Harness For Horses An Ancient Art Since 4000 B c

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Since ancient times turnouts have been a necessity and they refer to two different periods: the first period ranges between 4000 B.C. (when the wheel was invented) and the Roman time; while the second defined “modern” begins in the IX century B.C.

In the course of time harnesses have greatly improve as, at first, they were only simple leather strips necessary to hitch the horse to the wagon.

During the Carolingian period animals were used to transport goods and people: infact in the IX century horses were shoed and in the X century collars were invented.

At the end of the XVI century harnesses were richly decorated and in the XVII and XVIII centuries saddle-horses were used less and less because of the many advantages coming from harnessing horses to carriages or wagons. At that time a set of rules were fixed on how to make harnesses and use them on horses. This tradition was more French than English.

Different breeds were selected according to their characteristics and use: the main difference being whether the horses transported goods or people. Saddlers made harnesses for all purpose or transportation.

In the XIX century the very practical English style replaced the French one used until then.

In the XIX century Baron Achenbach, a great expert of the equestrian world, created a more modern way to harness horses and gave precise measurements which guaranteed a perfect balance for the horse and its driver. At the beginning he had given these measurements to his personal saddler for his own horses, later on other saddlers used them and passed them on to the following generations.

In ancient times saddlers worked modestly in the towns where horses were used to transport people, to work in the fields or to pull carriages. The expert saddlers of the time fit the harnesses appropriately to the horses (or other animals that worked in the fields) to guarantee their comfort while doing the job required.

The saddlers used to cut the leather to make the straps needed to assemble the parts of the harness and they hand-sewed each piece (the sewing machine was invented in the XVIII century) by using reinforced wax- covered thread. Then they used an awl to make holes in the leather firmly held in a vice kept between their legs. They used two needles, one opposite the other, to strengthen the stitches. Other specialized workers were in charge of making all the parts that required padding, such as saddles and collars. Their tools were metallic rods of different length used to pad the parts with straw or horsehair.

According to their purpose harnesses were more or less elaborate. Luxury harnesses had fine stitches and very decorated buckles, coat of arms and monograms base on the owner’s personal request.

For funerals, one, two, four or six-horse teams were used and the harnesses were very detailed, furthermore the feathers on the bridle and saddle pad were black, while in case of a child’s funeral they were white.

Saddlers’ workshops began to close down when engines were invented and cars and tractors replaced horses so the tradition of these artisans became part of the past.

However, nowadays, there are still saddlers who make harnesses mostly for carriages and their style reproduces the excellent works of the XIX century.

Modern harnesses include a bridle, an English style breast collar or collar, a saddle pad, breeching, traces and reins.

Each component must respond to the driver’s commands, the horse is driven by the traces connected to the bit of the bridle, its pulling capacity depends on the collar and breast collar, the breeching is used to stop the horse, while the saddle pad is used to balance the entire harness.

Horses can be harnessed in different ways. The most common are: single with one horse, a pair with two horses next to each other and a four-in-hand with two pairs of horses, one in front of the other.

There are other types of turnouts, not so well-known, and typical only of certain areas.


Horses have always been very important both for work and pleasure, and even though they are not exploited for working purposes as in the past, there are still many equestrian enthusiasts who enjoy their turnouts which revive the past and allow them to be close to Nature.

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