Collar Hames and Harness Fitting
Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 1 — Henry Marcks pair.

On these next pages we have reprinted a special surprise. With the exception of this writing we are reprinting the entire original, uncut – unedited, content of the 1944 leaflet (no. 276) as produced by the Horse and Mule Association of America. The original of this material was loaned to Small Farmer’s Journal by the kind, generous, and trusting Judson Schrick of Decorah, Iowa.

In collecting this sort of material for 20 years I thought I had come across all of the published leaflets of the Horse and Mule Assoc. I was very surprised to find, during my visit to Schrick’s Iowa farm (see article this issue), that there is quite a lot of material yet to uncover.

You may recall in previous issues of SFJ reading something about a man named Wayne Dinsmore who served as the most active and vocal secretary of the Horse and Mule Assoc. in those difficult decades of the 30’s and 40’s. Dinsmore was an eloquent and persistent advocate for true horsepower at a time when an enormous amount of advertising money was feeding the headlong, crazy rush to the tractor. Dinsmore would have enjoyed viewing the resurgence of the draft horse in the 70’s but I wonder what he would think of how we are conducting business now that prices are soft. I’m sure he would have said that NOW is the time to get out there and let people know! Instead of sitting back and wondering if it will ever get ‘good’ again. Promotion and education are critically important if the draft horse industry is to stabilize.

Some updating notes on the text: The reference to the shortage of leather and the prevalence of fabric collars was due to the effect of the war on supplies. Most of us would be hard pressed to find a harness shop with the time to wash and oil harness for us. And many references in this text take for granted that the reader will be a farmer with extensive horse experience. The statement that collar sizes in Dixie will be smaller than up north will be disputed I’m sure. For the most part, the entire text of this excellent leaflet needs no alteration.

Many thanks to Judson Schrick for bringing this leaflet to our attention and letting us borrow it. LRM

Collars, Hames and Harness Fitting

Leaflet No. 276
(Formerly Horse Association of America)
Wayne Dinsmore, Secretary

Farmers who are good horsemen know everything that is presented here: yet even they will welcome this leaflet because it will refresh their memories and make easier their task when they have to show hired men or boys how to adjust equipment properly. Good horsemen know from long experience that sore necks or sore shoulders on work stock are due to ignorance or carelessness of men in charge, and are inexcusable.

While it is possible to work animals with sore necks or sore shoulders, it is not humane, and the majority of owners will rest affected animals temporarily. This costs money in loss of time and delay in planting, tilling or harvesting crops, and is wholly unnecessary.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 6 — Scars from collar sores.

In addition, scars often follow which reduce the price when an animal is sold. The mule shown in figure 6 sold for $25.00 less than it otherwise would have brought because of the shoulder scars and the possibility that trouble might start afresh when the animal was put to heavy work.

Keeping the necks and shoulders of work stock in perfect condition is therefore an economic question of practical importance, for there are between 11 and 12 million animals that will be at work in harness in 1944.

Knowledge of the causes of sore necks and shoulders, and avoidance of such causes, will keep work stock free from such troubles. Good farmers know this and are watchful to see that sores do not start.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 2 — L.J. Smith pair.

The pairs shown in figures 2 and 3, and the pair on the cover page, are present joint holders of the world’s record in pulling contests for pairs weighing 3,000 pounds and over. The photographs were taken at Centerville, Michigan, September 24, 1943, when the three pairs tied for a new world’s record. They exerted a tractive pull of 4100 pounds, equivalent to pulling 10 plows cutting furrows 14 inches wide and 6 inches deep, through ordinary corn belt black loam soil, or equivalent to starting, for 15 or 20 consecutive times, a load of 53,246 pounds on a wagon over granite block pavement.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 3 — Clarence Harter pair.

The three pictures are presented here because they show excellent fit of collars, hames and harness, under maximum strain. Notice that although the horses are exerting their utmost efforts, the throats of the collars almost, but do not quite, touch the throats of the horses, hence there is no choking. Hames fit snugly into the seams of the collars for their entire length. The belly bands are strong, and buckled at such length as to keep the tugs pulling at right angles to the shoulders, from collars to belly band. Were it not for such proper adjustment of belly bands, the tugs, which are seen to rise slightly from belly band to singletree as the horses pull, would draw the collars upward against the throat and choke the horses. All three pairs have extra hame straps holding hames together across the top. The collars have been fitted closely to sides of neck by collar pads, which also spread the load over a larger bearing surface on the shoulders. On cover, Henry Marcks pair.

Adjust Individually

To avoid sore necks or shoulders, each work animal should have an individual collar, kept exclusively for that animal. This is as important to work animals as individually fitted shoes are to a marching soldier.

