The Breast Collar
Next up on the list of harness parts is the breast collar. There are a few types of breast collars and I happen to have 3 of them! So I’ll go through each and talk about pros and cons.
First up is the regular ‘straight’ breast collar. This one actually has a little bit of a shape to it, it’s not totally straight, it’s narrow and doesn’t have the buckle in traces, but has the sewn in traces. If you have this type and drive over rough ground it’s a good idea to have a breast collar pad. They are just too narrow for my comfort.
In this photo you can see there is a relative straight line from the breast collar to the breeching. This breast collar was adjusted as big as I could make it. I do feel this harness is a bit too small for Sky since she is such a ‘mature’ mare now 😉 So ideally I would want to drop that breast collar just one more hole. I don’t because I need it to reach back to the saddle and hook on the water hook (or bearing rein hook) as I explain below.
The photo collage below shows the breast collar properly adjusted, then adjusted too low and then too high!
Left: Proper adjustment. Middle: Adjusted too low. Right: Adjusted too high.
Also pay attention to the neck strap. That is the piece that goes over the neck and holds the breast collar up. This piece tends to carry some weight if there is ANY balance issue with your cart – and even if your cart is well balanced but you drive over rough ground or hit a bump. If you have a breast collar like this the neck strap tends to be narrow and can put a lot of pressure on a skinny spot across the neck causing discomfort. You can actually see this happening. If you aren’t sure, have someone take a few photos or make a video of you driving so you can clearly see that strap. The best thing to do to help your horse is to hook that neck strap back to the water hook on the saddle. You can buy a little leather piece as shown here or simply use a piece of twine! For years I drove my horses with twine tying that piece back. I actually did that because I got so uncomfortable seeing that strap ‘cut’ into my horses neck. Turns out that was exactly the right thing to do! The saddle will help the horse manage the weight that tends to ride on that strap.
Next up is my favorite breast collar for most every day driving with the proper line of draft – the Deep V breast collar! This one is from Chimacum Tack and is called the Comfy Fit Breast Collar Deluxe black with the russet leather lining.
In the photo below you can see the relative straight line from the breast collar to the breeching. I love the fact that this collar has the buckle in traces. Once you have buckle in traces you never want to go back!! They are much more adjustable as far as getting them positioned in the shafts just right. This makes them more user friendly.
The photo collage below shows the breast collar properly adjusted, then adjusted too low and then too high.
You need to be sure the breast collar clears the point of shoulder but doesn’t cut into the wind pipe. This can take some adjusting to get it just right.
I love the fact that it has the double strap neck strap. Again the neck strap has a buckle that goes back to that water hook. This keeps in place. The width of the neck strap helps if any extra weight happens to land there. I do all I can with the balance of my cart to assure there isn’t much weight there. Using the correct collar with the correct line of draft is extremely important for the comfort of your horse, as you’ll see soon!
And from the front. I love the V as it helps the collar sit at the right spot without interfering with the windpipe.
Okay now we are going to get into the interesting stuff!!! Breast collars were designed with a certain line of draft in mind. When using your typical breast collar, as shown above, you need to have a line of draft that goes from the breast collar relatively straight back to the front of the cart – with the single tree in line behind the horses rear end.
If you are using a cart that has a low line of draft, with the single tree below the horse’s rear end then you need to use a different collar, the collar and hames. There is a reason they use these collars for hard working horses that are dragging logs, farm machinery, harrows, and/or fore carts. The collar and hames helps the horse manage the lower line of draft by allowing the horse to pull from the chest and shoulders and NOT the neck strap. When you use a regular collar for a low line of draft most of the weight from behind (the weight of you and your vehicle) ends up on that neck strap. Just flip through some photos online and you’ll see the pressure that ends up on that neck strap!
We set up a little experiment here today and harnessed Sky to my sled and put 3 tires in the sled for weight. I didn’t want her to work too hard as we have so much smoke from the fires all over our state, but I did want to show this! It’s absolutely astounding how much weight ends up in that neck strap when driving with the low line of draft.
My son took the photo on the right right after we stopped moving and you can see how upset Sky is about this set up. She is not shy about telling me when she isn’t happy or is uncomfortable… plus she is in heat right now so she is even more sensitive! I hope you can see the pressure that is pushing down on her neck strap. Watching her try to pull this wasn’t fun. You’ll see in the video below!
I talked about this issue with several people over the last year. Trying to understand why this happens and what to do about it. When I showed some photos I found to my Handsome Hubby (who went to college for engineering) he knew what the problem was immediately. He explained to me that the weight from the load behind is traveling up the traces and then hits the Y where the breast collar goes around the chest and over the neck. So the weight tries to disperse across BOTH places. It does not just disperse across the chest. My youngest son, who is my photographer and videographer, doesn’t know anything about horses or harnesses or carts (I know. It’s so sad and breaks my heart a tiny bit.) BUT he could see how hard it was for Sky to pull this load. He said her legs were buckling more with the deep V collar than when we switched to the proper collar and hames. It was so noticeable.
Now we’ll see the proper collar for this low line of draft, the collar and hames! My son took this photo immediately after we stopped and she looks relaxed and happy. The draft collar allows the horse to pull the vehicle weight with the front of their shoulders and their chest. When she was pulling this set up she could lean into the collar. When she was pulling with the deep V collar she didn’t feel able to lean in because of the pinching across her neck.
I see people driving their beautiful marathon vehicles (or two wheeled vehicles) that have this low line of draft and using a regular style breast collar all the time. I am constantly cruising the internet studying driving photos and videos as I feel I have so much to learn. But when I see these set ups it breaks my heart a tiny bit for the horses. When you can visibly see the weight pressing down on the horse’s neck in photos it just starts to seem so obvious! I hope that this post helps you understand why it’s so important to use the correct breast collar or collar and hames based on your vehicle and it’s line of draft.
Here is a video to leave you with. Hopefully it will give you something to think about 🙂
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