How To Adjust Your Traces

Harnessing and hitching a horse or pony for driving has such a long learning curve. There are so many parts and pieces that need adjusting, then fitted to the horse or pony, then fitted and correctly attached to the vehicle you are using. It can all be so confusing!

I am frequently asked how to attach the traces to the vehicle and how to know when they are the correct length. I made a video to help trouble shoot. (The video is at the bottom of this blog post.)

**Zorro is a Shetland pony. These “rules of thumb” are the same whether you are driving a pony, a donkey, a mule, a horse, a draft horse, a goat or a reindeer.

How to attach your traces to your vehicle:

Firstly, if your vehicle does NOT have a single tree, purchase one. We don’t sell single trees for carts here at Chimacum but you can reach out to any cart builder to purchase one.

There are a few types of single trees:

The sword style – This style is commonly seen on show carts. It is a simple piece of wood with tapered ends. Sometimes there is a leather lacing that you use to “hold” the trace on the single tree. Sometimes there is a spring clip or a trace holder that closes around the trace.

The Hook Style – You’ll slide the slot end of the single tree over the hook.

Loop style single tree – Some single trees have a loop and you’ll need to use a quick release shackle to attach the traces to them.

You’ll need traces with a combo end to attach the traces to the quick release shackle.

Here is a quick little video showing how a single tree works:

If you don’t have the little straps on your single tree, please get some and attach them! They are there in case one side of your traces come loose. The straps will keep the single tree from rotating forward and smacking your equine in the rear end.

Trace Length:

Trace length can change with the vehicle you are hitching to. For instance, an easy entry cart with a horizontal line of draft will need shorter traces than a vehicle with a low line of draft such as a wagon, a harrow or a sled. It is helpful for us to know what kind of vehicle you will be driving.

This vehicle has a low line of draft which requires longer traces, or the use of heel chains to make the traces long enough, as shown in this photo.
This is a horizontal line of draft, requiring traces that are a little shorter.

Typically, the harness makers will look at the height of your equine and send you traces that usually fit that size animal. If you have a set of traces that are the correct length it is very helpful if you measure those and let us know exactly how long you need them to be.

A good rule of thumb when hitching to a horizontal line of draft vehicle is to have 12-17″ between the equine’s tail and the single tree/front of the vehicle. For a low line of draft you’ll need a few more inches to account for their stride when trotting out and cantering.

Adjusting the Traces:

Traces should be adjusted so there isn’t any slack when you are standing still, but not so tight that there is constant pushing pressure on the equine. There is a fine balance between the snugness of the traces and the snugness of the breeching. This push/pull of the two parts of harness are what help make your cart ride smooth. If you have a lot of lurching at the trot and canter then chances are your traces are a little too long. If your shafts are falling out of the shaft loops, then your traces are adjusted too long. If your shaft ends are up by your equine’s nose, then your traces are too tight. If you have to struggle to get the traces onto the single tree, then your traces are too tight.

As written on the Rural Heritage Website article – Harness Variety & Function:

  1. The Communication Component: to communicate with and direct the draft animal. the Communication Component is highlighted in yellow in the photo above. It consists of the bridle, bit and the lines.
  2. The Draft Component: to accomplish the drawing or pulling of the load. The Draft Component is highlighted in green in the photo above. It consists of the breast collar and the traces.
  3. The Stopping and Backing Component: to stop a load, slow down a load or back up. The Stopping and Backing Component is highlighted in red in the photo above. It consists of the breeching and hold back straps.
  4. The Support Component: the portions of the harness necessary to keep the pieces of the other Components in their proper positions. The Support Component is highlighted in blue in the photo above. It includes the saddle, the girth, the hip straps, the crupper and the trace carriers.

I found this explanation to be such a great one there seemed no need to re-write it. Please click on the link above to read the article in it’s entirety!

Here is the video I made. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below or email me at mindy@chimacumtack.com!





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