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Horse and Stable Management

Horse & Stable Management

by William Hislop, C.E. Howell, and E.B. Krantz, Dept. of Animal Husbandry, The State College of Washington and U.S.D.A. 1916


The longer I’m at this business of writing about working horses, and that includes researching the texts of others, the more I am surprised by how much we humans knew a long time ago and how much, today, we keep insisting on reinventing the process. Perhaps it is because we want, and I include myself here, to think we’ve come up with something especially illuminating and useful. I found this Washington state USDA bulletin from one hundred years ago and found myself humming and aha-ing right on through the good text – up to a point. Please note: all the salient remarks on grooming, breaking shoulders by holding back loads, growing a good hoof, leaving the frog and bars be, avoiding damaging the varnish of the hoof wall, steps to take when the bones are green, handful of straw to groom, blinders unpopular (there is silliness when it comes to washing horses but then I’ve seen these concerns and operations with feathered hitch horses – I have never however seen any farmer singe his horse’s throat latch?).

But then that point I mentioned when it seemed the authors lost credence, which seemed to come from harnessing and move on through mechanics of care. Setting up lines: we can argue here til blue in the face. Remember there is no ONLY way and success and safety are the determinants. Personally I find the suggested set-ups for four abreast more than a joke.

And the suggestion that the bearing parts of the harness need to be cleaned each day, and in a prescribed fashion, that by my estimation would take an hour for a team set, is ludicrous and unrealistic for any workaday farmer.

A salt water wash or rinse of the horse’s shoulder is frequently recommended but I am of the opinion that fresh water is best. To each his own, which is a good parting shot when thinking about the variety of information out there on working horses. Buena suerte, LRM


Preface

It is not too much to say that the majority of horses in the United States are not properly groomed or have their hoofs correctly trimmed at regular intervals. Almost without exception the underpinning is a secondary consideration, and, very few people realize the deep truth in the maxim that “a good cleaning is equal to a feed of corn.”

Spring work on the farm is generally badly hampered by the suffering of work horses from sore shoulders, ill-fitting, dirty collars, torn sweat pads, badly groomed shoulders and wrongly adjusted draft and hames. These agents act singly as well as together to cause lacerated, raw and painful collar beds. Horses holding back heavy loads on hill roads, without brakes, are likewise subject to broken shoulders.

It is by way of throwing light on the foregoing topics that this bulletin is designed, and it is hoped that whosoever may study the contents will enjoy not only fewer idle horses during the “rush” of spring work, but will be able to increase their efficiency and so reduce the cost of each hour of horse labor. – W. Hislop


Horse and Stable Management

The Care of Horses’ Feet

“Tops may come but bottoms never” is a Scotch saying brimful of truth, which has its French parallel in “No foot, no horse.”

Unfortunately, there are many men breeding horses who labor under the delusion that if the middle of a draft horse in good flesh is as round as a dollar, he is fitted to do the hardest kind of work. With such men the feet and legs of a horse are a secondary consideration. It is true that buyers refuse to invest money in “wasp-waisted,” “washy” horses, because they lack stamina and endurance. Be that as it may, the feet and legs are the parts most liable to prove defective. The underpinning is the foundation upon which the body super-structure is built, so, if a horse is excellent in all parts except the feet, he is “as worthless as a fine building on a flimsy foundation.”

The horse is not born with poor feet. He develops that defect as the result of accumulated neglect during his early life. One authority on this subject says: “If breeders were more generally cognizant of the power of overgrown and unbalanced hoofs to divert the lower bones of young legs from their proper direction, we might hope to see fewer knock-kneed, splay-footed, pigeon-toed, interfering and paddling horses.”

Experience shows that by giving more attention to the feet and legs of the horse than to the body during the first two years a better product is assured. It is a comparatively easy matter to put a big middle on a horse after he is a two-year-old, but it is a most difficult task to grow good feet, if, up to that time, they have been neglected.

The Hoof and How It Grows

The foot is not simply a solid mass of horn. It consists of many definite parts, each having a specific function to fulfill. A horny shell called the hoof covers protects the foot. The hoof is made up of three parts: (1) the wall and bars, (2) the sole, and (3) the frog. It is with the structures of the hoof that the horseman is most concerned in making the drafter “good at the ground.”

The wall is that part of the hoof which is seen when the foot is on the ground. It extends from the hoof head or coronet to the ground. Its function is to protect the foot in front and upon the sides. Towards the heel it gradually decreases in height, passes around the bulbs of the heels and turnns forward and inward to form the bars.

