A pet peeve of mine - this just "drives" me CRAZY

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Well-Known Member
Dec 26, 2003
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Ennis, MT
I see this often and it's getting more and more promenent as the mini horse is being published... People are hooking their horses up to the cart incorrectly and then getting the cart and driving these poor animals!!!!! There were two or three photos in the last World magazine, the one that had the wonderful geldings in the back. These people had the cart hooked up incorrectly. One magazine for young riders also had photos of two girls playing with their minis. It was a wonderful article, but they had their little horse hooked up incorrectly!! That's not great advertising...

If you have the tugs, the part where the cart shafts slide through on the harness, too low, then all the weight of the cart is riding on your horses back. This is a very important thing to pay attention to!!!! PLEASE check that there isn't any weight on your horses back. One way to tell is have a helper, ask them to sit in the cart, then slide your hand under the saddle and see if there is weight resting there.... there should NOT be any weight. If your horse is hitched correctly and your cart is properly balanced the weight of the person in the cart will balance the cart and the horse will not have any weight on it's back... Another way to see if your cart is balanced is to hold the end of the shafts in your hands and have someone step in and sit... Hold the shafts at the height the cart would be hooked to your horse and see if the ends of the shafts are lightweight. They should be as light as a feather!!! Just for fun feel the weight of the person standing in the cart, getting in and out. That same weight is pushing down on your horses back!!

This is really very important. I'm an equine massage therapist and seeing horses harnessed incorrectlly just makes me CRINGE!!! These wonderful little horses work thier hearts out for us... the least we can do is make sure we are doing our part to insure our equipment is working correctly, with the horse, not against it! Thank you!!!

A photo of a cart properly hitched. The shafts are going uphill from the cart, there is absolutely no weight on Bug's back...


Another photo of a horse properly hooked up...

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Ya I can see that,,, I know when I was driving my Shetland in my sulky cart...I KNOW I had it hocked up different every time I did it...But it worked..
And I never showed so I guess I just made due, but I drove all over the canals and p[laces through the city streets of Tempe, AZ. across them up and down and all around he did great i miss that Shetland pony BUT I do NOT miss that sulky!! Those are the most uncomfortable things to ride in that a person can imagine
At least for a guy anyway with bad ankles
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I don't have any photos of horses hooked up incorrectly and I don't feel comfortable posting ones of other people... but I encourage other people to post pictures of their horses hooked up and I'll let them know if it looks right... If people are comfortable with that!!
Believe me!!! I don't know everything, or even anything really!!! I just know that seeing these horses with the weight of the cart pushing on their backs drives me crazy!! I hope this post helps a few horses out there...
AH thank you!! Not been brave enough to broach this topic myself, I am very glad you did...bad harnessing is quite frustruating, especially when it is something major, like balance.

Another thing would be breastcollar placement...mostly its ok, and in the show ring, the vehicles aren't usually heavy enough to matter...but sometimes...!
Breastcollar must sit above the point of the shoulder and below the windpipe junction to the chest. If the breastcollar is on the point, it is pressing on a bundle of nerves than runs through the shoulder....well what do you think happens if you hit even a little bit deeper dirt or add another person?? Yeah, ouch.

And below the point...I don't know that its necessarily hurtful, but it most definitely restricts their stride and action.
Thank you MiniHGal!!! I forgot about the breastcollar!!! Thanks for adding that.

My mom and I have been driving horses and shetland ponies for many many years... and almost evverytime we hitch and start down the road, we have to stop and adjust some part of our harness. Usually the breastcollar or the traces
We drive a few different horses with our harness, so it can get confusing! But just wanted to point out that if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't and it's much easier to stop and figure it out, fix it and go on than have sore, uncomfortable horse...
O.K. I will use us as an example. Is this horse hooked up right? This is my husband and his horse Slash of Rogue. If not why, and if he is what makes it right? I am wondering if maybe the strap acoss his chest is too high?We are still learning and can use constructive criticism. Thanks maryann

Thanks Maryann! You horse and cart look well hitched to me. See how the cart has a nice uphill angle from the cart to the horse? That means the weight of the cart and your husband are not on your horses back.

