How to Put Together a Draft Harness
by Rachel Steffan
A draft harness must be adjusted properly for the horse to be able to pull a load.
There has been a resurgence in recent years of using draft animals for farming and recreation. Unfortunately, education in harnessing and using draft horses is no longer as widely available as it was when horses were a primary means of transport. Putting a harness together and adjusting it properly is vital for a horse's comfort and working ability, so it's important to learn how to do it correctly from the start. A poorly adjusted harness can cause pain and harness sores.
Unbuckle the bottom of the leather collar and place it over the base of the horse's neck. Stand on a step stool if the horse is tall. Buckle the bottom so that it lies along the groove of the shoulder. Place the metal hames over the collar and buckle the bottom so the hames fit snugly on the collar.
Place the backpad behind the horse's withers and buckle the attached belly band, called a surcingle. Buckle the crupper, the strap with a loop going under the tail, to the back of the backpad and pass the tail through the crupper's loop. Adjust the crupper to be moderately snug; if it's loose, it may rub under the tail.
Adjust the breeching -- the straps going over and around the horse's hindquarters -- so that it rests just under the point of the horse's buttock, not down where the hindquarters meet the hind leg. The breeching acts as the brakes when the horse stops. Clip the long side straps coming from the corners of the breeching to the bottom of the surcingle.
Buckle the traces -- the heavy straps that will attach to the vehicle or implement -- to the side of the hames. Run the traces through the lazy straps, or loops, attached to the corners of the breeching. Tie the ends of the traces up in a large knot so they do not drag the ground.
Place the bit in the horse's mouth and gently pull the crown of the bridle over its ears. Buckle the noseband under the horse's jaw loosely enough that you can fit two fingers underneath it. Buckle the throatlatch under the horse's throat so that you can fit four fingers underneath. Adjust the buckles holding the blinders apart so that they do not interfere with the horse's eyes or eyelashes.
Hook the overcheck, if there is one, to the hook on the backpad. Adjust it so the horse cannot get its head below its knees to kick or buck. Buckle the reins to the bit rings and run them through the rings on the side of the hames. Do not let them drag the ground.