The bars. The function of the bars is to react against contraction of the heels. The angle formed by the wall and the bars at the heel is called the buttress. The wall is covered externally with a varnish-like crust which shows indistinct ringlike markings. The rings become very marked in cases of founder. The function of this glossy covering is to preserve the moisture of the foot. When it is worn off, the foot dries out and the hoof wall cracks.

The sole covers the under surface of the foot. It is circular in shape except at the heel where it is notched by the bars and the frog. The healthy foot is concave below. In the case of a “dropped sole” it is convex.

The frog is a tough elastic pad of soft horn which is wedged between the bars. Its function is to keep the heels expanded and to absorb concussion as the foot strikes the ground.

All sections of the horn and the hoof grow in a downward and forward direction. Its rate of growth varies from one-quarter to one-half inch in a month. Hind hoofs grow faster than fore hoofs, while unshod hoofs grow faster than shod ones. In twelve months the toe wall will grow from the coronet to the ground, while it will take seven to eight months for the laterals and three to four months for the quarters. Where unequal distribution of the weight takes place there will be inequality in the growth; for example, neglect of the colt’s hoofs.

If left strictly alone, the hoof will not always grow perfect in form, well balanced and strong. In districts where gravel is found in the soil, or on scab-rock pastures, the horn may wear off as fast as is necessary to preserve the proportions of the foot, but the wearing will not always be even. It is poor policy to trust the natural agencies for the accomplishment of this work. Where gravel is wanting the horn is not worn, with the result that it splits and the feet are commonly ruined. Blacksmiths do not escape criticism in the ruination of the horses’ feet, but the real trouble began at home.

Horse and Stable Management

The time to begin to grow the feet is before the foal is weaned. When at pasture, the foal should be driven to the stable every three to four weeks, and the hoofs dressed. The only tool required is a rasp. Generally the toes will need shortening. They should never be allowed to grow long and pointed, because this tends to cause the foot to grow narrow at the heel, a most undesirable condition. The heels too should always be rasped sufficiently low to allow the colt to throw as much weight as possible on the frog. If this is done, it will cause the heel to expand. When the toes are kept short, the quarters will usually take care of themselves, by developing sufficient width to balance the hook, provided the frog is bearing on the ground, thereby keeping the heels expanded.

The frog ought to receive particular attention, for if it gets out of contact with the bearing surface, the foot will rapidly lose its proper shape, the heels will contract and the quarters become brittle. The frog must never be cut down at all. Simply remove the ragged edges and clean out the cavities each time the hoof is dressed.

When dressing a hoof many blacksmiths cut out the bars and deeply concave the soles. The sole will take care of itself, for nature will throw off the dead horn as required. To remove, or even to partially remove the bars is a great mistake, because their absence tends to cause contraction of the heels. They are the natural braces to prevent this from occurring.

The hoof should then be rasped level, after which the walls must be rounded at the ground surface to keep them from splitting by coming in contact with rough or stony ground. The walls must not be rasped any higher up than is necessary to round off the edge, otherwise the natural varnish of the horn will be removed, thereby allowing the horn to dry out or permitting too much moisture to enter.

If a colt is inclined to go, or to stand toed-in in front, the cut-side quarter of the foot should be made lower than the inside quarter. This will throw the weight off the inside and on to the outside quarter. By persevering with this treatment, it will be possible to make him place his feet straight and true on the ground. If toeing out is the fault, reverse the treatment. In any case always keep the toes fairly short. If a horse is badly in-toed, put the clip of the shoe about one inch toward the outside quarter of the hoof, and make the heel of the shoe a trifle shorter on the inside quarter. This will have the effect of causing the horse to lay down his feet truer as he moves.

In case of the hind feet, there is a natural tendency for the young horse to walk on the outside wall of the hoof, rather than to go level. This wears the outside quarters and the inside grow high. If this condition is allowed to continue, it is apt to change the set of the legs and so cause the colt to stand or move wide at the hocks, whereas he should be more or less close in that respect. This can be prevented very easily while the bones are “green” by rasping the heel on the inside quarter to a little lower level than the outside. In bad cases, it is advisable to put on a three-quarter shoe, namely, one that comes all the way around the outside and halfway round the inside, and tapering in thickness from toe to inside quarter. The outside must be kept the full thickness of the shoe. Very seldom is it that the opposite case occurs. The authors knew of a case where the hind foot of a yearling stallion was so treated and today he stands as true at the ground and as close at the hocks as could be desired.