Fitting a collar to a new work animal, whether it is purchased or raised, should be done by testing with different size collars till one is found that fits. If it is not practical to take the animal to the harness shop, an approximate preliminary fit can be obtained by testing with collars that belong to other animals, till one is found that seems about right, then measuring for length as shown in figure 4.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 4 — Collar parts: how to measure.

There are three types of collars: Regular, half sweeney and full sweeney. The first will fit long, flat, slender necks; the second fits the neck that is a bit heavier, slightly thick at the top; the third is intended for a stud like neck, very thick near the top.

Collar sizes designate their length: thus a size 18 measures 18 inches from top to bottom just inside rim, when collar is buckled — size 21 would measure 21 inches — see Fig. 4 for method of measuring. Small animals take size 16 or smaller, very large draft horses size 24 or larger. The majority of collars sold north of the 40th degree of latitude (see any map of the United States) are sizes 20, 21, 22 and 23: south of that they usually are smaller, sizes 17 and 18 predominating in the main cotton raising states.

There are 2 kinds of collars: (a) those made of all leather; (b) other than all leather. The latter frequently have had a ticking (a cotton fabric) face, and split leather back and rims. With the present great shortage of leather, many collars will have duck for backs and collar webbing for rims. These are cotton fabrics of heavier, stronger weave.

Collars other than all leather are serviceable, lasting 3 or 4 years and sell at enough lower prices to justify their use when all leather collars cannot be obtained.

In fitting a collar, it should be put on and so buckled that the sides of the collar are snug enough against the neck to make it feasible to pass the fingers only, held flat, between the rim of the collar and the sides of the neck, when the collar is pressed or drawn strongly back against the shoulders. See Fig. 9 which shows a collar that is too wide; the whole hand goes in, instead of fingers only.

While collar is so pressed back, length should be such that the flat hand can be turned up as shown in Fig. 10. Thus turned, the hand crowds against the throat. If measured, a ruler will show about 2 inches free space between throat of horse and collar, when collar is drawn strongly back against shoulders by pull on tugs — all a man can pull — or by causing the horse to step forward against a load till collars are firmly pressed against shoulders.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 7 — Collar too short and narrow.

Getting the right length of collar is very important. If too short, as shown in Fig. 7, or too long, as shown in Fig. 8, trouble will result. Too short a collar presses down on top of neck and up against throat when pulling, causing a sore neck on top. It also will choke a horse by pressure against windpipe on heavy pulls. This will cause a horse to fall, from choking, and will discourage the animal from further maximum exertion. In addition, too short a collar brings point of draft too high, and sores high up on shoulder may result. A collar that is too long brings point of draft too low and too near the shoulder point. This will make a sore very quickly, as it causes constant friction when shoulder point moves forward and back. Too wide a collar, even when length is right, will cause pressure too far away from the neck, i.e. near the shoulder edge and will cause a sore there.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 8 — Collar too long; hame fits collar.

After a collar of the right size and shape has been found, it must be fitted, regardless of whether it is a new collar, or an old one to be used on a different horse. One good way is to soak the face only of the leather collar for an hour in a couple of inches of luke warm water in a tub (where a large enough tub is not to be had, luke warm wet cloths can be laid over the face to soften it). It then should be put on the horse, and the teamster should adjust the hames and harness carefully, and work the horse moderately. The collar being damp will adjust itself to the exact shape of the horse’s neck and shoulders. Collars other than leather need not be soaked (face only) for more than half an hour. An owner or manager should check the fit of collars frequently. Collars that fit when work starts often prove too large, especially too wide, when horses grow thinner from hard work. A pad then should be used to make the collar fit. Pads usually are 2 inches longer than collar sizes — thus a 22 inch collar would call for a 24 inch pad. They must be open at the throat — see pictures of pulling teams.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 9 — Same as 8, is also too wide.

Correct hame adjustment is extremely important. If the hames do not lie in the collar seam for the full length of the collar, they do not fit. If the top hame strap is in the shape of an inverted “U”, as in Fig. 12, rather than lying straight across the top of the collar as in Fig. 9, the pull of the tugs will spread the hames at the top and cause sore shoulders. If hames are either too long or too short, they cannot be adjusted to fit the collar satisfactorily. The only remedy is a set of hames that does fit the collar. Harne sizes express the length from loop where top hame strap is used, to bottom loop, measured as a taut bowstring would, and correspond approximately to collar sizes: thus a 24 inch collar should have a 23-24 inch hame, which will fit either a 23 or 24 inch collar. Even these must be correctly adjusted. In Fig. 11 the top hame strap is one loop too low causing hame to be away from seam; see fingers between hame and collar Fig. 11. If hame strap at top is put one loop too high and left loose as in Fig. 12, it will cause the hames to drop too low, leaving a gap between hame and collar at bottom, shown by fingers in Fig. 12. This is apt to cause a sore near shoulder point.

Too long a hame, — for instance a 24 inch hame on a 21 inch collar, — will cause a sore shoulder. If drawn snug in against seam of collar at bottom, the point of pull on the hame is above the true point of draft on shoulder and will make a sore high up; if allowed to drop, so there is a gap between hame and collar at bottom as in Fig. 12, it will make a sore near point of shoulder. Too short a hame, — say a 21 inch hame on a 24 inch collar, — will make a sore near point of shoulder if hame is drawn close to collar seam at bottom; but if it is set up high, — that is adjusted to fit close to seam at top rather than at bottom of collar, — it will make a sore high up and near outside edge of shoulder.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 10 — Same collar as in 8 and 9, made to fit by using collar pad.

The collar should be snug, but not too tight, or too loose, at top, where it rests on the neck. There should be space on the sides to run the fingers clear to collar cap at top of collar, but no more. Collars that are too narrow at top, or on which hames are buckled too closely together at top, will pinch the neck and chafe it, causing sores on the sides near the top. If collar is too wide, it will work back and forth, sideways, chafing top of neck causing a sore to start there. Another frequent cause of sore necks is too much weight on the neck yoke, as when a mowing machine or other implement has too light a driver to balance the weight of the tongue. The solution is to fasten a weight — a stone or concrete block — under the seat, so the combined weight of teamster and added object will balance weight of tongue, taking all weight off neck yoke when driver is on seat, thus freeing downward pressure from top of neck of work animals. It is important to do this at the outset, so sore necks will not start.

It is extremely important (in fact, absolutely necessary) to get collars that fit the horse or mule, and then be sure that hames are the right size for the collar. If you do not have and cannot obtain a correct size collar for each horse, use collar pads to make the collar fit; but be sure the pads are new each season, clean and of the right size to make the collar fit the horse properly.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 11 — Top hame strap set 1 loop too low, hame gaps away from collar seam.

Good horsemen keep the horse’s neck, shoulders and collar clean at all bearing surfaces. Be sure the mane does not work back under the face of the collar. Stop occasionally at ends of field to give horses a breathing spell, and at that time raise the collar away from shoulders, wipe off dust and sweat, and give the shoulders some opportunity to cool. Observe frequently to see whether the hair is wearing short at any point, as this is the first sign of chafing, which precedes an open sore. If this is in evidence, correct adjustment of collar, pad or hames at once. It will take a few minutes at the noon hour to remove the harness and collar, but it will pay, as it gives the shoulders an opportunity to cool.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 12 — Top hame strap too loose, hame drops too low.

At close of the day’s work, washing the shoulders with a cold water strong salt solution will help keep them in healthy condition. It is well to wipe the leather collar face clean with a damp cloth, and then wipe lightly with another cloth soaked in harness oil, as soon as collar is taken off. Do not rub oil on collar cap, but keep it clean and smooth. If collars other than leather, or pads are used, wipe them clean but do not use oil. If unbuckled to take off, or put on, collar should be held with both hands, left arm passed under throat of horse, to prevent any strain on collar throat while collar is unbuckled: and collar should be buckled before being hung up. Collars always should be hung bottom side up, face out as shown in Fig. 5, on a peg with rounded edges, so pressure comes on the throat of the collar, not on the cap, which is the separate curved piece of pressed sole leather, as smooth as glass, which rests on top of the neck to protect it from chafing. Every morning when the horse is harnessed, wipe the hand over the face of the collar again and make sure that it is smooth. These things take less time than it takes to tell them, but are the little things that go far toward keeping shoulders in perfect condition, if collar and hame adjustment are right to begin with.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 13 — Putting collar on without unbuckling.

Many farmers who are especially successful in avoiding sore necks or shoulders, do the fitting themselves very carefully, and do not allow collars to be unbuckled again till readjustment is necessary, which they do themselves. Such men have their hired help or boys take collars off and put them on over the head as shown in Fig. 13. This may seem odd to men unaccustomed to it, but horses become used to it very quickly and the owner or head teamster has the satisfaction of knowing the collars are being used precisely as he adjusted them.

This plan works well with horses, but not with mules. Their long, sensitive ears make them object strongly and it is difficult to persuade them to accept the “collar over head” plan.

As the collar is widest at point of draft it should be put on as in Fig. 13, and turned over about 8 inches back of the poll, then slipped back to shoulders as in Fig. 14. In taking off, reverse the process: halter, not bridle, should be on in either case.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 14 — Collar in place.