The breast collar looks good to me as well. I think if you lowered it a hole it would be resting on the nerves in his shoulder.

Also your saddle is placed on his back just right! I rarely see that as well. It is usually too far forward. The saddle should sit about a hands width behind the shoulder, so it doesn't interfere with the forward movement of the horse.

I say they look great!!

Let's see if MiniHGal comes back and takes a look. I'd be interested in what she says about the breast collar...
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Thank you for posting this. We are going to hitch our new driving gelding up

next week for the first time. This is one of my big worries that I will not balance him correctly. I'm totally green to driving and do not want to do anything to

hurt or sour him.

Any more sugestions will be read with gratitude.
I have another question. Should the tugs and the cart shafts line up exactly, so you don't see the tugs beind the shafts? Sometimes it seems hard to get them to line up and acheive the balance at the same time depending on the type of cart . Maryann
Oh my goodness I feel like a total blabber mouth!!

Another piece of advice is to make sure your horses eyes are in the middle of the blinders... Not too high and not too low. Sometimes you'll have to adjust the bridle up by the blinders and then down by the bit to get it centered.

The neck strap, the piece that holds the breast collar up, can be hooked back on the saddle as Maryann's is in her photo. My little stallion really likes it that way! He just prances right out!

Also it is important to be sure your wrap straps, the straps that wrap around the shafts, are nice and tight. No horse likes it when he trots and the tugs bounce up and down on their back... I just tighten them up and test it by sliding my fingers under the saddle... You can tighten them too much and make the horses belly sore as well. It really isn't as hard as it sounds!!
Once you go out and do it once or twice or three times, it will start to make sense!!

Good Luck on your first drive with your boy!!

Equuisize, I have other photos of my horse hooked up, with close ups of how I do my hitching, if you're interested I could get them to you!
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Maryann... I think you mean the traces?? The traces should line up with the shafts. It's not important that the shafts hide the traces. It just makes for a nice picture if all the lines, line up. Does that make sense?? Keep the questions coming!!! I'm so happy that so many are concerned about the horses comfort!!!! Thanks you guys!! You're great
Yes I did mean traces. Sorry to show my ignorance. Thanks maryann
Another thing I have seen is horses hooked where the shafts end up too uphill, and the weight of the cart is lifting under the horse.

It really galls their bellies when the shaft loops are set too high and the angle of the shafts is too steep.

There is a happy medium, and it's great to see the pictures posted for help!

Each horse and horse/cart combination are bound to be different, and so you need to adjust everything all over. Not always, but most times, in my experience, you will need to undo the buckles and re-buckle so that you do have that balance that is mentioned.

Liz M.
You are going to be sorry you poped the top on this topic when you finish with me.I know in parades it really does not matter much but in showing especially in pleasure classes they want the head checked up really high and the nose pulled in a lot which to me seems would be harder for the horse to pull . I understand that you want him pushing from his rear but how do you teach him/her to keep that nose in without constantly pulling in in?

Maryann, I think trainers teach nose in, in different ways. The martigale is helpful in that area of course... It looks like you have one on?? Do you have rein stops on your reins?? That is very important so the martigale doesn't get hooked on the buckle up by the bit. If you do have one on... it may need to be shortened a bit. That would help you get his nose down a little bit more.

I like to teach collection the old fashion way, with a soft touch. I use my fingertips and wiggle the reins, keeping good contact with the horses mouth. When the horse gives at the poll, you can see the poll drop slightly, and the reins become nice and light without me giving, then the horse has brought it's nose in, giving to my hands. One thing is a horse can easily start going behind the bit if you aren't driving from behind enough. It's just a lot of things going on at one time!!! If you ever took riding lessons and got yelled at, "heels down, arch your back, belly like jello, hands up, eyes forward, don't look at your horses ears, ride into the corners, ect, ect.." it's kind of the same thing when teaching a horse to drive on the bit.
Just practice, have someone video tape you so you can see what it looks like when they are doing it right. If you have someone there to say "yes that's it!" or "they're behind the bit"... that makes it easier to learn the feel... Hope that helps!
Chamomile, thank you very much for posting this thread.
Even as a new CDE'er it's a subject dear to my heart. If you're going to drive, do the gosh dang research on how to do it properly! There is no excuse for testing the giant hearts of our little horses and asking them to do things that make them uncomfortable.