A young colt should never be kept in a box stall, walking over hot manure. If he must stand in the barn, he should be allowed to walk on the bare floor as much as possible, and his feed trough so placed that when he eats he will stand on the bare ground with the bedding at the back of the stall.

If the hoofs show cracks as the result of dryness then the horse should be brought into the stable and placed in a stall where a shallow trough has been constructed. In this trough moistened clay is placed and he is compelled to stand in it until the dry, cracked hoofs absorb sufficient moisture to relieve the brittle condition which caused their cracking.

Horse and Stable Management

Hoof dressings. If the natural hoof varnish is removed by the action of sand and gravel or by the rasp after shoeing, then apply neatsfoot oil or sweet oil to prevent the horn from drying out.

When regularly done, these few simple operations will enable the horse to go to market, or to the shows in the best condition as far as the feet are concerned.

Sudden changes of food, lack of regular exercise, absence of moisture, periods of sickness, exposure to inclement weather for months at a stretch and neglect in trimming the hoofs all have injurious effects on the feet.

Grooming

The serviceability of the work horse may be increased or decreased according to the care which is bestowed upon him. If he is groomed in a perfunctory fashion his efficiency as an animal motor is lessened. On the other hand, if he is well groomed he is snappier and fresher in appearance and is constantly up on the bit. In short, grooming is essential to the health and vigor of the horse.

Horses running on pasture or being roughed through the winter do not require grooming. They do well without it. It is not the fact that a horse is stabled which makes it necessary to groom him, but it is rendered essential by the heavy feeding and hard work done by him. Every highly fed, hard-working horse requires grooming, whether he be kept inside or outside over night.

During the closed season many draft stallions are relegated to a dark box stall and receive practically no grooming and very little exercise, but plenty of feed. This results in serious trouble to their feet, legs, and disposition.

It is more difficult to keep some horses in a respectable condition than others. The slab-sided, upstanding type of draft horse requires more grooming than the more compact, chunky individual. The latter is usually an easy keeper in other ways than grooming. It is not considered good practice to groom too heavily during shedding time, for the new coat is generally a trifle coarse if the old hair is removed too quickly. All grooming should be done when the horse is dry, especially thorough cleaning and grooming to remove dirt, sweat, and falling hair, otherwise sore shoulders will follow.

The primary reasons for grooming are to remove completely:

  1. Dry stable dirt and dust accumulated during work.
  2. Worn-out scales, scurf, or dandruff.
  3. Waste products of the body in the form of perspiration; as oil, a small amount of common salt, and some nitrogen.

The essential points in grooming are:

  1. Thoroughness
  2. Gentleness, owing to the sensitive nature of the horse.

Grooming Tools

Curry Comb: The sharp-toothed curry comb is not to be recommended because it cuts the hair and is rough on the body of the horse. The rubber halfmoon scraper is one of the most satisfactory devices for removing dirt. In many stables the use of the curry comb is not permitted. A wisp of straw serves the same purpose and is not so severe in its action. The curry comb should be held in the left hand to clean the brushes.

Dandy Brush: This tool has a wooden back and the brush is made of broom fodder. It is used to remove mud from the limbs, beneath the belly and inside the thighs. It is applied after the curry comb or wisp of straw to loosen the hair which has become matted.

Body Brush: Leather-backed body brushes with long hog bristles are best. This tool is used after the Dandy Brush.

Rubbing Rag: It is best when made out of linen because cotton material wears out so quickly. It should always be used last to give glossiness to the coat.

Other stable appliances are: water brush, sponge, foot picker, hoof knife, rasp, trimming scissors, clippers, bandages, blankets, nail clincher, nail cutter, and nail hammer.

Washing

There is more or less danger in washing horses, especially if the work be carelessly done. In all cases it is necessary that the part washed be well dried immediately. In drying the legs of the heavily “feathered” breeds, the operation is more complex and requires more time. After washing the legs to remove mud the best method of drying them is to place first one foot and then the other into a basket of sawdust or bran and rub the material into the hair until it is dry. In washing animals with “white stockings” it is well to mix a little blueing into the rinse water and thereby obtain a better color effect.

Trimming

The singeing of hair on horses is done my means of a taper. This practice is followed where it is difficult to reach the hair with the clippers, as in case of that about the throat-latch. It is poor-policy to singe the hair out of a horse’s ear, as it serves as a protection. The long hairs above the eyes should also be left.

