Carriage safety is a lot like auto safety, most rules are self explanatory and a lot of common sense.  When you are driving your carriage it is always a good idea to wear a helmet to protect your head.  Sure it’s like riding your horse and I know that many riders refuse to wear a helmet.  That’s all fine and good, but you only have one head and a traumatic brain injury is not what any of us horse people want to deal with or have our families deal with. So please “wear a helmet“.

Some of the other carriage safety rules are:

Never jump from a moving carriage, it changes the balance and can cause severe injury to you the horse, and  your navigator.  It also leaves the horse pulling the carriage by himself and he surely does not know where he should be going.

The driver of the carriage is always the first in and the last out.  This way the horse is under control at all times while passengers are getting on and off.

Drivers should always maintain a safe distance between them and other vehicles whether you are in the show ring, a combined driving event or just going down the road with other driving friends and their carriage.

All carriages that are driven on public roads fall under all of the same rules just as if you were driving an automobile.

Protective head gear is mandatory for all junior drivers ( anyone under 18 years of age) and are highly recommended for everyone else.

No horse that is hitched to a carriage should be led by any person.

The maintenance of carriages fall into two classification, wooden carriages and cart, and then metal carriages and carts.

I will cover the wooden vehicles first.  There are many wooden vehicles out there, basically because they are the ones that have been made from the very beginning.  Americans, were the ones that developed and improved wooden carriages that have been used in the United States.  They were the first to develop machinery that could shape tough hickory and native woods, such as whitewood from the tulip tree into the lightest of durable wagons.  The most practical of the carriages were buckboards, buggies and surreys of which many are still made today.  The Amish are a good example of a culture that still makes their vehicles out of wood.  I have one that is made out of Birds-Eye-Maple that is just lovely.

The major problem with wood carriages is that the wood is constantly shrinking.  Because of this, one of the major maintenance items that has to be done at least once a year, is to tighten all nuts and bolts that are used to keep the carriage together.   Even if the wood is attached to a metal frame, you still need to tighten the bolts, the wood shrinks but the metal does not.

The other major maintenance item has to do with the carriages that have wooden wheels.  This wood is also shrinking so you will find that the spokes will become loose that go from the hub to the outer steel hoop. About every two to five years depending on how you store your carriage, you will have to take your wheels to a wheelwright who will make the outer hoop smaller so that the spokes will be forced back into the wood hub and wooden hoop.  This will tighten up the spokes so they not rattle and your ride will be extremely improved.  If you have ever ridden in a carriage with loose spokes you will find it to be a very rocky ride to say the least, and it is also very dangerous.  If the carriage hits a rock or curb just right you can actually loose the wheel.

The second item to pay attention two on a wooden carriage is the general condition of the wood.  If it is an unpainted carriage, then it is good to use an oil on the wood, I use Orange Wood Oil and I find that it helps put the oil back into the wood.  If your carriage is painted, then you do not oil the wood but instead you will need to touch up the paint where it has been scratched or is peeling off.  Remember to check the underside of the carriage as it gets more wear and tear then the top side.  When driving your carriage on a road, either paved or not, you will always have road debris that bounces up and will hit the underside of the carriage.

Now, you need to look at the shafts and the connectors ( also called shaft coupling, or shaft box with eyes) to the carriage.  Wooden carriages generally will have wooden shafts.  So, you will need to do all of the above to the shafts also.  Be sure that the connectors to the carriage are in good repair and are tight, both for the part that is connected to the carriage front and the part that is connected to the shafts.

Now for the dirty part, pull out your axle grease and grease all of the axles.  Grease the hubs and if there are bearings you need to grease them also.  And while you have the grease out, also grease the turntable (fifth wheel plate) so that it turns with ease and does not scrape or grind.

Now for the more modern vehicles that are made for speed and competition.  For the most part these are made of metal (steel, titanium etc.).  With a metal carriage you don’t have to worry about shrinkage as you do with wood, but it is a good idea to check all bolts as they can be rattled loose just from the carriage being used.  Make sure to paint all scratched area where paint is no longer visible, because as you know, metal rusts and then deteriorates, then falls apart.  Most modern day competition vehicles have grease zerks on them where ever grease is needed.  This is like Greasing for Dummies.

But for those that don’t, the following areas need grease,  the turntable, wheel bearings, and the shaft and pole supports.  The hardest item to get is the wheel bearings, for they require you to remove the wheels to be able to get to them, if not equipped with zerks.

The brakes will be the next item to check out.  At least once a year, you need to change the brake fluid and bleed the brake system, while doing this you need to check for any leaks in the system.  You also need to check the brake pads and discs for wear and tear.  Last but not least, you need to check out the condition of the tires, looking for any bad cuts and removing stones or anything else that is stuck in the rubber.

Now if this is sounding to difficult for you, then you can do what I do.

I take my carriage to a mechanic that I trust here in Prescott, Advanced Auto, and asked them to do an inspection of the brakes and the wheels for me.  It really is pretty much like an automobile.  They removed all of the wheels and pulled out the bearings, cleaned and repacked them with grease.  Then while the wheels were off they checked the disc brakes for wear and smoothed out any scratches on the disc from sand and rocks getting onto them during driving.  They cleaned the pads and re-calibrated them to the proper setting, per manufacturer, and of course then they put it all back together.  It really was the best $238 dollars that I could have spent.

If you remember to wipe down or wash your carriage after every use, then the yearly maintenance will not be so bad.  The metal carriages can be cleaned up with a pressure washer real easily.  And like an automobile,

an occasional waxing feels real good.  The wood carriages do well with wiping down with Murphy’s Oil from a spray bottle and wiping with a soft cloth.