As it turns out, goats have been used as draft animals for thousands of years, with depictions of goat-drawn chariots found in both Greek and Roman art. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, goat-drawn carts and wagons were very popular children’s toys throughout the U.S., and goat-powered vehicles were also used for pulling tourists around places like Central Park and Coney Island.
Standard breed goats are similar in size to miniature horses. Full-sized wethers (castrated males) are usually taller than miniature horses but not as wide or heavy. Goats are not as strong or fast as horses and they have less endurance, but what they lack in pulling power they make up for in personality and head-turning appeal. Goats are very people-oriented animals, being more like dogs in their ability to bond with humans. They are far less skittish than horses, and being somewhat less powerful, they are easier to manage and work with. Goats are also exceptionally easy to keep and far less expensive to feed and care for than horses.
Any healthy goat can pull a cart, but the size, breed, and sex of the goat will determine how much it can pull and how far. A miniature goat can easily pull a small wagon with a child in it, but it will take a large breed male to comfortably pull two adults. Unlike equines, goats show a great deal of sexual dimorphism, with males being significantly larger and stronger than females. Intact male goats are the strongest by far, but they are not a good choice for harness work because of their powerful odor and unpleasant breeding behaviors. Females can be good workers but they are not as strong and their pulling ability may be impacted by heat cycles, pregnancy, and a large udder. Castrated males, called wethers, are usually the best choice. They do not stink or have embarrassing habits, but they are much taller and stronger than females. Since goats are a livestock species, most males end up on a slaughter truck. Buying a young wether as a driving prospect provides him with a long, happy life. Many dairy producers would love to have alternative outlets for their excess males, so the best place to start when looking for a driving goat is a local dairy goat breeder. I do not recommend buying goats at auction.
Select a goat that is friendly and curious. He should have good conformation with strong feet and legs. The hooves should not splay out or curve under and the pasterns should be short and upright. I prefer goats with long legs that step well under themselves. Whether the goat has horns or not is up to your personal preference. I love the sight of a beautiful set of horns, but they are not practical for everyone. I personally think the standard dairy breeds make the best harness goats because of their height, legginess, and hard-working personalities. Fiber goats are usually good workers and they are beautiful to look at but they need to be sheared once or twice a year to stay comfortable while working. Meat breeds are very strong but lack endurance and are often lazy. I do not recommend Fainting Goats for pulling.
Horse driving knowledge applies directly to goat driving. The only differences in the harness are in the bridle and crupper. Goats do not have strong tails so I remove the crupper. Most people drive goats in halters, but I prefer bridles for finer control. Goats have shorter heads than horses and require some bridle modification. Goats’ ears are positioned much further back than horses’, so I place my bridles in front of the goats’ ears but behind their horns. Goats with horns do not need browbands or throatlatches to hold the bridle in place, and they don’t need blinders either. A large goat can use a 3 1/2” miniature horse bit. Because they have very low palates, a goat should always be driven in an unjointed or French link type bit. Most standard-sized wethers can use harnesses and vehicles designed for miniature horses. Most females and all miniature goats need harnesses made specifically for their smaller size. Vehicles must also be sized and balanced accordingly. Thankfully, smaller goats pulling smaller loads don’t usually need complete harnesses to stay safe and comfortable. But if you expect your full-sized goat to pull you around the countryside, do him a favor and buy him a complete harness. A converted horse halter or dog harness won’t do!
Always remember to have fun! Goats are some of the silliest, most playful creatures on the planet and they love to share their sense of humor. They love treats, scratches, and to be the center of attention. Most goats love the self-importance that comes with having a job to do. Reward him well for his work and he will work hard for you.
For more information on training harness goats, see the “Articles” tab on my website at www.goatorama.com.
– Nan Hassey
Chimacum Tack now offers the Custom Comfy Goat Harness! Each one is made to order – built for comfort, flexibility and fit for your driving goat.