Whew! This is going to be a meaty blog post and one that has taken me quite a while to think about and start. It is A LOT to gather together in one post, but I decided to do it this way because I have a hard time carving out time for blogging lately so I want to get it all in one place. We will start with breast collars and collar and hames style collars.
When do you use a Breast Collar?
When your vehicle has a straight line of draft then you use a Breast Collar.
What is a straight/horizontal line of draft?
It’s when the single tree is place higher up on the front of the cart making the line from the breast collar to the single tree straight or slightly down hill from the breast collar. Another way to say this is when there is an uninterrupted line from the collar to the singletree. My rule of thumb is a straight/horizontal line of draft is when the line is ABOVE the horse’s hocks.
You can see that when the horse is a few inches shorter the line of draft becomes a bit more horizontal. Mikey is a few inches taller than Sky which makes the line of draft a bit steeper. The single tree is still above his hocks and his balance of draft looks good, so I am comfortable using the breast collar.
The more I lower the shaft loops the more horizontal that line of draft becomes, when we are talking about the bigger pony, but it’s important to also be sure you aren’t putting excessive weight (anything over 5 pounds) on the pony’s back. We don’t want them to have to carry the weight of the person and vehicle as well as pull it. That’s the quickest way to souring a pony for driving. The second quickest way it so expect them to pull too much of an unbalanced load for too long.
Here is a lovely photo of a team driving with a breast collar and straight/horizontal line of draft.
Here is Sky in the Hyperbike:
I wasn’t entirely sure that the line of draft was appropriate for the breast collar but sent a photo out to some people for their opinion and the consensus was the breast collar was fine. One of the reasons for that is the weight of the Hyperbike and how easy it is to pull. The bike only weighs 30 pounds (compared to my easy entry which weighs 110 pounds!) and the large wheels make it very very easy to pull. Once it starts rolling it mostly just rolls on it’s own!
I haven’t hitched Mikey to the bike yet, but will soon! The nice thing about the bike is that the wheels are adjustable. So I can raise them (which actually means I will lower the wheels, but that will raise the seat and single tree) if I need to when hitching to Mikey which will help with the line of draft. I can’t wait to see what that looks like. I also prefer driving with the Hyperbike anyway.
When do you use a Collar and Hames?
When the line of draft is a low one you use a collar and hames.
What is a low line of draft?
My rule of thumb, which is mine and mine alone, is when the single tree is located at the horse’s hock height or below it, then it’s a low line of draft. Of course line of draft is also dictated by balance of draft… which I’ll touch on below!
When Sky is hitched to my sled the line of draft is low… below her hocks.
A couple of years ago I made a video that shows Sky pulling the sled filled with tires without snow using both the Deluxe breast collar and a collar and hames.
A few things to note in this video. When pulling with the breast collar, Sky’s head is UP, she is pulling with the muscles along her topline more so than her tummy muscles. The breast collar is not putting pressure in the correct spot on her shoulder, but is instead blocking it. The neck strap is pressing down onto the top of her neck while the V part of the collar is folding up and pressing into her windpipe. AND the back of the collar, where the traces attach, is pressing into the back of her shoulder. THIS is why the breast collar does that. When you have a more horizontal line of draft with this style of collar you will NEVER have the back of the breast collar pressing into the shoulder. Here is a video where Andy Marcoux is talking about placement of the buckle.
BUT actually, you will see that the line of draft is a low one in the video. THIS is why the back of that collar is pressing into the back of her shoulder, effectively blocking forward movement and the horse’s shoulder. This is also why you will often see professional drivers use a collar and hames for the dressage part of the Combined driving tests. Because when hitched to a low line of draft the collar and hames will OPEN that shoulder and allow freer movement and a prettier top line. My video above shows that pretty clearly.
This photo shows a horse working hard to pull a marathon style vehicle with two people in it through deep dirt. The horse’s head is UP and you can see the front of the collar lifting up and pressing on the windpipe, actually folding up from the bottom. This is a squeezing type pressure since the bottom of the collar lifts up while there can be quite a bit of weight on the neck strap. The line of draft is in green.
