Well it’s finally that time of the year where you start thinking of what you want to do with your driving horse in the months to follow.  As for me, I live in Prescott so until the last couple of weeks the ground was not dry enough to be able to drive my horses.  I did manage to get enough days in to feel good about going to a Combined Pace Drive in Litchfield Park, Arizona.  Sailor and I had a great time and the weather and facility conditions could not have been better.  For the three weeks before I spent time checking over my harness as I do at the beginning of the normal driving season here in Arizona.

This article is going to go over what you should look for to be sure that your harness is safe to hitch your horse up with.  Next month I will go over carriage safety and maintenance.

First of all you need to know what all the parts of the harness is:

Breeching Straps (2)

Hip Strap

Turnback or Back Strap

Neck Strap

Breast Collar


Traces (2)


Harness Pad

Reins (2)




Shaft Tugs (2)

False Martingale

Trace Carriers (2)


Throat Latch



Winkerbrace & Blinds

Tear Drop

Other parts that are often used:

Nose/Throat Lash Strap (keeps bridle from slipping off)

Quick Release Tugs (2)

Trace Buckle with Snap Shackle (2)

Flash Convertor & Strap (Drop Nose Band)

Side Check

Overcheck Front

Overcheck Back

So you see there are thirty six pieces possible for a single harness and if you drive a pair you can double this.

Now that we have the basic harness figured out it is time to get started on your inspection of the harness.  First thing you need to do is to take the complete harness apart.  At first this seems scary, you are asking yourself, will I be able to get it back together, so before you take it apart take a few picture so you have a guide to follow to put it back together.

Get yourself a piece of paper and a pencil and as you take it apart write down the name of the piece and the hole of the buckle that it is buckled into. So if the tugs are on the third hole from the end you would but a 3 after tugs.  Do this for all pieces so that when you put it back together you will know exactly what hole to buckle it in, so when you put it on your horse it will fit him perfectly.

Now that your harness is all in pieces you need to look over all the leather pieces to be sure there are no cracked or broken areas that need fixing or replacement.  Next you need to check all the posts to be sure they are not worn and that they are straight or curved the right direction.  Because of the tension on the buckles many times the posts will gradually bend whereby making it difficult to get the post into the given hole.

Once you have checked all pieces and have repaired or replaced needed pieces then it is time to get out the harness cleaner and start cleaning.  This of course is not the fun part of driving your horse but it is a needed project.  When done properly your harness will last much longer than if you just ignore cleaning all together.  Allow the harness to sit for a day or so after cleaning and oiling it so that the leather can absorb the oil.

Make sure that you also check all metal parts including the terrets, as they can become unscrewed over time.  The part that screws into the saddle can also become stripped and you will need to do a bit of repair so that they will tighten when screwed back in.

You are now ready to put your harness back together so if you follow your list of parts and the holes that each piece should go into this will be an easy task.

The last things that you should check are any quick releases that you use to connect the traces to your cart and the wrap straps.  Sometimes theses can become stiff due to build up of dirt and sweat getting into the moving parts.  A good brushing with a toothbrush with a bit of dawn works well for cleaning up these parts.

Your harness is what connects your horse to your carriage or cart so it is very important to take good care of it and it will last a long time.  I have several Smackers harnesses that I have had for over twenty years and they are still going strong.