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Brand Spankin' Newbie

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  • Brand Spankin' Newbie

    I have been gifted with the opportunity to have a harness custom made for my horses. It will be made by an amish harness maker. I will be seeking out local, real life help but I thought I would also post here some of my questions, and maybe discover some questions that I should be asking the harness maker and whoever I find to train me.

    Please be gentle... I came here because I am excited about learning how to drive. I am an adult who is experienced with horses, but I know nothing about driving. I want to learn to drive for fun... Safety is number one for me followed closely by equipment that is practical, but not necessarily for the show ring. I feel that teaching my horses to drive will be good for their brains as well as my own brain.

    The horses I want to teach to drive are morgan mares, one is 15 the other is 2. My teenaged daughter is also interested in teaching her her 7 yo Arabian mare to drive.

    Please feel free to ask me questions about my horses, their training, etc.

    I will start with a few questions and add a few as I go along with this thread.

    1) What do you wish you would have asked, or wish you were told when you began learning to drive?


    2) would you choose a leather, or biothane harness and why?

  • #2
    First of all WELCOME! You are about to start on an excellent adventure Driving is just the most fun and driving horses seem to be the happiest of all the equine athletes We have found driving people to be pretty special, too

    Since we started our driving experience with Bill Long, there aren't any questions I wish I had asked but didn't. He taught us what we needed to know and then some. We're still taking regular lessons and having a blast!

    As far as the harness I'm firmly in the synthetic camp. At my age I just don't have the time - nor do I wish to waste time - dealing with leather and brass. We have GOOD synthetic harnesses with stainless steel fittings. Unless you are doing upper level showing you will find this to be most practical. After a drive we hose the harness off along with the horse and we're all set for the next time. For shows we'll use some Armour All wipes but that's about it. And we've had enough wins to prove that it's most satisfactory

    I think Morgans are naturals at driving. All of the ones I've seen do really well. And we have a couple of Arabian drivers on this forum so you should feel right at home. Feel free to ask any questions you might have but the best thing you can do is to find a good trainer for both you and your horses. Having previous horse experience helps - it definitely helped me - however there's enough different in driving that you will need an experienced trainer to coach you. Enjoy! And do keep us posted on your progress. Pictures are always welcomed, too

    BTW where are you located?
    Pat Belskie - ASHEMONT Farm

    PnP Distributors - KUTZMANN Carriages


    • #3
      I'm not quite as green as grass at driving but pretty close. Had some driving lessons, a weekend clinic, years of horse ownership, and a mare who knew her stuff. Helped a trainer start a 3 yr old Haflinger. Now looking forward to taking more lessons and starting my 6 yr Haflinger.

      Anywho, I would say make sure your horses have an excellent whoa and stand. Get them ground driving in harness and used to blinkers.

      Now, I come in on the other side of the harness material preference - I'm a leather fan. I did see quite a two wheel cart wreck at that driving clinic and by the time the horse got done freaking out, my take home lesson was "Thank God the harness straps started to snap and released him from the vehicle!"

      Amour All makes leather wipes, too Of course I don't do a lot of driving or showing so wouldn't rule out biothane in the future but definitely when I have a made horse.

      As a newb, I have been a little discouraged by some on the forum because they seem adamant that a beginner is going to put themselves in danger. So, I go very very slowly and plan on more lessons.


      • #4
        Another rookie here, and another fan of lessons. Even a very experienced rider can't imagine all the different kinds of risks involved with harnessing and training and driving horses. We really need to be taught a lesson!

        I'm serious. I have my own horses to train too, and I think a rider really has to experience some driving lessons themselves and find out how much is involved before they are a 'believer'. It's a great world and a great sport to be involved in...but there is really a lot to it, and it's very, very important to be safe and to give both horse and driver a good experience.


        • #5
          Originally posted by lisae View Post
          I "Thank God the harness straps started to snap and released him from the vehicle!"
          That's why I have quick releases on everything

          Yeah, I know all about Armour All - my cousin used to be CEO
          Pat Belskie - ASHEMONT Farm

          PnP Distributors - KUTZMANN Carriages


          • Original Poster

            Thanks! Don't worry I won't be trying this without (in person) help!

            Quick releases, where do you put them and what do they look like? I am sure I can choose to have them made into my harness.

            I live in Idaho but my harness will be made in Ohio.

            I am leaning towards biothane - the shiny stuff. It looks like patent leather. I have a choice of stainless steel or brass hardware... probably will go for stainless for ease of care.

            For those of you who use biothane, do you use leather reins? I don't know if I like the feel of the biothane in my hands... silly I know, but I could very easily ask for a set of leather reins...

            When I start looking for a cart, what type(s) should I look at as far as ease of use and safety? (2 wheeled)

            What are some more questions I should be asking that deal specifically with the harness?


            • #7
              welcome heartsong

              Welcome welcome. You're going to have a lot of fun.

              Use biothane all the way. don't want things "snapping." Use quick release shaft holders and quick release shackles at the singletree. Probably can sneak some more in at anlther couple of places as well like hold backs and kick strap.

              What I wished i'd known/had at the start? Kick strap. Use it and be proud of it.

              Find a trainer that is FUN. If we ain't havin fun what are we here for?



              • #8
                Originally posted by HeartsongHorses View Post
                Quick releases, where do you put them and what do they look like? I am sure I can choose to have them made into my harness.

                I am leaning towards biothane - the shiny stuff. It looks like patent leather. I have a choice of stainless steel or brass hardware... probably will go for stainless for ease of care.

                For those of you who use biothane, do you use leather reins? I don't know if I like the feel of the biothane in my hands... silly I know, but I could very easily ask for a set of leather reins...

                When I start looking for a cart, what type(s) should I look at as far as ease of use and safety? (2 wheeled)

                What are some more questions I should be asking that deal specifically with the harness?
                You may want to ask for a matte finish on your synthetic material, kind of flat finish instead of shiny. More closely resembles leather. Strapping synthetics is pretty much all the same, quality of hardware, fitting to horse, is what costs the most in purchasing harness.

                Get a wider saddle for a two wheeled vehicle, it carries weight on a wider area of his back. All ours are at least 4inches wide with good padding underneath. Two wheelers all have shaft weight, where 4 wheelers don't. Passengers getting in and out, leaning or moving while driving, can put a HUGE weight on his back for short times. Better to have a wide saddle to carry it.

                Get a harness saddle with a tree, again helps carry the weight better, doesn't allow weight on horse spine. Get big terrets for reins on saddle. Ours are 3", which allows quick pull and release of pressure, won't snag if a twist gets in the rein or splices flow thru. Some harness, especially pony, has small terrets, can be very dangerous in not letting reins slide smoothly.

                You may want quick releases on the tug loops, perhaps the back strap, for releasing a downed single animal. These are strap quick releases, not mechanical. Picture is not much help, one of those things you have to be holding. However they are very secure, yet release when you pull out the strap holding pieces in place.


                Snap-shackle quick releases would be found on traces, backstrap, uses a pull tab for spring release of metal loops.


                None of these devices is cheap. Can greatly add to price of harness construction.

                You probably won't want a checkrein, most carriage driving is done without. But you could use a false martingale to keep the breastcollar down on horse chest. See if you can get a V shaped breastcollar instead of a straight one, put the loop at bottom of V for false martingale to buckle into. You want a wide breastcollar, at least 4 inches, spreads out the load pulled. V shape gives horse more windpipe room when he needs to lower head pulling uphill, deep sand. Split ended suspender straps to hold breeching up in two places each side. Same split strap for breastcollar in front. Full noseband not just one on the front half. Full noseband keeps the sides of bridle in place while using the reins so no peeking under blinkers. Half noseband does not do much of anything. Decide on a blinker style, round, square, D shape. Avoid Mule blinkers, they are for draft type harness. Tug loops that buckle into overgirth instead of wrap-straps

                Leather reins with synthetic harness are fine. Many people don't care for the feel of synthetic. We like ours, but on windy days they WILL catch in the breeze, pull the horses over! Then the weight of leather is nice. Horses definately notice the change, sulk a day when we go back to leather "because it's HEAVY!!" We like the synthetic, ours are Tedman, for a better grip in damp weather. I LOVE throwing them in the washer to clean.

                Get reins the correct width to suit your fingers and hands. Many small handed ladies like 1/2inch or 5/8 inch. Amish harnessmakers tend to go for wide and thick leather when calling it Quality. Inch and half wide, 1/4 inch thick. Lasts 10 years of daily use! AND you could pull tractors out of the mud with them!! Very hard to hold one or two handed driving, cramps up hands, heavy pull on your horse and hand for long drives.