I saw a mini at an event recently that was pulling his heart out on a vehicle that was too heavy for him (not too large, but very very heavy when I pulled it around) and no, he did not seem unwilling. If anything, he seemed annoyed that the cart would dare to twart him and was absolutely determined to haul it with him at a trot! LOL. But I don't think it was fair to ask him to do that, especially not with more than one person in it. He was really having to haul with every step, it never got easier, and he was drenched with sweat (granted, in a winter coat) within a short time. And he WAS harnessed properly, so there's more to proper driving to consider than just harness fit. (No offense to that driver if you're here, I'm sure it was not as obvious from the cart how much he was having to work. He was doing a good job of movin' along anyway! I'd LOVE to see him go in a lighter cart.

But I did wince a bit at this...

Chamomile said:
A photo of a cart properly hitched.  The shafts are going uphill from the cart,  there is absolutely no weight on Bug's back...
I don't have any photos of horses hooked up incorrectly
Actually, in my opinion you do and that was it. The shafts and tugs are correct, yes. But look at those traces! If my eyes aren't playing tricks on me then they are incredibly too loose. As you obviously already know from your posts here, I should certainly not be able to view them underneath the horse's belly.
Am I just seeing the wrong thing? Is that some other object on the far side of the horse?

Please, I always need to learn and I'd like to verify if I've learned to correctly judge harnesses like you guys!

I view all of these photos and comments as another big pluse for four wheel vehicals. When you spread the weight over four wheels balance becomes a non issue. With a two wheeled cart as soon as the driver shifts their weight the whole balance equation is thrown out. Easy entry carts are IMO some of the more critical ones ( I do own several easy entry type carts so no flames please) but it is very possible to put a very excessive load on the horses back when entering or leaving the cart. On a long cart ride (several miles) the driver will frequently shift positions and slide forward or backward in the seat again it places a potential excessive load on the horse. When we hook up most of the time its on a four wheel vehical -- my preverence for the comfort of driver, passanger and the horse.
Hobbyhorse23, Thanks so much for studying the photos so closely!!! I love how people on here are pitching in and helping with this HUGE problem!!! I didn't notice that before and I think you are right!! :new_shocked: How dare I drive like that! Usually I would never allow that
: I'm sorry Bug!! Thanks so much for noticing that :aktion033: :aktion033:

Here's another shot of Bug harnessed up... This is a more correct shot, of the traces, I think
: Let me know if you guys see something wrong here... I noticed that the cart is a bit too far back on Bug, it should be up by his point of his shoulder...


As for the four wheel carts... I have a friend that bought a phaeton, she had it painted purple and red to represent the Red Hatter Society. :bgrin It is an incredibly heavy vehicle close to 200 pounds. It took two guys to load this thing. It was hard for me to pull... This same friend has a two wheel cart that is also very heavy, much too heavy for an easy entry cart. It weighs about 130-150 pounds. Her horse is 36.5" tall at least and very well built. He can pull that easy entry all over down here at my place, but really struggled up at her house where there are many more hills. She was having to get out and walk. She had to remove the side check reins so he could pull with his head down... She got her new phaeton home and decided to try it out. Remember it weighs more than the two wheeled cart... He flies around those hills with that four wheeled phaeton!! He LOVES it! I was amazed. It is so heavy and akward to me, but not to the horse! I am a believer in the four wheeled vehicle myself... I just can't afford to buy one...

Thanks guys!! :aktion033: :aktion033:
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I have quite a collection of four wheeled vehicals. Over the last thirty I saved most of the pony pieces I have ever been lucky enough to get my hands on. Alot of the pony pieces are suitable for use with many minis. For the very small minis carts are made just for them but I do not have any. Some of the heavier pieces I have are still used for minis but their use is restricted to team driving and where footing is good. A two hundred pound cart on a good road is nothing for a team of minis. They muscle up well and look forward to being hooked and driven. Driving a team hooked to a good vehicle is a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon or a nice summer evening. Driving horses is certainly way up on my list of things worth doing with your spouse , children and or grandchildren.

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