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Harnessing the Single Horse Safely and Comfortably
Part 4 - The Draught System

by Bill Morong

The horse accelerates the vehicle by pushing into a collar 21, through which force is transmitted through traces to the vehicle. The collar distributes the force of draught over a suitable portion of the horse's musculature. Two kinds of collars are used: hame (or neck) collars and breast collars 21.# Breastcollars are usual, except for the most formal turnouts and for heavy draught work. The breastcollar comprises a wide strap encircling the breast of the horse. It may be fitted with large buckles at its ends, into which the traces 26 are attached. Sometimes traces are sewn on, which limits adjustment and makes unharnessing in an emergency more difficult, unless suitable provision is made at the rear of the traces. If a breastcollar is used, more sawing motion will be transmitted to the traces than with a hame or neck collar. Therefore, with a breastcollar it is imperative that the vehicle be equipped with a pivoted singletree to facilitate this motion, or the horse may be sored. The breastcollar should be long enough so that its buckles are not riding on any part of the shoulder, but must be short enough to avoid interference with the saddle and shaft tugs, allowing for the movement of the horse. About two inches on each side between the foremost part of the saddle and the extreme tip of the breastcollar is< usually good.

The breastcollar is also fitted with uptugs 24 with buckles, which receive the billets of the neckstrap 22. The uptugs are subjected to much movement from the horse's action. They are weak points in the harness and should be examined for wear, pulling out of the breastcollar, and bent buckle tongues when harnessing up. The neck strap supports the breastcollar, the height of which controls the point of draught. The point of draught is the center, in the vertical direction, of the draught force. The point of draught should be low enough to avoid interfering with the windpipe, but not lower, lest the action of the arms be hindered.

Neckstraps can be made with single or forked billets. Forked neckstraps are best on horses with low action, but tend to make the breastcollar rock from branch to branch on horses with high action, which is most unsightly. A forked neckstrap is most useful with Fjords to move rearwards the point of support to minimize crushingof the mane. The neckstrap is usually fitted with neck terrets 23, through which the reins pass, to avoid atching the reins under the shaft tips. The neck terrets often introduce a bend in the line of the reins, which may interfere with the communication between the hands and the bit. To avoid this interference either use no neck terrets or adjustable-height neck terrets.

A false martingale 25 or breastplate may connect the front center usually fitted with a frog or drop that matches the face drop of the bridle. It may bear a monogram or badge, consistent with the decoration of the bridle. The false martingale is sometimes useful for preventing the unsightly forward separation of the breastcollar from the horse's breast that sometimes occurs when halting. It may also minimize rocking of the breastcollar from side to side.

The horse may push into a hame or neck collar to accelerate the vehicle. The neck collar is essentially an oval leather tube stuffed tightly with (preferably unchopped) rye straw. Its rear and inner surfaces are shaped to distribute draught force on the shoulders of the horse. Its outer surface is grooved and rolled to receive two thick, curved metal rods called hames. The hames transmit draught force to the traces, thence to the vehicle. The hames are retained in position by hame straps immediately above and below the collar. Sometimes metal links replace hame straps. The hame straps or their equivalent must be carefully examined before each use, as their failure can be disastrous. The hames must fit the collar tightly, and must be well tightened to the collar.

The hame collar should fit the horse perfectly, and should be used on that horse only. The requirement for perfect fit is so much more acute with the hame collar than with the breastcollar that its importance cannot be overemphasized. New collars though available, are very costly, and often fit improperly, as it is not usually possible for the collarmaker to do the fitting. A usually more satisfactory arrangement is this: Many harnessmakers have used long- straw collars, which they will allow you to try out. When you get a perfect fit, the harnessmaker will recondition that collar for you.

The collar should allow the admission of the four fingers of the hand held flat below the windpipe when the collar is strongly pressed onto the shoulder blades. But the collar must not be loose, and absolutely must not rock on the shoulder blades.

The best fitting collar is of no use if the point of draught is incorrect. Usually the collar will move up when the horse goes into draught if the point of draught is too high, and down if too low. If the point of draught is too high, the collar will ride up and press on the windpipe. Sometimes a false martingale is used to attempt to hold the collar down, which will likely pull the girth forward to cause chafing under the arm. If the point of draught is too low, the collar may sore the top of the neck. The solution is to obtain the correct point of draught. Some slight adjustment may be made by adjusting the hame straps. Tightening the lower and loosening the upper strap will lower the point of draught and vice versa. If this adjustment is inadequate, modification or replacement of the hames is necessary.

The hames are usually fitted with short straps with buckles, to which the traces attach. These are called hame tugs. Traces often buckle into hame tugs or breastcollars. Traces are long, strong straps that transmit draught force from the horse's collar to the vehicle. They are usually made of two layers of leather sewn together. They may be pierced with buckle-tongue holes on one end and are adapted to attach to the vehicle on the other.

For single-horse vehicles, an elongated oval hole, slightly wider toward the end of the trace, called a crew hole 27, is usual. For pair harness, the trace is usually fitted with a curved square metal trace link, through which the trace itself passes encircling the spool-shaped roller pin of the vehicle. For marathon vehicles with shackle-snaps, stainless-steel rings should be fitted. For vehicles with horizontal spindles on their singletrees, the traces must twist ninety degrees. In this case Hungarian style traces, which are round in cross-section will help avoid chafing.

Traces are subjected to continual changes of load that produce changes of elongation. They are subject to breakage by tearing or snapping at cracks, at the buckle and crew holes, and to failure by stretching, which can in severe cases cause the shafts to fall out of the shaft tugs, which is very dangerous. Always examine your traces before use, and forego your driving until they can be replaced if they are not sound.

Adjust the traces by the hame tug or breastcollar buckles until the shaft tips are aside the points of the shoulders with the horse in draught. Shaft tips too far forward may catch reins and are unsightly; shaft tips too far aft may drop out of shaft tugs or may get over the horse's neck, causing an accident.

Traces may be reinforced with nylon to avoid stretching, but if reinforced for their entire length, they may not break if something solid stops the vehicle, injuring horse, vehicle, or both. Nylon reinforcement must be applied in accordance with sound engineering principles, otherwise it is best not used.

Trace extenders are occasionally used. Two additional cautions apply: One, make sure their connection to the trace cannot disconnect inadvertently -- especially common when the horse is not in draught; two, examine the crew holes of the traces carefully, as most extender couplings are hard on traces

Return to Part 1 - Introduction

Return to Part 2, The Communication System

Return to Part 3, The Vehicle Support and Steering System

Part 5, The Braking System

Bill Morong is a harness builder in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Bill describes how "Morong's Harness" came to be:

I got the pony bug about 1981, and most of the harness I saw didn't please me, so I began making my own.  Others liked what they saw, and after a while my electrical engineering career took a back seat, and the harnessmaking got to be first.  I used to drive a lot, but now I'm so busy making harness I don't get to drive anymore, but still am a domestic servant to two beloved Hackney ponies and an Arab horse.

William Morong, Harness Maker
215 Gray Hill Road
Dover-Foxcroft, ME 04426
(207)564.3382
morharn@mint.net
Custom harness by private agreement



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