                Get good quality stainless hardware, buckles, loops, rings. Stainless is not magnetic, in case shiny fools you. Brass can be really sharp, but get steel tongues on any brass buckles. Brass is soft, brass tongues will bend under strain, get you in trouble. Look at buckles, should all have good thick tongues for preventing bending, no wire tongues.

                No snaps for any straps or reins. Reins should buckle on with billets, no conway buckles. You put them on and remove them each harnessing so your hands can feel wear, stitches that are loose, need replacing. This is a safety step! Same with breeching straps, put on and off daily, feel the straps when buckling up. No time saving snaps allowed.

                Not sure who is building for you, lots of harness makers in Ohio. Make sure any Amish maker really understands what you want. Measure horse to get good fit, quilting tape measure is large enough for big animals. Harness should buckle into center hole in straps, not the last hole tight or first hole loose. You have no adjustment room, can't change if a strap should break off when you are in last hole tight. Too small if he is in first hole. Rollers on buckles like girth and overgirth, make it easier to fasten. You want a snug girth for 2wheeler, but not saddle tight. 4wheeler doesn't matter as much, no shaft weight.

                The sites above are good for wandering around, seeing what is available. Reading descriptions of harness may help. Harness is amazing these days, especially the competition stuff for doing CDE. Many specialty items like the quick releases mentioned.

                Unlike Lisae, I DO NOT want ANY of my harness to break when stressed or in a wreck. I have seen more damage done when that piece or strap lets go, partially releasing the animal. THEN they get scared, REALLY start fighting and get hurt. With no release, many just lay, waiting for help. Seems they figure "WHAT NOW?" and give you that minute you need to fix it.


                • #9
                  My harness is a biothane type product, and shiny, but the reins have a very matt texture and are not shiny, and are not biothane (coated nylon) but a solid product. These are the standard reins sold on a lot of harnesses of that type, they are actually nice, and have the same 'weight' as leather. they give a good feel as the nice Smuckers leather harness.


                  • #10
                    Welcome HSH!!!

                    Yes Arabians can and do make fine driving horses. I own 3 that drive!! Two are ridden as well. The third prefers to be solely a driving horse. I compete in pleasure shows, competitive trail ride and drives, CDEs and just plain hacking down the trail with them.

                    Matte or beta biothane is my choice with all stainless hardware.

                    I also do not use any snaps on my hold backs although I use quick release tugs loops which the Amish harness maker may or may not know about.

                    I wish I had known more safety when I first started. Also dressage riding would have helped my driving horses ,

                    Good luck and have fun!!!


                    • #11
                      I know there is at least one thread on leather vs biothane so you might look at that also.

                      I have had both and realized, I hate dirty leather and spent too much of my time cleaning it. When I changed from a horse to a pony, I went all biothane and have never been sorry. I love my biothane reins, they feel like riding rubber reins with the big nubbies making it easier to hold. And I do use quick releases everywhere I can.

                      In terms of carts, and you difinately want to start with 2 wheels, look particularly at how you get in and out and the balance. If all of your horses are about the same size, you should be able to use the same one for all. The bigger the wheels, the easier the ride on you and the horse so stay away from those little bike carts if you can. The wheels are not sturdy usually and with horses, you can't see over the horses butt.

                      Find a good trainer and let them help you with chosing equipment.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks for all of the great advice!

                        The harness maker is in Adario Ohio. ( I have family near there) I don't think he sells much outside of the local community so I don't know that anyone here would be familiar with his shop. I have had him make several custom bridles, halters and show halters for my horses. One of the things I reely like about him is how willing he is to make changes for me. This really will be a "custom" harness. ( I am just learning WHAT to customize!) I had him make up several cattle show halters one time, even though he had never seen one in his life. They turned out so well, people asked about them so i ordered more and sold them!

                        I know it seems like I am going at learning to drive bass ackwards, but the timing of a vacation and the availibility of funds are making it possible for me to purchase this harness. I know that if I am not able to find local help I will easily be able to sell this harness and recoup my investment, plus some. But that's not the plan at this point...

                        I do have a few pictures of one of his harnesses, but it might take me a day or so to get them uploaded. I'll see if I can find a snap or two of the horses too.


                        • Original Poster


                          This is Heartsong Star - she is a 2 yo Morgan


                          This is Delight, her 15 yo dam:


                          This is Tawshi my DD's 8 yo Arabian mare:


                          Sorry I can't figure out how to make the pictures show up in the post... advice is welcome!