Does the Cart Fit my Equine?

I see so many different minis, ponies, horses, donkeys, mules and draft horses hitched and pulling vehicles. Sometimes everything looks great! All the parts and pieces are functioning perfectly together, the driver has put a lot of thought and time into purchasing the correct harness for the correct vehicle and they have been careful to fit the vehicle to the equine.

This is key – the vehicle fits your equine.

I think often there’s so much thought and consideration put into the harness, but when it comes to the vehicle we just hitch to whatever we can purchase locally. In some cases, we have been told by someone who knows more than we do, that this vehicle would work, but it simply doesn’t.

But how do you know if your vehicle fits? What are some loose guidelines we can apply to fitting a vehicle to our equine?

#1 – Can you see over your equine when you are sitting in the driver seat?

Thank you Bonny for this photo of your little training cart and Tia!

In the photo above you can see that Bonny can’t really see over Tia’s head while sitting in this cart. She has to kind of lean over to see around her.

Be sure you can sit in the drivers seat and see OVER your equines head. The photo below is Bonny and Tia in a vehicle that fits the mare beautifully!

Bonny and Tia in a correctly sized cart.

#2 – Where do your shaft tips end? At the shoulder, in front of the shoulder, behind the shoulder?

This is Joy in a little easy entry cart that ended up being too big for her.

In the above photo you can see the shafts stick out past Joy’s shoulder. These are too long – OR Joy needs longer traces so she can scoot forward in the shafts. However, if you do this sometimes the footmans loops (these are the welded loops on the shafts that you wrap your hold back straps around) can be too far back, making it impossible to correctly wrap your hold back straps so your breeching can function properly. You can read more about that here: The Breeching

I’ll be honest here – it’s actually better to have your shafts be too long than to have them too short. This is because, in nearly all the cases I’ve helped people balance their two wheeled vehicles, they needed to push the pony or horse AWAY from the cart seat and dash board. Never have they needed to bring the equine closer to the driver.

The photo below shows a cart that is far too small for the pony hitched to it. The pony is nearly sitting on the dash and the shafts have to be too low on the pony’s body to keep the floor and the shafts level. There is NO WAY to keep the weight of the driver, the passenger and the cart, off the pony’s back with the set up below.

This photo shows a vehicle that is too small for the pony hitched. The pony is too close to the seat and the shafts are far too low on the pony’s body. This pony is carrying the weight of the driver, passenger and cart as well as pulling the weight.

Also, it’s safer to have the equine a little further away from you – when you are using an easy entry type cart – in case they kick out. THAT is an entirely different conversation however!

About the cart shown above hitched to the pinto pony, Joy – it was not something that could be properly balanced to her. It simply sat too high and we couldn’t get the shaft loops high enough, while keeping the floor and the shafts level, to correctly balance the cart… that brings me to:

#3 – Can you keep your floor level when balancing your vehicle?

Bonny with her mare Molly hitched to the little training cart.

In the photo above, you can see the shafts have a sharp upward angle. If there were a floor on this little cart it would also be pointing up! I understand this is a sulky style cart and it’s meant to have a bit of an upward angle, BUT it simply does not fit this mare properly.

Let’s look at second photo above. The floor is nice and level, the shafts are level where they come out of the front of the cart, then because they have a curve to them, they reach up to the shaft loops. I like this style of shaft for most sized equines because they allow you to dial in the balance while keeping the floor and the shafts level. When you have straight shafts, if your cart doesn’t sit up high enough, it’s impossible to keep the floor and the shafts level:

The above photo shows a cart that is too small for the pony. You can see how the floor and the shafts dramatically rise to the shaft loops. If you were to lower the shaft loops enough to have the floor and the shafts level, they would be too low on the pony, making it so the pony could possibly step over the shafts.

To be honest, the photo of the buckskin pony, is one I see most often with these large ponies, welsh ponies, small arabs, little quarter horse ponies, standard donkeys, etc. Is it possible to find a cart to fit these sized ponies? YES!! There are plenty of manufacturers that make them. It will most likely mean you will have to order a vehicle online and have it shipped. Which can make it costly, but they are out there!

