Can you speak the language of the harness?
If the answer is no don't worry you aren't alone, we regularly get calls asking for a thing-a-me-jig or whats-a-flip! So what does it matter anyway? There are actually very important reasons for knowing what the parts of your driving harness are called and speaking the language. It's not only so that you can order exactly the part you want but it's also vital to communicate with your groom when driving. Just imagine you have forgotten to do something up or you need it adjusting while you are driving. You try to explain to your groom what you need them to do but neither of you have a clue what the other is trying to say. If you both know all the names of the parts of the harness then you can quickly rectify the problem.
Lets start with the broad outline
Bridle - This is the entire section on the horse's head which we will break down further into it's individual parts
Breastplate - This is the section on the horse's chest which enables the horse to pull the carriage via the traces
Saddle - Also known as the pad, driving saddle, driving pad, saddle pad. This is the section which anchors the rest of the harness as well as supporting the shafts in a single carriage
Breeching - This is the back end of the harness and it is effectively the brakes utilising the horse's powerful quarters to brace against the carriage
Reins - driving reins are obviously much longer than riding reins and are available with a number of different hand grips to suit each driver and the conditions
The Driving Bridle
Let's take a closer look at the bridle now with all it's parts
Headpiece - This is a strap which lays over the top of the horse's head behind the ears with two straps coming down each side. The straps pass through the loop at the end of the browband once it has the rosette threaded on it such that each strap is on a different side of the rosettes's bar. The blinkers and cheeks and the throatlash attach to the end of these straps
Browband - This part passes across the forehead of the horse preventing the headpiece from sliding back. It has a loop at each end to allow the straps from the headpiece to thread through
Throatlash - A straight strap with a buckle at each end (on some bridles this may be permanently attached to the headpiece at one end) which attaches to the rearmost strap on the headpiece at each side
Rosettes - these are an ornamental and traditional piece of a driving bridle which helps to bring stability to the browband. It has a bar at the back which allows the end of the browband to thread through
Noseband - most driving nosebands are an independent section unlike a ridden bridle. It is just a loop with either one buckle or in some cases two buckles to allow it to be undone on either side. This threads through the noseband hangers which are straps threaded inside the cheeks with a loop at the bottom for the noseband to pass through
Flash - this is an optional part which usually comes as standard on Zilco driving bridles. It can easily be removed if not required and is used to prevent a horse from opening his mouth too much, often to get his tongue over the bit
Blinkers & Cheeks - this section contains the cheek pieces which connect the bit to the headpiece. Blinkers are usually integral with the cheek pieces and cannot be removed. There is a strap, in the case of Zilco bridles this is usually mouldable, connecting the blinkers across the forehead. This is used to control the gape of the blinkers
The Driving Breastplate
Breastplate Front - This is the padded section which goes across the chest of the horse to enable him to pull the carriage
Wither Strap - This part supports the breatplate front
Brake Strap - This is a part which has become popular in modern harness where the new design supports the front of the breastplate rather than having both straps of the wither strap passing down to the side of the breastplate
False Martingale - not pictured here the false martingale attaches to a ring on the front of the breastplate and it then passes between the forelegs and clips onto the girth
Retainer Strap - most commonly nameless this is the part we most frequently hear some interesting descriptions for. It is a basic little strap which attaches to the with strap at one end and clips onto the front of the saddle at the other end. It helps to prevent the breastplate tipping forward or the saddle slipping backwards
Backband - The backband passes right over the top or through the saddle and once the bellyband is attached it completes a "band" around the horse's girth area. This is the best way to remember the difference between the backband and the backstrap which is the strap forming the crupper when used with the dock. Likewise we remember the belly"band" because it forms a band with the backband. The backband is used to support the tugs on the saddle and may be either sliding or fixed. Please see our blog Sliding and Fixed Backbands Explained for further information
Tugs - The tugs can come in different forms, closed or quick release being the most common. They may also be known as shaft loops. Their job is to support the shafts on a single driving harness, this is not the case on a pairs harness where tugs are not required. They attach to the backband on the saddle.
Girth - The girth is used to support the saddle and hold it in place and attaches to the innermost strap coming off the saddle.
Bellyband - This is a simple strap with a buckle at each end and it is used to stabilise the tugs and prevent them from lifting too much.
Breeching Seat - This is the section which passes around the horse's quarters and is usually padded and relatively broad
Hip Straps - Hip straps may be a single strap or a double strap and they support the breeching seat
Trace Carriers - These are simple straps which form a loop to pass the traces through to support them when the horse is out of draft
Breeching Straps - These straps attach to the breeching dee at one end and the shaft at the other end. This allows the breeching seat to brace against the quarters when the carriage runs forwards either going down hill or when stopping
Backstrap - This strap attaches to the saddle at one end and the dock at the other end. It also has loops to allow the hip straps to pass through
Dock - This attaches to the backstrap which in turn attaches to the saddle and it prevents the saddle from running forward. The dock and backstrap combined may be refered to as the crupper
Obviously we have just outlined the parts based on a fairly standard set of single harness and some variations exist. One noteable variation can be found in the breastplates where a combi breastplate has integral traces which do not unbuckle.
If you need some help with fitting your harness check out our blog Fitting Carriage Driving Harness