Trimming is largely a matter of taste and style. Horse dealers prefer draft horses with foretops. The majority of the drafters are worked with side checkreins so the fore-top does not need to be removed. The mane of the draft horses should be left long. It may be decorated by means of the Aberdeen Plait, or by the Diamond Roll.

In America most horses’ tails are left intact. The only excuses for docking are to keep the tail out of the mud and to show off good confirmation, good quarters, and good action. Many imported horses are docked, but because a horse is docked does not mean it was bred in Europe. In muddy weather all undocked tails should be tied up.

The Fitting and Adjustment of Harness

To get the best work from a team of horses, it is necessary that the harness fit properly. This is especially important when the young horse is first put at work, or when the draft horse is just going into heavy spring work.

Hames and Collar

The fitting of the collar is of prime importance. The proper adjustment of the hame straps should assist in the fitting of the collar. After the fit is made the top strap should remain the same. However, when using the same harness upon different horses it may be necessary to readjust the hames. They must be large enough so that they will fit snugly into the collar. When too small, the hames will be held out at the bottom and the point of draft will be thrown too high, thereby causing a sore shoulder. If carried too high on the collar the hames may be lowered by lengthening the strap at the top, but if the hames are too small, this is of but little avail. When hung too low, thus bringing the point of draft too low, the hames may be raised by shortening the strap at the top. The correct point of draft should fall at the pivot point of the scapula, which point is about one-third of the distance from the shoulder point to the top of the shoulder blade. Ill fitting collars or hames are generally the cause of sore shoulders, so be sure to have these parts fit properly.

Horse and Stable Management

Bridle

Of secondary importance is the fitting of the bridle, because the mouth is, second only to the shoulders, to show abrasion. In the first place, the headstall should be just long enough so as to bring the bit to bear mildly upon the bars of the mouth. If the bit is in the correct position, then there will be an immediate response to the demands of the driver. If the headstall is too long the horse becomes careless of the driver’s wishes; while if too short the bars of the mouth first become sore and later develop callouses so that the horse is not able to receive and act upon the immediate demands of the driver. Not only should the bit rest easily, but it should be the correct bit for the horse. A good sized straight bit is generally as good as can be found. If the horse’s mouth is tender, this bit could be covered with leather. Of course, severe bits are sometimes used, but a “puller” has often been cured of this habit by a change from a severe bit to a mild straight bit.

Blinders

As a general rule, blinkers or blinders are becoming more and more unpopular. In some cases, however, where a horse keeps looking backwards for orders, with his eyes on the whip, then the blinkers should be used. Where used, much care should be shown in their position. They should be neither too high nor too low, thus lessening the possibilities of chafing the exposed parts of the eye. The blinkers should be very much hollowed out over the eye. This concavity should come directly over the eye. The “half blinker,” a small projection upon the headstall of the bridle, is rapidly taking the place of the old blinkers. This “half blinker” obscures the backward view only, but does not hinder any other view, neither does it keep the eye hot nor chafe any part of the eye.

Check Rein

The check rein, whether over-drawn or side check, should be used mildly. Excessive checking is very seldom seen on draft horses, but moderate checking should be used to prevent the horse from grazing or stumbling, and in general to keep him attending strictly to his own duties. Checking, when used to the extreme, not only holds the horse’s head in an unnatural, ungraceful, and uncomfortable position, but it gives his mouth a calloused, horny character and entirely destroys all chance for fine driving. In general, the overhead check should never be used on draft horses, and the side check should be used only moderately. The side check permits greater freedom and thus allows more work to be done.

Body Parts

The adjustment of the body part of the harness, which consists of the saddle or backpad with girths, the back-strap and the crupper, and the breeching and the holdback, is also important. The backpad should be set just back of the withers. If it is of the proper size, it will adjust itself when the bellyband is properly fastened. The bellyband should be buckled up sufficiently short to fit quite close to the belly to prevent turning, but without rubbing against the same. The back-strap ought to be just tight enough as to keep the backpad from rising onto the withers when checked up. This pull forward by the check rein is bound to occur, even though the horse is only moderately checked. The adjustment of the back-strap and check-rein should come together. See that neither is too short, for if so this is likely to cause soreness, from the continual working of the crupper. On the other hand, if the crupper is too loose, it may result in the harness sliding to one side. To prevent soreness, not only should the crupper be held correctly, but it should be of medium size and free from folds. It is well to keep these points in mind, otherwise the reliability of the horse is lessened, for a horse that is chafed and covered with sores is generally uneasy and unreliable.

