How to Harness a Draft Horse: Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

If you’re new to working with draft horses, learning how to properly harness them can seem like a daunting task. But fear not! In this comprehensive guide for beginners, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of how to harness a draft horse. From selecting the right equipment to fitting the harness and attaching it to your horse, we’ve got you covered. So, if you’re ready to learn How to Harness a Draft Horse, let’s get started!

Equipment for Harnessing

Harnessing Equipment Draft Horse

In this section, we will discuss the essential equipment required for harnessing a draft horse, focusing on the primary harness components and necessary safety equipment.

Harness Components

A draft horse harness typically consists of several key components. The bridle, a set of straps that go around the horse’s head, is the primary piece used for steering and controlling the horse (source). The thick padded collar is essential for heavy hauling, as it’s custom-fitted to each individual horse, ensuring comfort and reduced risk of injury (source).

Another important component is the harness saddle, a small piece located on the horse’s back that provides support for the harness (source). The girth, a strap that attaches to the harness saddle, wraps around the horse’s belly and ensures the harness remains secure (source).

Additional components include the crupper, a soft padded loop placed under the horse’s tail, crucial for keeping the harness from slipping forward (source); tugs, loops attached to the back band for holding up shafts of wagons or wheeled vehicles (source); and terrets, metal loops found on both the saddle and collar that support the reins (source).

Safety Equipment

When harnessing a draft horse, it’s important to prioritize safety for both the horse and the handler. One key aspect of safety equipment is the use of a well-fitted collar designed specifically for the horse in question. The collar ensures proper distribution of weight and prevents injury during heavy hauling (source).

Another essential safety measure is checking all the harness components for signs of wear and damage before use, as broken or frayed equipment could lead to handling difficulties or accidents. Regular maintenance of the harness, including cleaning and oiling leather components, will prolong its lifespan and ensure its effectiveness (source).

Handlers should also be aware of draft horse sizing, as ill-fitting equipment could cause discomfort or injury to the horse. When selecting equipment such as bridles, collars, and girths, it’s crucial to take accurate measurements to ensure a proper fit (source).

In conclusion, harnessing a draft horse requires a thorough understanding of the key components and proper safety measures. With the right equipment, handlers can ensure the comfort and well-being of their draft horses during work.

Harness Fitting

Harnessing draft horses

Harness fitting is crucial for the comfort and safety of your draft horse while performing tasks such as pulling carts or carriages. To ensure a proper fit, attention should be given to the collar, saddle, and breeching, as well as the bridle.

Collar Fitting

The collar is an essential component of the draft horse harness. It’s crucial to choose the right type, size, and adjust it properly for a comfortable and efficient fit. A well-fitted collar reduces the risk of injury and enables the horse to work effectively. Each collar is tailored to a specific horse, and it is recommended to sell the collar along with the horse, as they are custom-fitted (New Hampshire Folklife). To fit the collar, place it around the horse’s neck, ensuring it doesn’t pinch or leave too much space. After using the collar for a while, it will conform to the horse’s neck, and you may need to adjust the bottom for a snug fit.

Saddle and Breeching Fitting

The saddle and breeching are vital parts of the harness that rest on the horse’s back and secure the equipment in place (wikiHow). The harness saddle provides support and should be correctly positioned for optimal comfort. Secure the girth around the horse’s belly to attach the saddle, ensuring it’s not too tight or too loose (Henssgen Hardware). The breeching goes around the horse’s body and prevents the harness from slipping forward. Attach the crupper under the horse’s tail to keep the harness in place and maintain the proper fit.

Bridle Fitting

The bridle guides and controls the head of the horse, making it an essential component. Ensure the correct size and type of bridle for your draft horse, taking the horse’s comfort and breed into account. Bridles typically include straps that go around the horse’s head and should be correctly adjusted to avoid discomfort or loss of control (New Hampshire Folklife). Attach the reins to the bridle and keep them within reach, ensuring they are not too tight or too loose to maintain effective communication with the horse.

In summary, fitting a harness on a draft horse involves careful attention to the collar, saddle, breeching, and bridle. Ensuring that each section of the harness fits correctly optimizes the horse’s comfort and efficiency during work tasks. Remember to periodically check and adjust the harness as needed, as fit can change with the horse’s condition and the wear of the equipment.

