Horses always have what they consider “good reasons” for what they do or don’t do. Their reasons and choices may not seem like good reasons or choices to us, but in their minds the horses are positive they have good reasons and choices. Our job is not to argue with them about their choice or the reason for it, but to give them a better reason to make the choice we prefer or need them to make. Unless we can softly and gently offer them what they consider to be better options, and at the same time consistently create gentle and effective consequences when necessary, we cannot expect their behavior to improve – and most often it will get worse.
When my friend and mentor, the late Addie Funk, first started helping me with my horses, he suggested that we get rid of my halter ropes with snaps and braid lead ropes on to all the halters permanently. Actually as I think about it, it was more than a suggestion. Knowing him, he probably just braided the new ropes on, confident that anyone with any sense would be pleased with the improvement. In any case, when the task was completed I clearly remember him saying to me, “Now nobody will turn a horse loose around here with a halter on.”
In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.
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:
I work at a farm that uses their team of Percherons to farm, give hayrides, spread manure, etc. One of the horses gets his tongue over the bit. I’ve been told he’s always done this since they had him. I have always thought: #1. You have very little control, and #2. It would hurt! The horse is very well behaved, does his work with his tongue waving in the air, and sometimes gets his tongue back in place, but at that point it’s too late. They use a snaffle bit. Any suggestions?
The efficiency of horse labor depends to large extent upon the serviceability of the harness. To get the best possible service from both the horse and its harness is an important factor in the profitable operation of a farm. A broken trace or hame during the rush season may cause an expensive loss of time, besides much inconvenience. Improper adjustment of collars and other parts may soon put the horse out of service with sore neck and shoulders. A rotted and weakened line or hame string may result in a serious accident and injury to both horse and driver. Also, because clean well-kept harness adds a great deal to the attractiveness of a team, the farmer should take pride in keeping his outfit in first class condition.
As we entered his harness making shop it just exuded an old-world atmosphere. A wood burning stove was heating the area and a subtle aroma of leather made it very pleasant. There was a vast amount and array of horse related items hanging, sitting and standing everywhere, which would take several hours to truly appreciate. It lacked the appearance of anything modern.
A great deal of interest has been shown the last several years in using multiple hitches in horse farming, especially in spring fieldwork. The question often asked is how to keep it simple and easy in driving and assembling the hitch as far as lines are concerned. We demonstrated our method at the Horse Progress Days at Mt. Hope, Ohio in 2003 and have been asked numerous times how we drove four, six and eight-horse hitches using only two lines.
Readers of this publication will recognize the names of Albano Moscardo and Paul Schmit as authors of an important, multi-year series of scientific articles pertaining to animal-powered agriculture. It was, perhaps, only logical that their important work would find its way to formal publication beyond periodicals and website. We are pleased to announce that the first book of their multiple volume effort, Guidebook 1: The Harness for Draught Horses, has been published and is available to the public. The dramatic and appropriate clarity of this presentation, superbly enhanced by the illustrations of Albano, makes of it a most useful work of scholarship and applicability.
When first you become familiar with North American working harness you might come to the erroneous conclusion that, except for minor style variations, all harnesses are much the same. While quality and material issues are accounting for substantive differences in the modern harness, there were also interesting and important variations back in the early twentieth century which many of us today either have forgotten or never knew about. Perhaps the most significant example is the Walsh No Buckle Harness.
Here are fourteen work bridle styles taken from a 1920’s era harness catalog. Regional variants came with different names and configurations, so much so that we have elected to identify these images by letter instead of name so you may reference these pictures directly when ordering harness or talking about repairs or fit concerns with trainers or harness makers. In one region some were know as pigeon wing and others referred to them as batwing or mule bridles.
The work harness prevalent in North America over the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries evolved slowly to its unique design. Stemming in the beginning from European engineering, which may have their origins reaching back to Greco-Roman and even Egyptian and Phoenecian ages, the primary influence has been the demands of function. Rather than get into arguments about what harness type or design is best, the purpose of this work is to build an introduction worthy of harness makers and arm-chair historians.
When I first looked intently at harnessed mules and horses and longed to understand how the system worked, it was the harness that confused me even more than the anatomy and movements of the animals, even more than the overall system. I saw a tangled basket of straps, chains, ropes, all seeming to have purpose. Yes, there were some diagrams in dusty libraries and old books and these did offer basic explanation of the structural design of some harness varieties. But those didn’t help me to understand in a truly useful way. It would be a few years before I would have my own first team and a pile of old harness to figure out. The little bit of book learning and diagram scanning I did failed to educate me. I have told the story before of how my innocence and arrogance got me into big trouble the first time I harnessed and tried to drive a team. Some of that tragedy came from the harness being put on all wrong, making it unable to function properly. That does not need to be the case with newcomers today.