In practically all sections of Washington, the breeching and holdbacks are most important. The breeching should be properly adjusted, not so low as to pinch the horse’s gaskins and render him practically helpless, nor yet so high as to be drawn over the buttocks, the latter arrangement being unsightly and undesirable. The pole strap or holdback strap which passes from the neckyoke back beneath the belly should be of such length as to extend about twelve or fifteen inches back of the bellyband. The breeching side straps, which run from the breeching rings to snap in the rear ring of the pole strap, should be long enough to allow four or six inches of freedom when the horse is tight in his traces. The loose condition, which is the most common, is both undesirable and dangerous, especially in fly season.

Horse and Stable Management

Tugs and Lines

The finishing touch in the adjustment of the harness comes in adjusting the length of the tugs or traces and the adjustment of the lines. The tugs should be just long enough to make a good hitch, that is, just long enough so that the horse has plenty of freedom, and yet short enough so that there is no danger of the neckyoke slipping off the tongue. The adjustment of the lines determines whether or not the team is to drive “like one horse”. The exact adjustment depends on the disposition of the two horses, the carriage of their heads, and the promptness with which both horses act. The complete adjustment of the lines must take place after the driver has driven some distance. Before hitching, however, the lines should be approximately adjusted. The coupling of inner reins should be from four to six inches longer than the outside or draft reins. Whenever any length is taken up in one rein, an equal length must be let out in the other, in order that the horses’ heads are kept an equal distance apart and that they will drive parallel. In general, the lines should be so adjusted that when the horses are “on the bit,” there will be an equal pull on both lines and at the pole.

Harnessing the Horse

In harnessing the draft horse, quietness and kindness are two principles to be used. Remember that before harnessing, the collar, backpad, and other parts coming next to the body should be cleaned. The collar is the first part to be put on. If solid it should be spread out as far as possible when passed over the head. The English collar should be drawn up equally each time it is placed upon the horse, and all hair should be withdrawn from under the top of the collar. The body of the harness should be straightened out upon the arm, preparatory to placing it upon the horse. Be as quiet as possible. Never throw the harness upon a horse, especially if young, for then the horse will become addicted to the habit of flinching and jumping to one side. The tail hair should always be removed from under the crupper. After all the parts of the harness are properly placed all buckles should be fastened and the loose ends of the straps inserted into their holders. In the winter time, before bridling, the frost should be removed from the bit. This may be done with hot water or with the breath. In bridling, be sure that the horse does not jerk loose and run away, as a little care in this way often saves many minutes in later years.

Horse and Stable Management

Hitching

Safety, and speed with safety as the major point, is to be desired in hitching a team. Many men report different methods in the hitching. A very good practice is a partial hitching of the team as the horses are led from the barn. When this is done, the horses are checked, the inside reins are then snapped to the bridles thus coupling the horses. The outside rein of the off horse is then snapped and his rein undone. Then this line is carefully thrown across the backs of the two horses. Next the outside rein of the near horse is snapped and his line unfastened. In coupling the horses be sure to put the coupling rein of the “free-est” horse above that of the other, and if one horse is higher headed, place his coupling rein above that of the other. This is done because there is no need of punishing the quiet horse, if the other is fiery or high headed. When the horses are coupled, they may be driven to the wagon. Put them in position for hitching by driving across the tongue from the side and rear. First fasten the neckyoke, slip the tongue into the neckyoke ring, and then fasten the traces. The inside trace of the off horse may be fastened while working behind the near horse, and finally the outside trace of the off horse. While fastening the traces, always have the lines drawn across the arm, as otherwise there is danger of the team becoming frightened and running away. These same rules may also be applied in unhitching the team.

The hitching of three or four horses abreast is similar except in the case of the lines. For the three-horse hitch, the three-horse evener should be used in all cases. The outside lines should never run from the two outside horses. The coupling lines should be “tied in” to the hames of the inside horse. The length of the coupling reins and tie reins is governed similarly to the length of the coupling reins discussed in a preceding paragraph.