With the set up as shown on the buckskin pony, the weight of the people in the cart plus the weight of the cart, end up constantly pushing on the equine’s girth area. This can cause girth galls. It’s also very uncomfortable for them. Every movement of the people in the cart and every bump the cart goes over, causes the shafts to bounce and press on the girth area of the equine. They can also feel like they will be lifted by the vehicle… and sometimes they can be!

#4 – Are your shafts too wide or too narrow?

Having shafts that are correctly sized for the width of your equine is just as important as having the shafts be the correct length.

Very often we see shafts that are too wide. In the photo below the red arrows are showing where these shafts are too wide.

If the shafts are too wide, where the shaft loops are holding your shafts to your saddle, you will have constant downward pressure on the saddle creating pressure points on your equine’s back. This is true for mini horses, mini donkeys, horses, large horses, mules, draft horses, ect. Another way to look is from the front with the equine between the shafts and the shafts in the shaft loops. If your shaft loops are pulling away from the saddle, and not hanging straight down from the saddle, then your shafts are too wide.

In the photo above you see how the shaft loops hang straight down from the saddle – they don’t stick out and away from the saddle. When they stick out away from the saddle the shafts are essentially holding the shaft loops UP. We want the shaft loops to hold the shafts down, ideally.
White hairs occur where there is constant excessive pressure.

White hairs can start to show if the pressure points go unnoticed for too long. If your white hair is the same size and shape of your ENTIRE harness saddle (and not just in two little spots where the tree ends) then you have an issue with your shafts being too wide OR you are girthing your saddle too tight. You can learn more about how tight to do up your girth here: How tight should your girth be?

What if your shafts are too narrow? Then you will get pressure points on the sides of your equine. Also, if your shafts are too narrow it makes it very difficult for your equine to comfortably turn your vehicle.

You can see the pressure points from this little mare’s shafts being too narrow.

As with everything in life balance is key. Balancing your vehicle so you don’t have excessive weight on your equine’s back, the balance between having shafts that are just the right length AND the correct width, the balance between where your equine stands and works in the shafts so your breast collar can function correctly and so can your breeching – to avoid excessive pressure and rubbing of either the breast collar or the breeching strap. Everything. It’s all important to ensure your equine can comfortably do its job. Here is a blog that talks about trace length: How To Adjust Your Traces

Below are a few photos for your enjoyment, used with the permission of each owner!

This vehicle is too small for this horse. Can you see why?
This cart is too big for this mini… you can see that the mini is pulling the cart as well as carrying the weight of the cart AND the driver. This is a very small mini and in this photo you can see just how important it is to have a vehicle that is correctly sized for your equine.
I personally love this one! This vehicle is too big for this pony. LOL! This is a set up Kent made for ponies that were a bit difficult to start. With the long shafts they couldn’t kick the cart. The pioneer cart is a very heavy cart, so it was more difficult for them to take off.

Fitting cart and harness to an equine is not a one and done deal. The animals will change as they gain muscle, as they get hairy for winter, as they fatten up or slim down. WE change as we lose or gain weight. With these changes balance needs to always be addressed.

“Balance is not a passive resting place – it takes work, balancing the giving and the taking….” from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

4 thoughts on “Does the Cart Fit my Equine?

    • Mindy Schroder says:

      I hear that! I see people driving the large ponies in vehicles that are too small ALL THE TIME. Hopefully this blog will help others BEFORE they buy the too small vehicle 🙂

      Also, thank you so much for the beautiful photos!!!


    • Mindy Schroder says:

      You can see a chart here on Pinterest:https://www.pinterest.com/pin/649503577489835234/
      The chart is a “rule of thumb” so just because it says you need 50″ shafts for a 40″ pony that isn’t always the case. This is why I wrote this blog in this way and didn’t give hard numbers. Too often people see the hard numbers and get stuck on them not understanding why the vehicle won’t fit if the shafts are the “correct” length.

      For example my 40″ pony did best in 53-56″ long shafts.

      Thanks so much for your question!

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