Harnessing the Draft Horse

Draft Horse Harnessed Ploughing a field

This section discusses the steps to properly harness a draft horse, which includes approaching the horse, attaching the collar, securing the saddle, and putting on the bridle.

Approaching a Draft Horse

When approaching a draft horse, always approach from the side and not head-on, so the horse can see you. Gently speak to the horse in a calm and reassuring voice to establish trust. Make sure to have the harness equipment ready to simplify the process.

Attaching the Collar

Begin by sliding the collar over the horse’s head, ensuring it is properly fitted. A well-fitted collar evenly distributes the pressure across the horse’s shoulders, preventing injury during work. Every collar should be unique to the individual horse, and if you sell the draft horse, the collar should go with it (New Hampshire Folklife).

Securing the Saddle

Once the harness is in place, it’s time to position the saddle on the horse’s back. It’s crucial to ensure that the saddle is correctly placed to distribute the weight of the harness and maintain the horse’s balance. Once you’ve positioned the saddle correctly, secure it with the girth strap by wrapping it around the horse’s barrel and buckling it snugly. However, it’s essential to avoid over-tightening the strap, as it can cause discomfort or restrict the horse’s movement, leading to potential health problems.

Putting on the Bridle

Lastly, put the bridle on the horse. Start by gently sliding the bit into the horse’s mouth, ensuring it rests comfortably between the teeth. Then, place the crownpiece, which is the part of the bridle that goes over the horse’s head, behind the ears. Finally, fasten the throatlatch and noseband, making sure they are secure, but not too tight or restrictive (wikiHow).

After attaching the harness components, connect the reins to the bit and the traces or straps taking the pull from the breast collar to the load (Henssgen Hardware). Ensure all connections are secure and safe before asking the horse to begin work.

Preparing for Work

Draft horses in harness for pulling wagons
Draft horses in harness for pulling wagons

When harnessing a draft horse, it is essential to ensure proper equipment, adjustments, and safety measures are in place. Since draft horses are used for heavy and challenging tasks, having the right harness and setup matters in terms of both productivity and safety.

Connecting Equipment

When it comes to preparing a draft horse for work, the first step is to connect the necessary equipment. The horse harness consists of several primary components, including the hames, breeching, and bridle. Hames are typically made of metal or wood and are strips that take the full force of the pull, used in a harness. The breeching, which is a strap around the horse’s haunches, allows the horse to set back and slow down whatever is being hauled. It is usually hooked to the shafts or pole of the load. The bridle fits around the horse’s head, and the bit goes into their mouth to provide control over the horse’s movements. It’s essential to ensure that all the components are correctly connected and adjusted to prevent any discomfort or injury to the horse while working. By doing so, the horse can work efficiently and comfortably without any adverse effects on their health, ensuring that they remain in top condition.

Checking Adjustments

Properly adjusting the harness is crucial for the comfort and safety of both the horse and its handler. The leather straps of the traces must be placed behind the straps of the belly band and should sit on top of the saddle’s strap behind the horse’s front legs2. This positioning allows for appropriate pressure distribution while the horse is working. Regular checks should be conducted to ensure the right fit and prevent any malfunctions during work sessions.

Preventing Chafing and Injury

To safeguard the horse from chafing and injury, precautions must be taken. Adding padding in areas that may rub the horse can provide comfort and minimize the risk of irritation. Keeping the harness clean and well-maintained will further contribute to the protection of the horse’s skin. Additionally, it is vital to maintain a weight appropriate for the horse’s size and strength. Overloading the animal can lead to fatigue, injury, and long-term health issues3.

By following these guidelines and taking care of the necessary preparations, the draft horse can be harnessed effectively and safely, ensuring a productive working relationship between the horse and handler.

Harness Care and Maintenance

Draft horses in harness for pulling

Proper care and maintenance of a draft horse harness can keep it in optimal working condition for longer. This section covers Cleaning and Conditioning, storing, and inspecting the harness for wear and damage.

Cleaning and Conditioning

Regularly cleaning and conditioning your harness is necessary to protect it from dirt, sweat, and other contaminants. It’ll also help maintain its flexibility and strength. Gently use a soft brush and warm soapy water to remove surface dirt and grime, and rinse thoroughly with clean water. After cleaning, always allow the harness to air dry, avoiding direct sunlight or heat sources to prevent damage to the leather.

Conditioning the harness with a high-quality leather oil or conditioner helps maintain its softness and durability. Apply the conditioner in a thin, even layer using a clean cloth, and wait for it to be fully absorbed before reassembling the harness. Repeat this process as needed, considering the weather conditions and frequency of use.


When not in use, store your draft horse harness in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. If possible, use a harness rack or dedicated storage system to prevent the harness from becoming tangled or distorted. If you need to cover the harness, use breathable materials such as towels, and consider lightly draping a plastic bag over it to protect from dust and dirt according to IVC Carriage.

Inspecting for Wear and Damage

Routinely inspecting your draft horse harness for signs of wear and damage is essential to ensure safety and proper functioning. Check for cracks, splits, or frayed edges on the leather straps, weakening in buckle areas, or signs of rust on metal components. Damaged parts should be replaced promptly to prevent accidents or further deterioration.

Additionally, pay attention to the fit of the collar and hames as mentioned by New Hampshire Folklife. Since collars are often fitted to individual horses, it’s essential to evaluate the fit regularly to ensure proper functionality and comfort for your draft horse.

Common Issues and Troubleshooting

When harnessing a draft horse, it’s essential to be aware of common issues and how to troubleshoot them to ensure the safety and comfort of your horse while working efficiently. This section will discuss common problems such as incorrect fit, behavioral issues, and injury prevention.

Incorrect Fit

An ill-fitting harness can create discomfort or even pain for the horse, affecting its performance and well-being. To avoid this, ensure the various parts of the harness, such as the collar and breeching, are adjusted correctly. Frequently check the fit of the collar, as it plays a crucial role in weight distribution and pulling efficiency. Different collar styles are available for various neck shapes and sizes, and selecting the right type ensures a proper fit. Monitoring the angle of draft is also vital in preventing collar sores and discomfort, as pointed out by Rural Heritage. An ideal angle of draft ensures the horse’s collar sits correctly and allows them to work without unnecessary strain.

Behavioral Problems

When harnessing a draft horse, it’s crucial to watch for any signs of behavioral problems as these can indicate underlying issues with the equipment or the horse’s comfort. Common behavioral problems include refusing to move, rearing, or acting out when in the harness. To address this, examine the horse’s overall health, comfort, and pain levels. Double-check the harness and equipment for any signs of wear or damage. It may be beneficial to consult a professional trainer or veterinarian to identify and resolve any issues affecting the horse’s behavior.

Injury Prevention

Preventing injuries should always be a top priority when working with a draft horse. Ensuring proper use of equipment and adequate care for the horse is essential. Use a breast collar harness to distribute the weight onto the horse’s shoulders, which helps prevent windpipe damage or restricted air supply, as Henssgen Hardware advises. Additionally, regularly inspect the harness and equipment for signs of wear or damage to prevent malfunctions that can cause injury to the horse or handler. Pay attention to the horse’s body language and behavior to identify any signs of discomfort or pain early and address them promptly.

Overall, the proper harnessing of a draft horse involves understanding the equipment, monitoring the horse’s behavior, and taking necessary precautions to prevent injuries. By paying attention to these aspects, handlers can work with their draft horses safely, efficiently, and effectively.


In conclusion, harnessing a draft horse requires attention to detail and proper procedure to ensure the safety and well-being of the animal. It is essential to choose the appropriate type of harness, such as a breast collar harness, which places the weight onto the horse’s shoulders, preventing damage to their windpipe and optimizing their energy when pulling heavy loads (Henssgen Hardware).

When setting up the harness, it is crucial to position the hames, breeching, and traces correctly to allow for effective pulling and control during work. Matching the point of draft on the harness to the ideal point of draft on the horse’s shoulder is an important aspect of the harnessing process (Rural Heritage).

It is necessary to be mindful of the horse’s comfort when using the collar and hames in a horizontal line of draft, as many animals may react negatively to the weight of these elements on their neck. Properly adjusting and fitting the harness components will ensure the best performance from the draft horse (Chimacum Tack).

Lastly, remember that harnessing a draft horse is a skill that requires practice and care. By following the right steps and being attentive to your horse’s needs, you’ll be able to ensure a successful and productive working relationship with your draft horse.