Weekly, I discuss harness option with people. I always ask what it is they are going to do with their equine and driving. Drag a harrow? Do some logging? Pull an easy entry cart? Pull a wagon? And the main question I ask is, what is your line of draft?
Line of draft is very important when driving a horse, pony, donkey or mule. What exactly is line of draft? I laid it all out in this post: Collars, Line of Draft, Balance of Draft so I won’t go into all that here. But I thought it would be interesting to discuss WHAT a collar and hames does when it is used appropriately.
When you use a collar and hames, with a low line of draft, whether you are dragging a harrow, a log, a tire drag around your field, or a vehicle with a low line of draft, the collar will actually LIFT and then lay back on the animals shoulder, allowing them to push into it using the front of the shoulder and the chest.
When you use a collar and hames with a horizontal line of draft you loose the lift effect and the weight of the collar and hames will lay across the top of the neck for the entire time you are driving. Many animals will react negatively to this. Which often leads to people thinking a collar and hames is a “bad” thing and that their horse hates it. When used incorrectly, that same horse will learn to hate a breast collar as well.
We don’t only look at the line of draft when helping a customer decided whether to use a collar and hames or a breast collar, however. The weight of the vehicle will also dictate which is the best to use. For instance, forecarts are very heavy, not well balanced and difficult to pull. For the most part the forecarts I have seen have a low line of draft, but once in awhile I’ll see a homemade one that has a horizontal line of draft. Unfortunately for the animal pulling it, I will suggest a collar and hames even when the line of draft is horizontal. I say this because the weight of the vehicle, the fact that it is not well balanced, the weight of the collar on the animal’s neck all equal an experience that may not be the best for the animal. Whenever possible I suggest that the customer have the single tree lowered on a vehicle like that. Why does having a low line of draft on the forecart help? Because when the animal goes into draft, the front of the vehicle will slightly lift, IF the line of draft is low, then the collar will lift and set back along the shoulder and it is actually easier to pull, even when it’s not balanced and it’s very heavy.
Forecarts were designed to be used with farm equipment. The idea was that the farmer could sit on the seat or stand leaning against the front of the forecart and then hitch equipment to the back of the cart and get a lot of work done in a day, without having to walk all day. Hence the name:
fore- adjective: situated or placed in front.
The equipment hitched to the back of the forecart caused the front of the forecart to lift, which made the vehicle balance. When we use them without the equipment, the entire weight of the cart and the people in it will be ON the horse. When driving a single the weight will be on the shafts, which means the weight will on the on horse’s back. When driving a team the weight will be on the pole which means the weight will be on the animal’s necks. Trying to use a breast collar style harness for this set up would be truly horrible for the animal pulling.
On the flip side using a collar and hames with a questionable line of draft and a light weight vehicle doesn’t work well either. Because, again the weight of the collar and hames will be constantly pressing down on the top of the animal’s neck. I drive a small pony who uses a 14″ collar and hames. I have weighed my Mini and Small Pony collar and know that it weighs 3 pounds. Add the Mini and Small Pony Hames and you have a little over 4 pounds of pressure on the top of the neck. (This collar and hames are sized down for the minis. Our other collar styles are NOT sized down and weigh considerably more. Especially the hames!) When I drove Zorro with the Hyperbike using the collar and hames I watched his head drop lower and lower and lower as we drove and a short, easy 2 mile drive became a long slog for him. He was exhausted when we got home. The bike is too light to cause the collar to lift and lay back along the shoulder so he had to pull the bike and carry the weight of the collar.
Now when we go sledding and the line of draft is low, even though the load isn’t terribly heavy, the collar is able to work correctly and he can easily go 5 miles or more through the snow without an issue.
Whether you use a collar and hames or a breast collar is a great question and one that should be considered whenever you’re driving any equine. Understanding the type of work you want to do and knowing what vehicle you will be using is key to making a good choice for your animal.
I’ll add that we have collar and hames for all types of equines. A collar that will fit a mini horse or small pony is shaped differently than one that will fit a draft horse or a donkey or mule. So choosing the correct shape is VERY important when ordering a collar. Collar fit is extremely important for the comfort and happiness of your equine.
- Full Sweeney: For heavy “stud-like” necks, where the neck is extremely thick at the upper part of the neck.
- Half Sweeney: Fits necks that are thick along the sides and the upper part of the neck. Most draft horses use this shape.
- Full Face: A straight collar that fits flat and slender necks. Most buggy horses use this style of collar and most minis as well.
- Mule/Donkey Collars: This style collar fits a neck that is very straight and flat. These are especially for mules and donkeys! If you are buying a collar for a mule or donkey and do not choose a collar specifically for them you need to let us know that you are buying a collar for either a mule or donkey
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If you have any questions about what type and style collar and hames you may need don’t hesitate to reach out through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 224-HAR-NESS (224-427-6377)