The harness saddle has a bit different purpose when driving than when riding. It still acts as a stabilizer, but it doesn’t need to be cinched up tight to do it’s job when driving. The driving saddle is there to hold the shafts. That’s it. If you are driving a team then often there will be very little in the way of the saddle as there aren’t shafts in the team set up.
Proper Saddle Placement
The driving saddle should sit about a hands width behind the shoulder blade. On minis this can be tricky as they often have rather ’round’ bellies and their girth groove will pull the saddle forward towards the withers. This really can’t be helped and you shouldn’t try to force the saddle into place with the back band and crupper. Just let it sit where it wants to and work around it! (We have a girth being designed, as I write this, that will help with saddle placement!! I can’t wait to announce that!)
You want the saddle to sit so it’s nice and centered.
The back strap/turn back strap, the part that goes back to the tail and the crupper, should be centered down the spine. The back strap and crupper will be snug, but not tight. You don’t want the saddle to be pulling upwards on the tail.
You also don’t want the back strap to be loose and floppy. This will destabilize the harness and cause the crupper to rub.
How you adjust your shaft loops will decide how high your shafts are and at what angle they attach to your horse. Ideally you want your shafts, on an easy entry cart, to be level from the front of the cart to the point of shoulder. Sometimes you will need to have a bit of an UPWARD angle from the front of the cart to the point of shoulder in order to have the cart balanced. You will NEVER have a downward angle from the front of the cart to the point of shoulder.
My cart is a little tricky because of the curved shafts. But you can see that they come up level from the front of the cart and then angle up at the curve to the shaft loops. I love the curved shafts as they make it easier to balance the cart.
If you have marathon style shafts then you will need quick release shaft loops so you can open them and buckle them around the end of the shaft.
Often times people who show will use the french style shaft loop as they can be tightened around the end of the shaft.
The tilbury style shaft loop is designed to be used with a four wheeled vehicle that has independently hinged shafts. It tightens down on the shaft, not allowing any float. This secures the shafts to the horse.
The over girth is what holds the shafts down. This comes up from the girth and buckles to the strap that comes off of the shaft loops, helping to stabilize everything.
Some harnesses will have wrap straps that go from the girth to the shafts, wrap around them and then buckle back down to the girth. The style of wrap is called a Figure of Eight wrap. The wrap strap style of over girth is most often seen in the show ring. The wrapping of the straps helps hold everything in place snugly. Because people that show in the breed style shows don’t use breeching, the over girth is acting as the brakes for the cart as well as holding the shafts down. I DO NOT recommend this style of over girth, without breeching, for pleasure/trail driving.
Sliding back band versus regular back band. The sliding back band was developed to use when the horse was pulling a two-wheeled, light weight cart. The idea behind it is that as the cart travels over a rough road, one with cobblestones and pot holes, the shaft loops will slide side-to-side absorbing some of the roughness – thereby lessening the jostling that the horse experiences. This is an excellent idea however when used with a miniature horse they can create a bit more jostling rather than lessen it. Especially if you are traveling over very rough ground, such as trails, old logging roads, driving over pastures/fields, etc. What I have seen is that the side-to-side motion of the sliding back band actually causes the shaft ends to bang into the sides of the horse.So if you have a sliding back band then pay attention to how much movement is happening in those shaft loops. Be aware of the stress this may be putting on your miniature horse’s shoulders.
The entire harness works together to stabilize the cart and keep the horse comfortable and everyone safe. It’s important to study the harness and understand what each part does. This will help you to know if things are working correctly when you are driving your own horse!
And remember, these are my personal observations and how I set my harness up. I am not saying anyone else is wrong if they choose a different way. Mindy~