps facing inward towards the collar, instead of facing out away from the collar. (See photo #1.)

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #1

If the breast strap snaps are hooked facing outward (away) from the collar, it’s possible for a horse – or his team mate – to accidentally hook a bit, bridle part, halter ring or hame ring into the snap. The result is a claustrophobic animal with its head trapped in an awkward, unnatural and uncomfortable downward position. When this happens, there is a great risk of panic and a wreck resulting in physical and/or psychological damage to horses, humans or both.

I once witnessed a wreck when a very well-broke, dependable horse hooked his bit ring into the breast strap snap, began fighting for his freedom, and lunged backwards dragging his team mate with him. The horse injured his mouth with the bit, and backed the wagon into a pickup truck. The wreck certainly was not the horse’s fault, and could have easily been prevented.

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #2

Unfortunately, it’s very common for harness to be set up so that when the team is hitched the breast strap snaps face outward. In fact, new harness often comes from the maker that way. It’s a simple matter to remove the breast straps, turn the snaps over and reassemble the straps so they snap inward. Once the breast straps are set up properly, snapping them inward is actually easier and quicker than hooking them facing out and a whole lot safer for you and your horses. (See photo #2.)

Safety Tip #2: Always snap combination snaps and pole strap and/or breast strap snaps so they face in toward the tongue. (See photos #3 and #4.)

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #3

This tip is similar to the first. Again, when these snaps are attached (to the neck yoke rings) facing outward, we have potential for the horses to catch their bits in the snaps when they rub their heads. Having the head trapped easily triggers claustrophobia and panic in horses, and often results in a disastrous wreck.

The paired combination snaps on a team harness usually come pointing in the same direction, so that on one horse the snap is safely facing inward and on the other horse the snap is unsafely pointed outward. Some of these snaps are riveted on; others are bolted on. If they are bolted on, you can simply take the bolt out and turn the snap around. If they are riveted, you don’t have that option without cutting the rivet and replacing it with a bolt. If you use combination snaps, be sure they are modified as necessary so they both face inward toward the tongue.

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #4

Some breast straps attach to the neck yoke with their own snap, and are used with a pole strap that has its own snap as well. When using such set ups, be certain that you snap both the breast strap snap and the pole strap snap facing inward on both ends of the neck yoke.

Although it’s not impossible for a horse to get a bit ring caught when the breast and pole strap snaps are pointed inward, it’s a lot more difficult because there’s very little room on the inside. But on the outside the bit and other equipment can very easily come into contact with the snaps.

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #5

Another option which offers no chance for a snap to catch a bit ring is a breast strap and pole strap design that attaches to the neck yoke rings without any snaps. (See photo #5.)

Safety Tip #3: Attach all lines to the bit with buckles instead of snaps. (See photo #6.)

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #6

Attaching the lines to the bit with snaps was an accepted method in the old days, and unfortunately still is today.

However, using snaps to hook the lines to the bits is just not safe at all. Snaps are notorious for breaking – usually when you need them the most. (See photo # 7.) In addition, an itchy or impatient horse can unhook them when he bumps or rubs his head on the neck yoke. He can also unhook or break line snaps when rubbing on his partner.

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #7

No matter what the scenario, when a snap is rubbed off or fails, you have completely lost control of your horse. Long ago, before I knew better, I had a couple of close calls and then a fairly serious wreck caused by line snaps breaking or coming off. And since then I’ve heard countless stories of near misses and serious wrecks due to line snap failures.

As with other snaps, if line snaps are facing outward, a horse can snag them and therefore his bit into a multitude of other harness parts – his or his partners. This can have potentially devastating consequences as the horse becomes trapped and panics. A vision of two horses that once got their bits snapped together comes to mind.

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

photo #8

There are a lot of different types of snaps on the market. In my opinion, all snaps – except for one type – are dangerous on driving lines. The only snap I consider safe is a twisted line snap. (See photo #8.) It’s also called a twisted wire snap. I’ve never heard of them coming off and I’ve never had one come off myself. The downside is that they can be tricky to get on and off until you perfect the technique.

SmallFarmersJournal.com is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: People

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

by:
from issue:

On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.

B. Adroit's Profiles in Passion: Herscel Gouda

B. Adroit’s Profiles in Passion: Herscel Gouda

Excerpt: Um, ya, you’re just gonna have to read this one.

Mule Powered Wrecker Service

Mule Drawn Wrecker Service

This will only add fuel to those late night discoursians about the relative merits of horses over mules or viciversy. Is the horse the smarter one for hitching a ride or is the mule the smarter one for recognizing the political opportunity which this all represents? In any event these boys know what they are doing, or should, so don’t try this at home without horse tranquilizers. Remember that politics is a luke warm bowl of thin soup.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

by:
from issue:

In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

Rope Tricks

a short piece on rope tricks from the 20th anniversary Small Farmer’s Journal.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Ripening

Poetry Corner: What A Boy Lies Awake Wondering

This is a poem from Paul Hunter’s book Ripening.

In Memoriam Gene Logsdon

In Memoriam: Gene Logsdon

by:
from issue:

Gene didn’t see life (or much of anything else) through conventional eyes. I remember his comment about a course he took in psychology when he was trying to argue that animals did in fact have personalities (as any farmer or rancher will tell you is absolutely true), and the teacher basically told him to sit down and shut up because he didn’t know what he was taking about. Gene said: “I was so angry I left the course and then left the whole stupid school.”

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

by:
from issue:

In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

by:
from issue:

I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

UCSC Farm & Garden Apprenticeship

UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden Apprenticeship

UC Santa Cruz is thrilled to welcome applications to the 50th Anniversary year of the UCSC Farm and Garden Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. The 39 apprentices each year arrive from all regions of the US and abroad, and represent a wide spectrum of ages, backgrounds, and interests. We have a range of course fee waivers available to support participation in the Apprenticeship.

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

by:
from issue:

One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Meeting Place Organic Film

Meeting Place Organic Film

Local, organic, and sustainable are words we associate with food production today, but 40 years ago, when Fran and Tony McQuail started farming in Southwestern Ontario, they were barely spoken. Since 1973, the McQuails have been helping to build the organic farming community and support the next generation of organic farmers.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

Farmrun George's Boots

George’s Boots

George Ziermann has been making custom measured, hand made shoes for 40 years. He’s looking to get out, but can’t find anyone to get in.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

by:
from issue:

“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 3

Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.

Journal Guide