In hitching four horses abreast, certain conditions control the use of the four-horse doubletree or the four-horse chain evener. Where the chain evener is used, three lines are all that are needed. In this case the “tongue” horses are hitched as in the case of the team. Then the extra two horses are hitched to one side or the other, depending on the conditions. The outside horse or fourth horse is controlled by a third rein, the coupling rein being attached to the third horse. The third horse is tied in to the hames of the second horse and the fourth horse is tied in to the harness of the third horse. The length of the of the coupling reins and tie reins is adjustable as explained above.

In case the four-horse doubletree is used the “tongue” horses are the middle pair. These are hitched as any team, and then a jerk rein is placed upon each outside horse. These outside horses are tied in to the middle pair. In this case the main lines and tie reins are adjusted as needs be, and the outside lines are used simply as jerk reins, so do not need any adjusting.

Care of the Harness

Every man should take good care of all his harness. This care means the saving of money. Not only should the harness be kept clean, but also any ripped lines or loose ends should be repaired immediately.

Every barn should have a harness room, as the ammonia fumes of all stables, dust, dampness, and vermin are very injurious to the leather and fixtures. The harness room should be dry, easily ventilated, and light. Moreover, it should be handy to the horses and the inside should be conveniently arranged. A harness room of brick walls or cement floor is never satisfactory. No matter how much oil may be used on the harness moulds will form on it if hung in a moist place. Where there is a tendency toward the growth of moulds, as in a cement or brick room, it may be necessary to use a stove to prevent their formation.

Large pegs should be put just far enough from the floor so that the harness hangs up instead of being thrown into a corner. In hanging the harness, hang it just as it lies upon the horse, that is, the hames first, then the backpad and lastly the holdup straps. There should be extra pegs for the collars so that when buckled and hung up they will keep their shape. Whip hangers, shelves for robes, blankets, etc., and other minor appliances should be well located in harness room. One of the chief essentials of a good harness room is a small work bench and repair kit. This repair kit is something every farmer should possess for mending unstitched tugs, lines, etc. The kit should be made up of a wood clamp for holding the leather while stitching, a four tube punch, a rivet set with a box of assorted rivets, a number of large assorted needles with a ball or waxed thread, a collar awl, ordinary awls or different sizes, a pair of pliers, and harness soap, oil, bottle of edge blacking and sponge.

Cleaning and Oiling the Harness. The bearing parts of the harness should be cleaned daily in order that sores may be prevented. The collar, saddle, crupper, etc. should be thoroughly cleaned by scraping and brushing each morning before harnessing. Besides this daily cleaning the harness should be thoroughly cleaned and oiled at least once each year.

In cleaning, the harness should be taken apart so that all parts may be reached. Soak all leather parts in luke-warm water containing a little washing soda. After fifteen to twenty minutes, remove from the water and scrub thoroughly with a brush. Then rinse the harness. When nearly dry, rub well and use edge blacking on the places requiring it. In oiling your harness be careful and do not use any oils that contain acids or alkalis. For this reason, vegetable oils, such as neatsfoot oil, olive oil, cod liver oil, or castor oil, are considered useful. Some men use mineral oils, and providing they do not contain acids or alkalis, there should be no harmful action in their use. A very good mixture is two quarts neatsfoot oil and one pint of kerosene, mixed and warmed slightly. Black neatsfoot oil, a special preparation, is also recommended by many harness makers. After rubbing in the blacking give the harness two heavy coats of the above oil. When the oil has dried thoroughly, sponge with soap suds. One of the best soaps to use in this case is imported white Castile soap, but any good harness soap may be used. In all cases clean thoroughly before oiling and finish by working the oil well into the leather and then giving the soapsuds dressing. If this care is taken, there is no reason why a good set of harness should not wear for many years, look well, and be safe for heavy work.

Horse and Stable Management

Types of Collars for Draft Work

In the state of Washington there are in common use very many types of collars. Well padded, hand sewn, substantial collars are the exception rather than the rule. For the greater part the collars used are light and cheaply reconstructed. The padding consists more commonly of oat hulls than of horse hair or rye straw.

Leather Collar. The leather collar is perhaps the most universally used. It presents a smooth wearing surface and does not gall the shoulders readily. It holds its shape well, is fairly pliable, and is very durable. The leather collar may be considered expensive for the small farmer who has not very much heavy work to do, consequently the points of advantage mentioned above are not so important to him as the initial cost. The weight of this collar is criticized by some horse-men.

Canvas Collar. This is a light, pliable and inexpensive collar. However, the rough canvas surface is quite liable to gall the skin. The canvas collar is usually poorly shaped. The face soon becomes uneven and loses its shape.

