Gig Harness v. Breast Collar: 3 distinctions

A post about harness styles
by Janie Amdal

How Is a gig-style harness different from a breast collar harness?  The answer to this question starts with another question:

What is a Gig?

A gig is a is a light, two-wheeled sprung cart pulled by one horse.

Gig carts are constructed with the driver’s seat sitting higher than the level of the shafts. A gig can also be called a chair or chaise. Traditionally, a gig is more formal than a village cart or a meadowbrook cart, and more comfortable, usually being sprung.  A light gig can be used for carriage racing.  Gigs have been popular since the early 1700’s in a variety of styles.

Why would there be special harness for a Gig?

Since the gig was made to be drawn by one horse, it was important to make the vehicle comfortable and structurally functional for that one horse traveling distances on variable terrain.  Unlike work harness, which uses back bands instead of a saddle, or a show harness which uses little more than a padded band, the gig saddle was designed for function and comfort.  In this sketch used for the original patent in 1906 it is possible to see the parts.

It is surprisingly similar to modern CDE / sport saddles. The design has remained consistent for more than 100 years.  Features include:

  • a metal tree to hold the shape of the saddle.
  • a wide gullet to prevent pressure on the spine, graduated padding to protect the back and eliminate pressure on the spine.
  • terrets and saddle hook look and function as they did in 1905.
  • the saddle hook has often been called a water hook.

Freight wagons, farm wagons and other horse drawn vehicles had water bags hanging from the hook on the saddle.  The particular little T shaped hook shown here is called a McKinney Hook.


Gig harness has changed little in design although materials used in construction has changed over the years.

Can a Gig harness be either breast collar or collar-and-hames style? 

Absolutely – the common denominator in a gig harness is the gig saddle.  The harness can be used with a breast collar, a collar and hames, or a combination collar such as the Superflex or the Comfy collar.

The gig is shown here with a single pony with a gig cart, gig saddle and deluxe breastcollar. The first  pretty pony lives in Australia and gets to go a lot of interesting places.  The Mule shown with the second Gig cart is also wearing a breast collar style harness. The last picture is of a mini pulling a gig wearing a comfy collar which is a combination of a traditional neck collar and a breast collar.

A gig harness is designed to provide comfort for the equine, stability for the driver and cart.  They are used in many disciplines from Combined driving events, to the show ring, to training.

The secret is in the saddle – well in hand since before 1905.

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