Updated: Aug 29, 2019
It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about the pieces of the harness. I felt Sky was too hairy this winter to continue the series and wanted to wait for her to slick out a bit more!
The next in the line up is the Saddle!
The harness saddle has a bit different purpose when driving than when riding. It still acts as a stabilizer, but it doesn’t need to be cinched up tight to do it’s job when driving… well it shouldn’t be cinched up tight when riding either, but that’s another blog post! The driving saddle is there to hold the shafts. That’s it. If you are driving a team then often there will be very little in the way of the saddle as there aren’t shafts in the team set up.
Just as when saddling to ride, the driving saddle should sit about a hands width behind the shoulder blade. On minis this can be tricky as they often have rather ’round’ bellies and their girth groove will pull the saddle forward towards the withers. This really can’t be helped and you shouldn’t try to force the saddle into place with the back band and crupper. Just let it sit where it wants to and work around it!
You want the saddle to sit so it’s nice and centered.
The back strap/turn back strap, the part that goes back to the tail and the crupper, should be centered down the spine. The back strap and crupper will be snug, but not tight. You don’t want the saddle to be pulling upwards on the tail.
You also don’t want the back strap to be loose and floppy. This will destabilize the harness and cause the crupper to rub.
How you adjust your shaft loops will decide how high your shafts are and at what angle they attach to your horse. Ideally you want your shafts, on an easy entry cart, to be level from the front of the cart to the point of shoulder. Sometimes you will need to have a bit of an UPWARD angle from the front of the cart to the point of shoulder in order to have the cart balanced. You will NEVER have a downward angle from the front of the cart to the point of shoulder.
My cart is a little tricky because of the curved shafts. But you can see that they come up level from the front of the cart and then angle up at the curve to the shaft loops. I love the curved shafts as they make it easier to balance the cart.
This is a very nice example of level shafts from the front of the cart through to the point of Ellie’s shoulder. (This is Sky’s half sister, same sire. She is an excellent driving horse as well!)
Though it seems subtle the shafts are too low here. This would case the cart to be heavy on her back. She would essentially carry the weight of the cart and the human on her saddle. So to fix that I raised the shaft loops!
Now they are balanced! When the driver sits in the cart the ends of the shafts will lift slightly, leveling everything out and ensuring there is float in the end of the shafts.
Open shaft loop
If you have marathon style shafts then you will need quick release shaft loops so you can open them and buckle them around the end of the shaft.
Quick Release shaft loops
Often times people who show will use the french style shaft loop as they can be tightened around the end of the shaft.
French Style shaft loops
The tilbury style shaft loop is designed to be used with a four wheeled vehicle that has independently hinged shafts. It tightens down on the shaft, not allowing any float. This secures the shafts to the horse.
Tilbury style shaft loop
The over girth is what holds the shafts down. This comes up from the girth and buckles to the end of the shafts, helping to stabilize everything.
Some harnesses will have wrap straps that go from the girth to the shafts, wrap around them and then buckle back down to the girth. The wrap strap style of over girth is most often seen in the show ring. The wrapping of the straps helps hold everything in place snugly. Because people that show in the breed style shows don’t use breeching, the over girth is acting as the brakes for the cart as well as holding the shafts down. I DO NOT recommend this style of over girth, without breeching, for pleasure/trail driving.
My harness has the open style shaft loops with the over girth that buckles straight to the shaft loops. I prefer this style of shaft loop for pleasure/trail driving as it allows the shaft ends to float.
Sliding back band versus regular back band. The sliding back band was developed to use when the horse was pulling a two-wheeled, light weight cart. The idea behind it is that as the cart travels over a rough road, one with cobblestones and pot holes, the shaft loops will slide side-to-side absorbing some of the roughness – thereby lessening the jostling that the horse experiences. This is an excellent idea however when used with a miniature horse they can create a bit more jostling rather than lessen it. Especially if you are traveling over very rough ground, such as trails, old logging roads, driving over pastures/fields, etc. What I have seen is that the side-to-side motion of the sliding back band actually causes the shaft ends to bang into the sides of the horse. If you tighten down the over girth to help stabilize this side-to-side motion, you will end up making it so the shaft loops can’t float as well. This can cause soreness in the horse’s shoulders. Also if you drive over very rough and uneven ground the sliding back band can greatly destabilize the harness and shafts and cause a turnover of the cart.
So my recommendation is if you drive only on roads that are relatively smooth with some pot holes and such then the sliding back band will work well. If you trail drive, bomb around the mountains, drive over very uneven terrain then you may consider just using the regular back band.
The entire harness works together to stabilize the cart and keep the horse comfortable and everyone safe. It’s important to study the harness and understand what each part does. This will help you to know if things are working correctly when you are driving your own horse!