Steel Collar. The idea which prompted the manufacturers of steel collars was that their smooth wearing surface would prevent their sticking to the shoulders of the horse. At first thought one would think that a steel collar would be heavy, but such is not the case. It is a comparatively light and a very durable collar. The reasons why this collar has not been used more extensively are: (1) It will not “set” well to the shoulders of the horse; (2) it is very difficult to secure a fit, and (3) when it becomes dented or sprung it is practically useless.

Humane Collar. This collar differs in shape from any of the others. It consists of a metal frame and two broad leather pads, one for each shoulder. These broad pads throw all the pressure on the sides of the shoulders. It is easily adjusted and can be made to fit any horse. By virtue of it’s construction it is one of the coolest collars made and for the same reason it is not durable and its difficult to hold in the proper place. The broad pads will slip up or down.

Breast Collar. This type of collar is used only for light draft work. It can be used to advantage on the horse with an injured neck, by removing the pressure from the injured part. It is light and cool and will fit any horse. As a rule, the breast collar puts the draft too low. It frequently works against the throat and cuts off the wind of the horse. A single strap around the breast and shoulders is more apt to gall the skin than a collar.

Size and Weight of a Collar

Collars are made in sizes such as 18, 20, or 22. This represents the length in inches measured on the inside of the collar. The size and weight of the collar should be regulated by the nature of the work to be done. A heavy collar should be avoided if the horse is doing light work, because it increases the heat about the shoulders. If the horse is put to heavy work the collar should be broad and full, especially at the point where the most direct pressure comes, i.e., where the traces are attached.

Horse and Stable Management

Fitting the Collar

Since the power of a horse is applied through the collar, it is of the utmost importance that it should fit the neck and shoulders perfectly. Carelessness in using badly fitting collars may cause the horse to become balky and often develops ugly wounds and permanent blemishes on him. An examination of the shoulders and the exercising of a little patience in adjusting the collar to the collar bed usually enables one to secure a satisfactory fit. It is possible to determine when a collar fits only by constant practice and observation. By examining the shoulders one can decide on the type of the collar required, while the size can be determined by trial. When fitting a collar, it is not enough to adjust it to the horse’s neck while standing. The horse should be observed while pulling a load at a good rate of speed. The shape of the neck and shoulders, especially of high crested horses, are wonderfully altered when they come to the trot with a load.

A properly fitted collar is one which when under tension the strain of the load as applied by the traces will be distributed equally over the whole surface of the shoulder. In addition it should not impair the ability of the horse to exert himself to his utmost capacity, but it should allow perfect shoulder freedom.

The length of the collar should be such that there is room enough to pass the fingers between the windpipe and the collar. Frequently a collar that is too short will cut off the wind of the horse and bring him to a standstill. A short collar will also throw the pressure too high on the shoulder, thereby causing a sore on top of the neck. A long collar will throw the pressure too low and will cause bruising of the shoulder point. It may also cause bruising of the withers by pulling back too far on the top of the neck. A large collar is even more likely to create a raw place than one which is too small. The collar should be of such width as to give room enough at the side of the neck to insert the hand flat-wise. A narrow collar will rub and irritate the shoulder and pinch the neck. If it be too wide the pressure will be thrown too far on the side of the shoulder, thereby causing strains. A wide collar tends to slip on the shoulder and it is apt to cause abrasions.

No two horses are exactly alike and each should have its own collar. In a stable where young or green horses are being trained to harness it is advisable to have a number of cheap straw collars of different sizes so that there may be no need of using a leather one that does not fit. Many a valuable horse has been spoiled to save the cost of a new leather collar. A horse starting on a day’s work or on a road trip should have the collar warmed up and shaped to his shoulders before he is called upon for his best efforts. If a horse is somewhat fleshy when put to severe work, the collar, which was none too large at first, in time becomes too large for the neck.

In discussing collars in a general way we may say that they are made in two different ways: (1) Those filled with short fillings and (2) those filled with long fillings. The value of a collar depends on the filling keeping its place. Those with short fillings are good to reduce a fat condition in the horse’s neck and shoulders. The stuffing or filling in a collar should be hard, perfectly even, and not matted. Perhaps no material is quite so good as rye straw when cut with the utmost evenness. Horse hair has proven equally as good for this purpose. These give an even bearing surface which remains dry and cool. Many collars are made with no idea of the natural lines of a horse’s neck and shoulders. Far too many are just a symmetrical, oval figure. The bottom part of the collar is frequently made narrow. It should be from one to one and a half inches wider at its base than anywhere else. The type of collar which is open at the top and fastens by straps and buckles is most commonly used. The above type, however, does not afford so firm a resistance to the draft. For light harness an open collar is not so desirable as one made solid, though it allows for the size of the collar to be regulated to the neck and shoulders.

