Example of two brake pedals right is back brakes and left is front brakes.

So, you have brakes, now what and how are you supposed to use them? Unlike a car, brakes on a carriage, and yes, some carts, are not used to stop your horse.

To stop a car, the brakes must suppress the kinetic energy. They do so, by using the force of friction to convert that kinetic energy into heat. When you press your foot down on the brake pedal, a connected lever pushes a piston into the master cylinder, which is filled with hydraulic fluid.

Horse drawn carriages can have either disc or drum brakes:

Drum brakes:

When the brake pedal is applied, two curved brake shoes, which have a friction material lining, are forced by hydraulic wheel cylinders against the inner surface of a rotating brake drum. The result of this contact produces friction which enables the vehicle to slow down or stop.

Disc brakes:

In a disc brake, the brake pads squeeze the rotor, and the force is transmitted hydraulically.  Friction between the pads and the disc slows the disc down.

I am sure you are wondering why you can’t stop a horse by using the brakes? First, the brakes are not connected to the horse.  The horse does not know you want him to stop when you press the brakes.  The only way he knows this is by your voice and reins.  We all have a que that we use to slow our horses down and to stop them all together.

You have brakes, but what exactly is the sequence when you go to stop your horse.

When stopping your car, the first thing you do is take your foot off the gas and then apply your foot to the brake.

When you want to stop you horse the first thing you need to do is ask through your hands and voice for your horse to slow down. Once he starts to slow, you will see his back breeching start to tighten around his butt.  It is at this point that you start to apply pressure to the brake in your carriage.  This slows down the carriage only, and you will see the breeching loosen. As your horse slows even more, you will apply more brake, this will keep the weight of the carriage from pushing your horse.  If you are asking your horse to slow and stop, but the carriage is still pushing him forward, it is a mixed message to him. Continue doing this until you are stopped.

Yes, brakes are good for other things when you are driving your horse!

Brakes are a great help when you are going downhill.  When you have a hill that is slight and short in length, a tap of the brake to keep the carriage from pushing on your horses’ butt as you go down is helpful. This just slows the carriage down, not the horse.

Now, if your trotting down a long steep hill that is when the brakes can really help.  By applying the brakes equally, if you have front and back brakes, you can hold the cart off your horses’ butt, which keeps the carriage from pushing your horse faster down the hill. If you only have back brakes then you will need to apply and release, apply and release, that way you will slow the carriage down but not cause the front to slide sideways.

Front and back brakes?

Since I just mentioned front and back brakes, I should explain that most carriages that have brakes on all four wheels, they will have two pedals.  One for the front brakes and one for the back brakes. This way, you can use them together or independently. Never apply the front brakes first!  Doing that can cause the carriage to tip or slide sideways.  Yes, it is ok to use two feet to apply the brakes, left foot on the front pedal and right foot on the back pedal.

Applying the back brake only, if the horse is in a hard stop, the weight of the carriage and the passengers can be thrown forward bringing the back wheels off the ground, making the brakes useless.  This is also why if you only have back brakes, you need to remember to press and release the pedal to slow or stop in an emergency.

Drum Brake for the back of a carriage

Another good way to use your brakes is during dressage.  Say, you are coming to a halt at “X”, and you want to slow the carriage down at the same time you are asking your horse with a half halt, apply your brake each time you half halt.  This will help stop the carriage at the same time the horse stops.  You are more likely to land at “X”!

Using Your Brakes

In dressage, when you are making that last corner turning into the long diagonal, where you are going to ask for that extended trot, is another spot to apply some brake, as you ask for that half halt of your horse. This makes your corner look better and tells your horse that there is a different movement coming. Slowing your horse and carriage down before doing the extended trot sets up the movement.

Disc Brake on a Kuhnle that has brakes on all four wheels

When doing dressage, be sure that your brakes are clean, and your brake fluid is full.  The last thing you want is for the judge to hear a squeal every time that you apply your brakes. Use your brakes only when they are needed!

During a marathon course there will be times when brakes come in real handy. Those tight turns in obstacles where you want to slide the back of your carriage to get around the post quicker.

During cones, when you want to canter the long distances between cones, and then slow down again to get through the center of the next set of cones.  Just another example of when to use your brakes!

Learning how to properly use your brakes in conjunction with your commands to your horse through voice and reins is a learning experience.  Start at a walk in the learning process, then when you have it down go to a trot.  Have fun and be safe, because it will take awhile to get it down smooth!

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