The other thing that is going on in this photo is related to the hip straps. When you run the hold back straps straight down to the shafts as these are (line in blue) you can create quite a lot of pressure on the TOP of the horse’s hip. So when it stops that heavy load (if the driver doesn’t help with the brake) much of the vehicle + the people weight will end up on those hip straps. This will also cause quite a bit of rubbing. Here is the same photo without the lines so you can see!
You would want to run those hold back straps straight from the breeching to the shafts like this:
Here is a photo showing a low line of draft with a collar and hames.
This photo shows a much happier, freer moving horse.
What is Balance of Draft?
This was a little harder for me to grasp when I started studying breast collars versus collar and hames and line of draft. But as I started experimenting with Sky and line of draft I could clearly see what was happening when things weren’t balanced.
I have been reading and studying a book called “Understanding Harness; Balanced Draft-Breast Collars-Neck Collars” by Barb Lee.” It is a fascinating book absolutely stuffed with valuable information. If you haven’t already bought it I HIGHLY recommend it. She can explain these things so much better than I can. I do have her permission to refer to it however!
In the book she shows where the Center of Draft is on a horse. It looks like this:
Where the lines intersect is where your shaft loops and the traces should intersect when the horse is hitched and in draft. If the line is too high then the horse will have a hard time pulling the load because the weight of the load will end up too low on the collar, inhibiting the free movement of the shoulder. This would happen if you used a collar and hames with a straight line of draft. When hitched you want there to be nearly a 90* angle where the collar and traces come together:
When there is a nearly 90* angle then you have a better chance of your balance of draft being correct:
You can also achieve center of draft when using a breast collar and a horizontal line of draft:
Barb’s book sums this up perfectly when it says,
“When we can stand to the side and see that with traces taut between collar and carriage, they pass directly over this intersection, we will know we have achieved Balanced Draft.”
“We have done as well as we can to put him in harmony with his equipment so that it will interfere with his confidence and free forward gaits as little as possible.”
Why is low line of draft better?
I’m going to finish up with a little bit about the vehicles. When the single tree is attached lower on the vehicle this is very helpful when driving over rough ground. This is because when the horse is in draft, pushing into the collar and hames, it is also giving a bit of lift to the front of the vehicle making it smoother when traveling over rough ground. This is also why the collar and hames makes this easier for your horse. There is just going to be a certain amount of lift and they have to carry that load. The stiffness of the collar and hames allows this to be done in a comfortable way for the horse.
When your single tree is attached higher to the front of the vehicle it will have less lift when traveling over rough ground. That bouncing and banging of the cart will travel up the traces and be on the neck strap a bit. If your balance of draft is correct then the amount of banging around is lessened on the neck strap. Also if you have things hitched correctly, such as the overgirth holding the shafts DOWN then the side-to-side motion that can occur when traveling over rough ground is lessened as well. I have found Shaft Guards to be VERY helpful with this. They take up a bit of room between the horse’s sides and the shafts and lessen the amount of motion their shoulders end up taking.
Basically there is a lot to think about when driving your horse. The line of draft is so so important when considering what type of vehicle to purchase for your horse, pony or mini. They type of driving you want to do, your weight + your vehicles weight should always be taken into account. There seems to be a vehicle for every kind of driving out there so you will have your pick!
Besides ensuring your horse is comfortable when driving, it should be top priority to do everything we can to help them enjoy it as much as we do.
Of course it is up to you to decide what is best for your own horse. This blog post is my opinion (and that of quite a few others!) but ultimately you are in charge of your own horse!
For further reading:
A Teamster’s View More and Different by Steve Bowers
Driving Horse: How to Harness, Align and Hitch your Horse for Work or Play by Steve Bowers & Marlen Steward
Bits and Bridles, Draught and Harness by Frances Dwyer
Article: The Angle and Length of the Trace- Excerpted from the above book by Driving Digest Magazine, Jan/Feb 1983