Attachment of the Traces

Even though the collar may fit perfectly, wrongly attached traces will cancel the value of the well-fitted collar. Low attachment of the hames draws the collar away from the upper part of the shoulder. Sometimes the attachment is so low that the pull is opposite the articulation of the shoulder blade with the humerus (arm bone) so that at every step the traces press the movable articulation of the shoulder point. In order that a horse be able to exert his full strength the traces should be attached to the hames at a point one-third the distance from the point of the shoulder to the withers.

Sweat Pads

Sweat pads are a poor makeshift employed by some people to add to the comfort of the horse because of the soft surface resting against the shoulder. It may be of some value in changing the fit of the collar in either length or width. It may also be used to change the seat of pressure. It is much more advisable to use a smooth leather surface to preserve a healthy condition of the skin. The hot, sour, sweat-soaked pad is much more apt to scald the skin. It is not commendable to use pads even in an attempt to heal shoulders already sore. The pad will absorb the exudations from day to day and during the night they will harden into an instrument of torture to the poor beast. A readjustment of the collar is preferable to the use of sweat-pads.

Leather collars are so firm and stiff that it is sometimes difficult to adjust them to the neck and shoulders. This difficulty may be overcome to a certain extent by soaking the collar in water over night. The next morning it should be snugly adjusted to the neck and shoulders by means of the hames. This enables the collar to shape itself to every inequality in the shoulders. It should be remembered, however, that water is not conducive to a long life for the collar. This method is recommended only as a last resort.

Sore Shoulders and Galls

When a horse has been resting from steady work for some time, particularly after having been kept on a scanty allowance of grain, he is soft and tender and sweats easily when put to work. In this condition he is apt to sweat and chafe under the collar, especially if it is hard and poorly fitted. This chafing is likely to cause abrasions of the skin, and thus pave the way for an abscess or for a chronic blemish, unless attended to very promptly. The horse should be brought gradually into working condition after having a prolonged rest, in order that the muscles may become hard and the skin tough. The average farm horse in the spring usually has a heavy coat of winter hair which is slow in shedding. When put into a collar in this condition, the long hair slips from the shoulders and collects in masses under the collar, making an irregular surface which is likely to cause an abrasion of the skin.

A large number of inquiries were sent out from this department concerning the treatment of the shoulder in preparation for spring work. Almost without exception in the answers received, cleansing the shoulder with a salt solution was recommended. A practical method of treating the shoulder for spring work is to wash it thoroughly with warm water and Castile soap. Follow this with a strong solution of salt and water. This will remove the loose hair and fine dust that collects on the collar and causes most of the trouble.

The collar must also be kept clean. In the spring the horse should not be required to do a full day’s work at first. The collar bed should be examined frequently during the day. From time to time lift the collar forward on the neck and rub off all dirt and hair. Allow the collar to remain forward on the neck for a short time, thus giving the collar bed a chance to cool.

Remedies for Shoulder Galls

There are a number of remedies for harness galls. Some of the common ones are: (1) alcohol, one pint, in which are well shaken the whites of two eggs; (2) ten grains of nitrate of silver to an ounce of water; (3) one part of carbolic acid in fifteen parts glycerine. Any simple astringent wash or powder, such as (1) tannic acid, (2) boric acid powder, (3) powdered alum, (4) Columbia salve and powder, will effect a cure, provided the sores are not irritated by friction.


After-word: My focus, over the years, has been on working horses, the category and the process. Discussions such as the good article above so often seem wholly separate from a day to day reality of actually depending on the animals in harness to get the work done. When you go out for eight hours or more each day for five or six days a week, looking over your shoulder at the weather and how the work is proceeding some of the long list of details which need tending to get whittled down or set aside altogether. Just a matter of life and fact. If you fill your plate, ahead of working, with all the things you might/should incorporate in preparation, set-up and maintenance, I guarantee you will find yourself short of time to get the actual work done. Suggestion: keep safety and the animal’s comfort in focus and just go do the work. LRM