Shaft Loops: ABC

A post by Janie Amdal

Since we began Chimacum Tack in 1992, you can imagine I’ve been asked thousands of questions about harness and tack – especially about shaft loops.  Fortunately, I have had excellent resources for answers, and I’ve made an effort to talk with customers at length to learn what I can from their expertise and/or contacts. I must have asked my harness maker thousands of questions by now – and I am always amazed at what I still don’t know! He always has the answers, and a smile in his voice.  If I can’t explain what is needed, he will call customers for me. In fact, as he has branched out into more and more innovative work, we have researched lots of things together.

Goran and Gerda think I should do a blog to answer some of my most frequently asked questions – and today we’re going to talk about shaft loops! If you have questions or find something confusing, please let me know and I’ll be glad to find you the best answer. To start, here are just a few of the questions we hear about Shaft Loops:

  • What kind of shaft loops should I use?
  • How should I decide?
  • How many sorts of Harness shaft loops are there?
  • What are they used for?
  • Where can I learn more?

Types of Shaft Loops:

a) Tilbury Tugs  are a classic style still used with four wheeled carriages.  They are designed to attach tightly to the shafts, so that the horse and carriage move together. There is no play in the shaft loop, They are used for 4-wheeled vehicles with independently hinged shafts. The single horse harness saddle is provided with shaft tugs to transmit the force of shafts to the saddle.

b) Standard (English) open shaft loops are frequently with straight-shafted, two-wheeled vehicles, and gigs.  Open shaft loops  are often used with an over girth – for  example as used with the Comfy Fit harness.  The shaft loop buckles to a strap which comes from the saddle and has a strap on the bottom of the shaft loop which buckles into the over girth.

c) French Tugs are similar to Tilbury Tugs and are used with two-wheeled vehicles with upward curving shafts, and when the vehicle is incapable of being balanced. French tugs are generally a strap which wraps around the shaft tightly and then buckles to the girth or over girth. French Tugs are also available with a metal curved section to support the shafts.  often considered to be fancy, French Tugs are practical wherever the shafts must be held down, as would usually be done with English tugs and a wrap-girth. Since they are both fancy and practical, French tugs are very versatile.

Sometimes open shaft loops are used with wrap straps on two wheeled vehicles as well.  Rather than having an over girth, (slightly longer than the girth) with buckles, the girth has a long, usually narrow strap attached.  The strap is designed to wrap around the shaft (often with a tug stop on the shaft) in an X configuration and then buckle back to itself.

Quick Release Shaft Loops were designed for use with Marathon Shafts with a closed-loop on either a two wheel cart or a four wheel vehicle.  Quick Release shaft loops release with the flick of a finger, which is helpful in many situations including CDE events, off road driving or Trekking. While they will not prevent an accident, Quick Release tugs can make getting out of the results of an accident quite a bit faster. Quick release tugs will release the saddle from the shafts – but remember that you have to do release both  sides OR release the girth.

Shaft loops are not used in multiple hitches, as there are no shafts in use.

How they work – Tips and Pointers:

  • With a two wheeled vehicle it is important for the shafts to shift up and down a bit as well as back and forth as the terrain and balance of the cart changes.  If the shafts are cinched down too tightly the effort of pulling the vehicle is shifted to the saddle/girth rather than using the benefit of the breast collar or neck collar.  The open shaft which buckles to an over girth is the answer in this case.
  • Sometimes open shaft loops are used with wrap straps on two wheeled vehicles as well.  Rather than having an over girth, (slightly longer than the girth) with buckles, the girth has a long, usually narrow strap attached.  The strap is designed to wrap around the shaft (often with a tug stop on the shaft) in an X configuration and then buckle back to itself.
  • Four wheeled vehicles bear the weight of the vehicle on their axles, and can be balanced.  Often they are driven with a girth with wrap straps.  Here is a link to helpful article about exactly how that works.  http://www.carriagedriving.net/index.php?m=a&a=24
  • Vehicles used in a show ring sometimes use harness with no breast collar on a single pleasure rig.  The wrap straps are cinched tightly to the  shafts and the carriage is pulled forward by just the saddle.

There are so many opinions about which method is better for the horse.  As I researched for this post, I came across a helpful discussion about the question of over girth vs. wrap straps.   Here is a link to it: https://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/forum/discussion-forums/driving/176203-wrap-strap-girth

Here are a few comments from a recent discussion of getting out of a dicey harness situation..

  • You can release everything BEHIND the saddle by undoing the backstrap.  This usually does not have a lot of tension on it so should be relatively easy to get undone.
  • It is also possible get a quick release attachment to connect the back strap to the saddle if you prefer.
  • If you are able to undo the girth then all the harness from saddle to tail will stay with the cart as it is not connected to the horse anywhere else but the crupper, which will slide right off the tail.

How should I decide which style shaft loop to use?

  1. Remember that comfort and safety for you and your horse is absolutely the first consideration.
  2. Think about the style of driving you will be doing.  What are the characteristics of the cart or carriage/s you will be using?  Look around – speak with people with whom you drive, or any trainers with whom you work.  Ask what they use and why.  What are the benefits? Drawbacks?  Ask if there are restrictions on the style you must use in the venue in which you will be driving?
  3. Check into some of the forums, groups, and online conversations to see what other people have found to work for them.
  4. Remember that more than one style shaft loop can be used on the same harness if needed. Many people have multiple vehicles and may need to use their harness in various ways – that’s why we sell lots of harness parts. You can easily buy stand-alone pieces to adapt your current harness to work with many vehicle types.
  5. Use your common sense and do what you think is right for your equine and your driving needs. And, always feel free to ask for help.

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