Knowing what length shaft you need for your miniature horse is very important for the comfort and safety of your horse and yourself! It can feel tricky and confusing. I thought it would be a great topic for my blog. I am not an expert by any means so I asked my friend Patty at Patty’s Pony Place a few questions and will share her answers here. I will also share my thoughts and opinions on this as well -because I am nothing if not opinionated!
There are a few different types of vehicles, the easy entry cart, the marathon cart, the hyperbike, the four wheeled vehicle. Then there are the different shaft types, curved shafts, straight shafts, marathon shafts. Because there are many different variables it can feel like there are many different rules. However you can figure out what length of shaft you need by following a few general rules of thumb.
You want your shafts set so your horse is about 12 inches in front of the single tree. -Patty from Patty’s Pony Place
Of course this is a general rule of thumb as there will be variables. Here is a photo Patty shared with me showing a pony with about 12″ from the back of it’s butt to the single tree which is placed higher for the breast plate line of draft:
In this photo there is about 15″ from the back of the horse’s butt to the single tree. This is because the single tree is placed lower for a buggy collar:
34 inch tall mini…about 15 inches from the front of the cart. Shafts level…cart level…hold backs off breeching straight forward to the front of the horse – perfect line of draft with custom placed singletree for collar and hame harness. – Patty from Patty’s Pony Place (The cart in the photo is a custom Cricket cart)
When you look at these two photos you can see why placing the horse further forward when using a lower line of draft is so important.
In the top photo the pony has about 12″ between the back of it’s butt to the single tree. In the bottom photo the same pony has about 15″ between the back of it’s butt and the single tree that is lower to change the line of draft. The pony is 34″ tall.
In the top photo you can see that his length of stride will help dictate where he should be placed in the shafts. If he was only 12″ from the single tree in the bottom photo he would hit his ankles on the single tree when he really trots out.
The 15 inch distance is due to the location of the singletree. Because it is low, we need the couple more inches to account for his hind legs reaching “under’ where the breast plate harness singletree would be. -Patty from Patty’s Pony Place
Here’s a photo of Sky in her easy entry cart.
She has more than 12″ between the back of her butt and the single tree. It’s probably closer to the 15-18″ mark.
Another thing to think about when cart shopping is quality. The cart I use is from Kingston Saddlery and is made in China. It was $525 including shipping, so very affordable. It’s a well built cart but has a few issues that bother me. One is the placement of the breeching loops. They are too far back making it difficult to adjust the breeching properly. With the loop this far back the breeching is often looser than I would like. When she is actively pulling there will be complete slack in the breeching and even gaping sometimes. I hate that because if we go down a hill or hit a bump the breeching will “grab” her by tightening suddenly. This can be startling to some horses.
In the photo below I’ve shown where I would like the breeching loop to be. Patty’s husband, Kelly, is the designer/builder of her carts over at Patty’s Pony Place. He also makes adjustable, slide on, breeching loops! I have an order in and can’t wait to share them when they arrive. I will be able to put these loops exactly where I want them on my shafts.
There was a discussion on Facebook when someone asked where the shaft loops should sit on the shaft, in front of or behind the tug stops. A friend that I met online at L’il Beginnings shared that the shaft loop should ALWAYS go in front of the tug stop as it acts as a back up to the breeching. If the breeching fails the tug stops are meant to stop the cart from running up on the horse’s rear end. That makes total sense! However my shafts have the tug stop positioned incorrectly. And as I went around the internet looking at other curved shafts I noticed that many of them don’t have any tug stops at all as the curved part of the shaft stops the cart from running up on the horse. So another reason to buy quality whenever you can. I went through many of my old photos and noticed that my old straight shaft carts didn’t have a tug stop at all. That is something you can have welded on.
Another annoying thing about this cart is that the shafts are not exactly the same length. They are between 1/4″ and a 1/2″ different. I have worked and worked to get them adjusted so the cart pulls nice and straight and also is well balanced. I know that if I could afford a quality cart from Patty’s Pony Place (such as the Cricket or the Scorpion!) I wouldn’t have to work hard to balance the cart at all. A quality cart will have shafts that are the same length, and adjustable(!!) as well as be easy to balance and will not cause fatigue to the pony pulling it. It will also offer a nice ride. My cart is comfortable on the gravel roads, but I like to go off road a lot and it’s a bit of a rough ride then. I have also ordered a suspension kit from Patty and will share that when I get it as well!
The shafts on my cart are curved shafts. They are adjustable as far as width goes. I just loosen the two bolts on one side and the two bolts on the other side and then I can adjust the shaft width. This also helps with the balance of the cart.
My shafts are 53″ long. I have the curved part of the shafts just behind her shoulders for balance.
Here are is a photo of shafts that are too short:
Too short and what is going on with the shaft loops being so high? This was on eBay and was advertising the harness. Even if the pony was forward in the shafts they would be too short for him. This is probably a goat cart.
And a photo of shafts that are too big:
These shafts are too long and too wide for this particular mini. You don’t want the end of your shafts sticking out past the shoulder like this. It’s so easy for them to hook a rein and panic.
Hyperbikes are a different story.
Three basic shafts are available :
A shaft is 48″ long and features a bend down. It is generally used with equines measuring from 28″ to 32″.
B shaft is also 48″ long and is a straight shaft. It is used on equines measuring from 33″ to 37″.
C shaft is 56.5″ long and features multiple bends to provide a natural 4″ rise in the shaft set. This shaft is used with equines measuring from 38″ to 44″. -straight from the Hyperbike website
With the Hyperbike your horse is positioned right in front of you. Their butt is within arms length of you sitting in the seat. The single tree is under the front of the seat.
This mare was 36″ tall. The end of the shaft is still at the shoulder here. If they were shorter they would jab her in the shoulder when she turns. If they were longer she could hook the rein and could possibly jab herself in the neck when turning.
I think technically from the back of the mare’s butt to the single tree under the seat is 12″. It just looks different because of the placement of the horse!
Marathon shafts are different in that they have an enclosed end of shaft. You need a different shaft loop to attach to the marathon shafts and the end of the shaft will end at the saddle, not the shoulder. Typically marathon carts have the lower line of draft meaning they are not meant to be pulled by a breast collar harness AND the distance between the back of the horse and the single tree will be a bit more – 15″ or a little more. Also horses will be galloping when hitched to a marathon vehicle so a little more room is a good idea so they won’t hit their hind legs on the front of the cart.
This marathon vehicle is a Frey. You can read more about it HERE.
Another closed marathon shaft:
This horse seems a bit close to the front of the cart to me. I would prefer a bit more room personally.
Galloping through water and turning at the same time. The shorter shaft length, ending at the saddle allows for more shoulder movement. The shafts are typically wide at the back as well to allow the horse to really move it’s hind end from side to side which helps it corner better. This is also a Frey carriage.
Hopefully this post helps answer the question of how to determine the length of shaft you need for your miniature horse. If you have any questions or something to add feel free to ask in the comments or email me!