"I need help I haven't harnessed a horse since I was nine-years-old and I am 43 now! I can harness the horse okay, but I can't remember how the harness hooks up to the shaft of the easy entry cart. My harness is just a plain jane driving harness with a front breast collar and no neck collar. Debbie."
H&C blogger and driving expert Ann Egan replies: "Hi Debbie, welcome back to driving! Harnessing a horse is pretty much the same as you remember and, I am sure in no time flat you will be an expert!
Always start at the front of the horse and work back when hitching. The cart shafts will go through your cart loops and then you should attach the hold backs to the harness. We keep our hold backs on the shafts all the time but if yours are on your harness, simply attach the straps to the shafts. You probably remember that the hold back straps attach to the breeching body at the side ring and then attach to the shafts of the vehicle to prevent the cart from running up on the horse. Most all shafts have metal brackets which attach to the underside of the shafts - shaped like a U below the shaft. The hold back strap slips into the slot. If the hold back is long, simply wrap it around your shaft several times going under the strap at least once.
Next attach your traces, or tugs as they are sometimes called, to the cart. The traces are the part of the harness which attaches the horse to the vehicle. Your traces will attach to the cart by way of the cart's whiffletree, usually wooden with metal rings or hooks, to which traces are attached. I suspect that from your letter, this is the part you were unsure about. Always make sure that the traces are taught. If the traces are too loose, they tend to get sloppy and are not effective and they can bang a horses legs which is not comfortable.
What can be tricky about attaching the traces is how many links on your trace chain to "drop". You will have to put the horse to the cart and look to see where in the shafts he is. Typically we drop one or two links on our traces. This may be something that you have to judge and then re-evaluate once you have driven for a few meters. Again, if the traces are swinging or seem too long, simply stop and drop a link or two.
A few things to remember as you harness your horse. Once you have all the pieces of the harness in place, please go back and check everything again on both sides. Make sure that your snaps are snapped and buckles buckled. We also check the tightness of the straps on the horses saddle and belly bands to make sure that once you load the cart on, that the straps have not become too tight due to the weight of the cart. Check also that your lines are not twisted and that your bridle is on securely.
When you return from your ride, you will unhitch from the back, starting with your traces, then your hold backs. For safety reason, I am sure you remember, always unhitch from the cart, then un-harness, leaving your bridle on for last.
Hitching a horse is like riding a bike and once you do it again, it will all come back to you. Again, welcome back to driving and here's hoping there are many wonderful (and safe) drives in your future! Ann."