Buying Harness: An ACS Buying Guide

Now that you’ve decided to drive your horse or horses, it’s time to choose some equipment that will, quite literally, allow you to harness their power.

Not just the power of moving forward but also to turn and to stop and reverse. There are a few different harness styles and many variations of them but we’re going to talk about just two of the basic ones. 

First you have to decide what kind of driving you’re going to do.

Driving a light cart, buggy or carriage

If you’re looking to hook up something small that seats up to four people, then a breast-collar style, (also known as pleasure harness) is all you really need. 

The hitch points will be higher – about level with your horse’s chest. And the breast “collar” is basically a strap the horse pushes into to move the vehicle forward or to turn. A strap called the “breeching” that goes around the other (back) end of the horse, enables the stopping and reverse gear. 

Something to consider when buying this style of harness is a “V” breast design. It’s lower in the centre of the chest but higher where it goes over the horse’s shoulders.  This will have less interference with their movement, making them more comfortable. And we all know a happy horse is a good horse!

Hitching to bigger, heavier loads

If you need a bit more power, then a hame and collar harness is what you should be looking at. It encircles the horse’s neck and they push into with the entire shoulder to pull the load, not just the chest. 

On heavier wagons and equipment, hitch points will be lower and the tug or trace follows the line of draft. Coming off the collar at a ninety-degree angle, it should follow a straight line from the collar to the centre of the load. It’s important to follow the correct line of draft to effectively harness the “horsepower”. In addition to inefficient pull, if you have incorrect line with extremely heavy loads you may scald or hurt the horse’s shoulders.

As with the breast style, this harness also has a breeching, with the usual variations of connecting straps in between.

Technically speaking, the line of draft with this heavier style of harness is “incorrect” when hooked to a light cart or buggy with a high hitch point. But the loads with these types of vehicles are so light that it’s not really a concern. However, if you’re going to be hooking to a combination of loads and only want to use one harness, the hame and collar is your most flexible option.

Harness Material

Harness can be made of biothane, nylon or leather. Biothane is the most popular, followed by nylon and then leather. 

Biothane is available in a whole range of colours. Three advantages of biothane when compared to leather: it’s less expensive, it’s lighter and most importantly, it’s easier to maintain. And when I’m doing a parade or going to the Calgary Stampede I just head to the local car wash. When Biothane dries, it looks just like it did when it came out of the box. 

Biothane also has different finishes: glossy, matte/dull and semi-gloss (which most closely resembles leather). Nylon shares all the advantages of biothane, but you need to watch the nylon material, which is often cheaper. And you know the old saying “You get what you pay for.” The nylon often has slider buckles instead of Conway buckles and constant readjustment of your harness will become a pain. 

There probably isn’t a teamster alive who doesn’t like leather but it’s high maintenance, heavier and more expensive. Its big advantage is that it has a memory, so when you throw it on a horse, everything falls into the right place, easy peasy. With biothane, you’ll spend a little time walking around the horse putting things in place before you do it all up.

No matter what you choose

Whether you go with biothane, nylon or leather, there’s always the option to add bling, which is available in brass or “silver-coloured” metal. If you’re going to be showing, check the rules to see what’s allowed.

Brass, even though it’s gorgeous when it’s all polished up, is also high maintenance. If you decide on silver-coloured metal, choose stainless steel as chrome or nickel plate will rust and pit.

As with everything horse-related, here are many things to consider – like pads, quick releases, buckle in traces, slotted traces or heel chain, or trace convertors. Because there are so many options available, a phone call or visit to the store to discuss your harness wish list will make getting exactly what you need a much easier process.

And plus, sometimes I get lonely. A visit to chat or an email about anything horse-related is always appreciated.