Spring Snap of Trigger Snap for attaching to the breeching of the harness

What are the rules and safety measures for preventing the” horse without a driver” from ever happening? 

Here are the must rules to follow when driving your horse:

  1. Driver must always have control of their horse.
  2. When hitching and unhitching your horse MUST have his bridle on with the reins passed through the proper terrets.
  3. Harness and vehicle should be sound and in good repair.
  4. Horse should be physically fit to fulfill the task at hand.
  5. Driver is the first person in the vehicle and the last person out.
  6. Drivers should keep a safe distance between them and other competitors.
  7. Protective headgear is encouraged to be used by all drivers.
  8. Horse should never be unattended while hitched to a vehicle.
  9. Horse should never be tied to anything while hitched to a vehicle.

These are the basic rules that are required both by the American Driving Society and the USEF.  There are lots of other rules you can read by going to the website for these two groups.

In my many years of driving, the rule that is broken the most is number two.  One needs to remember the object of the bridle with blinkers and reins is to keep the horse focused on what is in front of him.  This is also how we tell our horse what we want him to do, walk on, stop, backup, and turn just to name a few.

The last thing we want him to do is to see those wheels turning behind him!

The second most offensive rule is number nine.  I have seen drivers tying their horses to a fence, their trailer, and many other strange places.  Remember, that a horse, no matter of what size, can easily break a fence and wreak havoc with a trailer in just an instant!  In doing so, they will most likely hurt themselves too.

Now that you know the rules, lets’ think about what to do if the runaway Horse Without A Driver does happen at a driving event.

First, you need to always have a couple of useful tools on your body.  These tools need to be physically attached to you because a runaway horse and carriage is just that! These are useless if they are in the vehicle.

What are the rules and safety measures for preventing the” horse without a driver” from ever happening?

Never go driving without a good sharp knife.  The knife needs to be able to cut through a leather harness.  For synthetic harness, a serrated knife will be needed. Place the knife in a holder and put it on your belt.  You most likely will be the only one around when the knife is needed. If you have a groom, they should also have a knife for backup.  In this day of technology, a cell phone can also be on your belt also.  When all gets calm, you might need to call for help or your veterinarian.

There are also items that you can put on your harness that will make it easier to get your horse out of a bad situation.  First, get quick release shackles. These are used to connect your traces to your vehicle.  They come in many sizes that go by working load limits.  If your horse weighs 1000 pounds, then you need to get a set that has double the working load limit.  If the shackle is rated at 500 pounds that would be too small for your 1000-pound horse.

When attaching the back breeching, instead of manually wrapping it each time, connect the wrap strap to the shaft with a Spring Snap or Trigger Snap instead.

In an emergency, the spring and trigger will break when your horse panics to get out.

Never attach your reins to the bit with Snaps.  These can break too easily!  It is better to attach reins directly onto the bit, so it is less likely to break.  Remember your reins are the only thins you will have to stop your horse!

French tugs are easier to unbuckle in an emergency than wrap straps. The other item that is handy to have is the quick-release tugs that replace the closed tugs that many harnesses have.  Yes, they do make them in miniature horse and pony size.

Now, we need to talk about what to do if the “Horse Without A Driver” happens at a show or even at home. 

  • Stay Calm
  • Do not yell and scream, this will only upset the horse and those around you.
  • Do not chase after the horse, they will only run faster, and you will never catch them!
  • Stay Calm
  • Most horses will stop generally within 30-60 seconds.  But to you, it will feel more like an hour.
  • Stay Calm


When the horse finally stops, do not rush up to him, go calmly while speaking in your quietest voice. Once you get to him, pick up the reins immediately so that you become the one in control. Do not try to drive him back to your trailer or barn.  Unhitch him where he stands.  To do this, pick one or two people you trust to come and be with you and your horse. If they know the horse, even better.

Make the unhitching as normal and quiet as possible. Then walk your horseback to your trailer or barn and untack him as you would normally do.  You can always find help when your horse is settled to get your vehicle back to your trailer.

If the whole, Horse Without A Driver, goes bad and your horse goes down, then it is a whole other process for all involved!

First Stay Calm!

If the horse is down and cannot get back up, you need to get him unhitched from the cart.  If you use all the items, I talked about for quick release this will be easier to accomplish.

First, pick up the reins and hold them because they are your only control of the horse that you will have.  Do not ever depend on making the horse stay down by sitting on its head or neck! Have someone stay at the horses’ head, approaching from his backside, and have them talk to the horse in a quiet calm voice.  Have them squat, not sit on the ground.  If they need to move quickly out of the way squatting is faster.

If you have the quick releases, then pull the trace and tug quick releases open.  There is a good chance that when the horse falls down, the spring or trigger snaps, have likely broken, which is what they are supposed to do.  If not then unclip them.

If you do not have the quick releases, the fastest way to get the harness disconnected from the shafts and vehicle is to cut them!  It is not a good idea to struggle with trying to unbuckle them, because most horses do not have the patience.  When the horse is down there is a lot more tension on the buckles!

“The horse is thinking, how can I get out of this situation as fast as he can!”

The cost of replacement straps is not worth having your horse down and struggling for a prolonged amount of time.  If the horse struggles when you are trying to unbuckle the straps, not only the horse can get hurt, but also the people!

Working with a horse who is down in a vehicle can be scary, but one must stay calm and quiet! The emphasis here is, to keep all the people around safe. Those handling the downed horse need to protect themselves while working to get the horse up. Always work from the backside of the horse so that you are away from their legs.

The ultimate outcome here is that all people and horses are safe and will drive their horses again!

Stay Calm!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *