Horse Harness Buying Guide

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Horse Harness Buying Guide
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Horse Harness Buying Guide

A horse harness is used to fasten a horse to an object in order to allow it to pull the object while being steered by a driver. Objects range from small two-wheeled carts to large wagons and coaches. Finding the right horse harness depends on its intended use. Depending on the load or competition category, horses can be harnessed alone, in pairs, or in groups. More than one horse pulling a vehicle is called a team. Pairs can be hitched next to each other or in tandem (one behind the other). A troika of horses is three hitched next to each other. Teams of four and upwards are usually made up of an even number of horses. Different harnesses are required for each of these formations. Shoppers will find a wealth of all types of horse harnesses available for sale online.

Types of Horse Harnesses

There are three main categories of harnesses: collar harnesses, breast collar harnesses, and brollar harnesses.

Collar Harnesses

A collar harness is used for heavier loads and in English showing. English horsemanship refers to a specific style of riding and tack, or equipment. A collar harness fits around the horse’s neck like a collar. It distributes the load’s weight across the horse’s shoulders. A lighter load is centered just in front of the shoulder joints, while a heavier load rests further down towards the point of the shoulder.

Breast Collar Harnesses

A breast collar harness is intended for use with lighter loads. It places the pressure towards the middle of the chest, below the windpipe. Using a breast collar for a heavy load may cause it to shift upwards, constricting the windpipe. To avoid choking, some collars are designed to fit over the windpipe without touching it.

Brollar Harnesses

The brollar harness is a combination of a collar and breast collar harness, bringing together the best characteristics of both. It lies around the neck and shoulders, with a cutout in the shoulder joint area to allow maximum shoulder movement. This design is made for the horse’s comfort, and is used in marathon, obstacle, and long-distance riding.

Talking the Talk

Learning the names and functions of the parts of a horse harness can seem daunting. Beginners should consult experienced trainers, breeders, or peers before choosing a harness. Both collar and breast collar harnesses are easy to come by, and are available in tack shops or online. However, a basic understanding of the construction of a harness will help shoppers find the right harnesses.

A harness is made up of three basic parts:

  1. The part used to pull the vehicle or load. This consists of a collar with hames (in a collar harness), or a breast collar with traces (in a breast collar harness). Hames are curved pieces of wood or iron attached to, or forming, the collar. The traces are attached to the hames.
  2. The part to hold the vehicle on its shafts. This is usually a pad with tugs and girths. A girth is a band passing around the middle of the horse to hold a saddle or, in this case, a part of the harness in place. Tugs are loops on the piece of harness around the body, designed to fit the shafts of a cart or wagon.
  3. The braking system, called breeching. This is made up of a breeching seat, hip strap, and breeching strap, and is found at the back end of the harness. The breeching seat is a strap going around the horse’s rump. Leaning back against the strap causes the pulled vehicle to brake. This feature is often absent in fine show harnesses or harnesses designed for lightweight vehicles.
To better understand the composition of a harness, it is important to understand the words used to describe the main components.




The traces can be made from rope, leather, chain, or synthetic materials, and bear the weight the horse is pulling. Traces run from the breast collar or hames to the singletree.


The singletree is a crossbar that is pivoted in the middle and mounted on the vehicle.


The surcingle fits around the horse’s torso, slightly back from the front legs. It is made up of a wide back band, a belly band or girth, and billet straps.

Billet straps

The girth buckles attach to leather straps known as billets.

Top or back straps

Top or back straps run from the top of the breeching harness through loops in the back pad to the hames. These straps hold the harness together.

Breast strap

The breast strap attaches to the hames with a pole strap running between the front legs to slip under the girth.


A crupper is a rolled strap that passes under the tail dock to keep the harness centered. It is not an essential part and may be left out of a full harness.

Driving bridle

A driving bridle is similar to a riding bridle,, but is more intricate. It comes with blinders and a check rein.


Blinders restrict peripheral vision and stop the horse from seeing the object it is pulling. Desensitized horses may be driven without blinders, but a horse that is not used to pulling may kick out at the vehicle, run, or turn to face it. Most harnesses come with blinders attached.

Check reins

Check reins attach to the bit through loops in the top part of the bridle, and to the harness. Check reins stop the horse from lowering its head to graze as this can cause an accident while pulling a vehicle.


Lines are the equivalent of reins, and are used to steer. They run from the bit through a ring in the hames (on collar harnesses) or the back band (on breast collar harnesses) to the driver. Lines are usually made of leather for its feel and weight.

Harnesses can be made from leather, nylon, and other synthetics. While many people appreciate the look of leather, it is more difficult to take care of than synthetics. Synthetics are also stronger. The materials used in the manufacture of harnesses should be considered together with other features and requirements before buying.

Features of Collar Harnesses

Collar harness designs differ according to the weight a horse is pulling, the distance it will cover, and the horse’s build. A straight collar is best for long distances and heavy loads. It is commonly lined with wool or serge to soak up sweat, and must be cleaned properly to avoid sores. A bent, or kay collar is more elegant, and designed for pulling light vehicles. These collars are used for showing, and are often lined with soft patent or russet leather. The piped collar is built in a special shape around the windpipe to avoid choking. An open-top collar is best for a horse with a thin, narrow neck. Extra padding or stuffing can be added to ensure a good fit. It is closed with a closing strap after it is put on the horse.

Features of Breast Collar Harnesses

The breast collar harness is also known as a Dutch collar. It is easy to fit and adjust. A strong, wide, well-padded breast strap surrounds the chest and distributes the load’s weight evenly. It features buckles on either sides for the traces. Some pair harnesses are designed to take a buckled breeching or a strap around the horse’s neck fixed to the pole shaft by a chain. On breast collar harnesses, the neck strap holds the breast piece in place. Lines are run through terrets fixed to the top of the neck strap. The rings made for reins or lines are fixed to the harness and are called terrets.

Choosing the Right Harness

Aside from the features discussed above, the right harness depends on the activity for which it will be used. Driving includes a wide range of classes, and either collar or breast collar harnesses can be used in most classes.

Show Driving

In show driving, the harness’ look must be appropriate to the category. Guidelines will be found in the rules of competition, and from trainers and peers. Show harnesses are usually made from leather.

Carriage or Van Driving

Harnesses used in carriage or van driving depend on the weight of the vehicle. Either type of collar can be used.

Heavier Vehicles

Heavier vehicles, like wagons, require breeching, with a wider breast collar. Buckle-in traces are considered more versatile than sew-in traces, but may be more expensive. With cart or wagon pulling, a collar harness with breeching is recommended.


A racing harness is designed to be used with a sulky, or racing cart. Due to the sulky’s lightweight design, breast collars are used without breeching.

Pleasure Driving

Pleasure driving can use either harness. Pleasure driving is a type of show competition in which drivers and their horses face tests. These tests include obstacles, dressage (a show of obedience and training), ride and drive (the horse is shown pulling a vehicle and being ridden), and marathon. Mules and draft horses may compete in this type of competition.

Fine Harness Driving

The fine harness category uses a breast collar and a lightweight vehicle, with no breeching.

Roadster Driving

Roadster driving refers to standardbred horses showing off their gait in the show ring. Since two-wheel carts or light four-wheel buggies are used, breast collar harnesses are most popular in this class.

Combined Driving

Combined driving, also known as horse driving trials, calls on horses and their drivers to complete three different sections: dressage, cross-country, and the obstacle cone challenge. The driver, the horse, and the vehicle are inspected during the dressage section, before the horse is put through its paces. The correct, well-presented equipment is essential in this phase. However, competitors enter in a range of vehicles, so each type of vehicle would influence the harness used.

Materials and Quality

A nylon harness is a relatively inexpensive solution for those who do not intend to show and are using a light vehicle. For heavier loads, a mid-range leather or synthetic harness should be used. These can generally be used to show. One needs a better quality harness for pleasure and combined driving because the harness’ look and strength become more important. Turnout driving, a subcategory of carriage driving, requires the perfect equipment. It is best to check with a trainer or the competition guidelines to learn what is best. As a global rule, harnesses should be in good condition, clean, and fitting of the era portrayed or vehicle used.

Fitting the Harness to the Horse

Ensuring that the horse’s harness is a good fit is important in order to avoid health problems. Fitting a harness is similar to fitting a saddle. A bad fit could lead to friction and sores, pinching and bruising, uneven weight distribution, and choking. With a collar harness, the collar should lie flat without pinching the skin. Enough space should be left between the collar and the horse’s windpipe to allow a hand to pass through when the horse is standing at rest. A breast collar harness is more adjustable than a collar harness.

A harness is available for every horse, from a pony to a draft horse. Retailers ask for different sets of measurement. As a guide, measuring a horse’s neck for a collar should be done from the bottom of the neck to the top of the shoulder. To measure the head for the bridle, measure from the corner of the mouth on one side, to the corner of the mouth on the other side. The girth is determined by measuring the horse’s circumference at a point about four inches behind the foreleg. The horse’s length is measured in a straight line from the point of the shoulder to the buttocks. The size of a harness is usually determined by the size of the surcingle, but it is very important to ask the supplier which measurements are needed.

Finding a Horse Harness on eBay

Horse harnesses are listed in eBay’s Sporting Goods section. Simply visit the Outdoor Sports category, select Equestrian, and go to Driving, Horsedrawn. Do a search for harnesses to find all the available listings. Do not miss out on the equipment offered in the eBay stores section where you will find a variety of tack. If you cannot find what you are looking for in the listings, why not save a search in My eBay? This triggers an automated email when the item you want is listed. To let the eBay community know that you are looking for a specific item, create a post in the Want it Now section.

Before making a purchase, carefully check the seller’s terms and conditions. Many sellers offer a money-back guarantee, while others have returns policies. When buying harnesses, some parts of the harness may not fit, while other parts may fit perfectly. This is because every horse is different. Speak to the seller to confirm whether you can return or exchange ill-fitting parts of a harness. You can use the "Ask a Question" link to ask the seller a question.

Carefully vet the seller before completing a transaction. eBay gives users access to feedback scores in order to ensure a safe and secure shopping experience. Check the number of transactions completed to ensure a smooth transaction. Additionally, eBay works closely with PayPal to offer secure shopping and peace of mind. Familiarize yourself with how the two work together to keep you safe. Never complete a transaction off eBay, and never pay using an instant transfer method like MoneyGram or Western Union.

Always add the shipping fees to the item’s price to work out the item’s total cost. Doing research about an item will ensure a fair purchase price. Be sure to carefully check the seller’s photos and item description before committing to buy something. Although unlikely, should your item fail to arrive or arrive in a condition other than described, eBay Buyer Protection will refund your buying price and shipping fees.


Buying a horse harness can be an expensive exercise. Those who are new to driving should be cautious about their investments. There are always more experienced people who are willing to share their knowledge, and one should do careful research before making a decision to buy. A good harness should keep the horse and driver safe. Shopping with eBay will help drivers buy affordable, quality harnesses for their horses.

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