Long Life for Harness

Giving long life to harness is simple. All that is necessary is to keep it clean and well oiled with a good harness oil. Best results are attained by taking the harness apart, unbuckling all straps, washing them with a very mild soap and warm water, rinsing each strap as washed in clean water and hanging up to dry. By the time one is through, the first straps will be dry enough to oil. A sponge or soft rag will hold enough oil to make hand rubbing effective. Most farmers take their harness to harness repair shops where it is oiled by being placed in a wire basket and dipped in a large tank of warm harness oil for 15 or 20 minutes, then suspended above the vat till oil drains off. This is fairly effective, but the man who takes his harness apart and washes it thoroughly before it is oiled gets a much better job; for dried sweat and dirt prevent oil from penetrating to the leather beneath.

Repairing promptly likewise adds greatly to life. A leather punch, some rivets, an awl, and some linen thread and harness wax will enable anyone who has seen harness repairs done, to make simple repairs as soon as loose stitches appear. The old adage — a stitch in time saves nine — is especially true of harness.

Longer life of harness also is obtained where harness is hung in a harness room away from the ammonia fumes rising from stalls; but this seldom is considered practical for lack of time, and harness generally is hung on a peg on the wall about 8 feet behind the work animal it is used on.

It is impractical to wash, oil and repair harness in cold weather unless a warm room is available. Leather and oil must be warm for a good job.

At present harness repair shops have neither time nor help to wash harness; hence it is up to the owner to have it taken apart, washed and all dirt and sweat scraped off the wet straps with a sharp edged piece of hard wood, (never use a knife to scrape leather) before taking it to the harness shop to be dipped in a tank of warm oil, if he wants a real good job. Many owners prefer to oil their own harness, but after doing it a few times, have a higher appreciation of the valuable service rendered by their local harness shop.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 15 — Well fitted harness. Back band keeps traces pulling at right angle to shoulders. Harness should fit animals, but not tightly enough to cause friction anywhere.

Management of Farm Work Horses and Mules

Farm horses and mules should be well fed and strong when hard work impends: yet feed alone is not sufficient. Wise management likewise is essential.

Feeding is simple. Good clean grain, sweet smelling and free from mold, mustiness, worm casts or weevils and green, leafy hay, fresh smelling and free from mold, with access to good pastures nights, Sundays, and rainy days, are all that are needed. Moldy, musty feed will kill horses or mules.

Corn, oats and barley are the grains most relied upon. Barley must be crushed. All kinds of hay are good if cut early, and cured without getting wet or heated. Look to color and leafiness: if green, fine in stems, with an abundance of soft green leaves and free from dust, it will be palatable and will give good results.

Where possible, alfalfa hay should constitute 1/3 or 1/2 the hay ration. If not available good clover or good mixed clover and timothy hay will do very well if fed in the same proportion. The rest of the hay used can be of any variety, so long as it fills qualifications stipulated above.

The amount to be fed will depend on how hard the work is and what pasture is used. At ordinary farm work one pound of grain and 1.2 pounds of hay per 100 pounds live weight, is ample. This means 14 pounds of grain and 16.8 pounds of hay for a 1400 pound work horse or mule. Where the work animals are turned out nights and Sundays on a good mixed pasture that contains several different kinds of grasses and legumes, they will of their own choice eat less hay, usually by half: but even then they should be allowed whatever hay they will clean up morning, noon and evening. When pasture contains abundant legumes, grain can be reduced one-fifth.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 16 — Wiping collar pad with clean damp cloth.

Work animals allowed access to pastures sweat more when at work, but are healthier, are much less apt to have digestive upsets, and their feet, eyes and bones keep in better condition. It takes a few minutes to bring them in from a nearby pasture, in the early morning; but a handy cow pony which should be on every farm, kept in the stable at night for use in bringing stock in from pastures makes the job easy.

Work animals whose regular grain and hay is supplemented by being out on pasture at night are cooler and more comfortable in hot weather, require less grooming, can get water and salt whenever they feel like it, require no bedding, and but little work in cleaning stables.

Despite these advantages, some farmers insist on keeping their work animals in stables on dry feed most of the time. In such cases, care should be taken to allow salt where they can get it at any time, and the animals should be watered the last thing before the owner or driver goes to bed. A higher percentage of alfalfa or clover hay needs to be fed, to stimulate normal evacuation of solid and liquid excrement. Plenty of bedding likewise should be provided, so the animals can get as good rest as the owner.

The vast majority of middle west farmers who are good horsemen favor and use the pasture system to supplement adequate grain and hay for their work animals.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Fig. 17 — Well harnessed: lines keep horses’ heads as far apart as centers of their singletrees, hence they pull straight ahead.


Grooming with a rubber curry comb and bristle brush to take out surface dirt and stimulate skin circulation is desirable. Well groomed animals thrive better; but lack of time generally makes grooming of farm work stock brief. Pastured animals require but little grooming, especially if a pile of sand is placed near where they are turned out. They love to roll in sand. How to care for the feet of your horses and mules is covered in a separate booklet, available on request.