Driving (horse)

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A Welsh Cob in harness Welsh-D-Kutsche.jpg
A Welsh Cob in harness

Driving, when applied to horses, ponies, mules, or donkeys, is a broad term for hitching equines to a wagon, carriage, cart, sleigh, or other horse-drawn vehicle by means of a harness and working them in this way. It encompasses a wide range of activities from pleasure driving, to harness racing, to farm work, horse shows, and even international combined driving.



For horse training purposes, "driving" may also include the practice of long-lining (long reining), wherein a horse is driven without a cart by a handler walking behind or behind and to the side of the animal. This technique is used in the early stages of training horses for riding as well as for driving.

Horses, mules and donkeys are driven in harness in many different ways. For working purposes, they can pull a plow or other farm equipment designed to be pulled by animals. In many parts of the world they still pull carts, wagons, horse-drawn boats or logs for basic hauling and transportation. They may draw carriages at ceremonies, such as when the British monarch is Trooping the Colour, as well as in parades or for tourist rides.

Harness racing Trabrennbahn-2.jpg
Harness racing
Combined driving Harrie Verstappen Warka 2007.jpg
Combined driving

Horses can race in harness, pulling a very lightweight one-person cart known as a sulky. At the other end of the spectrum, some draft horses compete in horse pulling competitions, where single or teams of horses and their drivers vie to determine who can pull the most weight for a short distance.

In horse show competition, the following general categories of competition are seen:

Horses pulling a sleigh Horses and sleigh.jpg
Horses pulling a sleigh


Medieval four-horse team: leaders and wheelers Medieval horse team.jpg
Medieval four-horse team: leaders and wheelers

A team is more than one animal used together for draft. The animals may be arranged in various ways. While a single animal is usually placed between two shafts, a pair (two animals) is usually hitched side by side with a single pole between them. A troika is a team hitched in a single row of three: the center horse in shafts and each of the other two hitched on either side. A tandem hitch has one rear animal in shafts, then one or more others hitched ahead of the first in single file.

Larger teams are usually in pairs, with four, six or even more animals overall; driving these is known as driving four-in-hand , six-in-hand etc. Sometimes other arrangements are used, such as the "unicorn" (one animal in front of a pair), and the "pickaxe" (three animals in front of a pair). Teams larger than six are generally limited to situations where large loads must be hauled over difficult ground. For example, eight-ox plowing teams were once common on the heavy soils of southern England, as were very large ox teams used in 19th century South Africa (see ox-wagon). Twenty-mule teams were used in the mid-19th century for hauling ore in California, and large teams of horses were often needed to pull the heaviest types of horse artillery.

A Troika Orlowski podrozny.jpg
A Troika

The animals in a large team have different tasks. The wheelers are the pair (or in tandem, the single animal) closest to the vehicle. They provide the main braking effort, slowing the vehicle and controlling it downhill by pulling back on the pole or shafts. The strength of the wheelers is often the limiting factor in determining the maximum safe load for a vehicle while all the animals can pull uphill, only the wheelers can hold the vehicle downhill. For this reason, the strongest pair in a team may be chosen as the wheelers. Wheelers also steer the vehicle by turning the pole or shafts.

The leaders are all the animals in front of the wheelers. As they are also in front of the pole or shafts they cannot provide any braking effort.

Wheelers and leaders in a team usually have somewhat different harness: wheelers usually have breeching so they can pull back on the shafts or pole; leaders do not need breeching, and nor do animals pulling a dragged load such as a plow (where all the animals are effectively leaders). Wheelers may not need breeching in very light vehicles, or those with efficient brakes.

Historically, very heavy loads were sometimes controlled downhill by additional pairs hitched behind the vehicle. Such additional pairs were often hired to passing vehicles to help them either up or down a particularly steep hill.

A particular pair of horses are often worked together all the time. They also may often be hitched the same way as well each animal always placed on the right-hand or left-hand side. Traditionally, pairs are often given paired names, as in the well-known example of the names of Santa Claus's reindeer: Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.


The Hyksos were an ancient people who drove horses in chariots Modern loose interpretation at the The Pharaonic Village in Cairo of a Battle scene from the Great Kadesh reliefs of Ramses II on the Walls of the Ramesseum.jpg
The Hyksos were an ancient people who drove horses in chariots

While there is some anthropological evidence that horses were ridden before they were driven, the most unequivocal evidence of domestication and use of the horse as a driving animal are the Sintashta chariot burials in the southern Urals, circa 2000 BC. However, shortly thereafter, the expansion of the domestic horse throughout Europe was little short of explosive. In the space of possibly 500 years, there is evidence of horse-drawn chariots in Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. By another 500 years, the horse-drawn chariot had spread to China.

Horses may have been driven even earlier. The Standard of Ur, in ancient Sumer, c. 2500 BC, shows horses or some type of onager or donkey hitched to wheeled carts with a yoke around their necks, in a manner similar to that of oxen. [1]

By the time of the Hyksos invasions of Egypt, c. 1600 BC, horses were pulling chariots with an improved harness design that made use of a breast collar and breeching, which allowed a horse to move faster and pull more weight. [2] [1] The breastcollar style harness is still used today for pulling lightweight vehicles.

Even after the chariot had become obsolete as a tool of war, there still was a need for technological innovations in pulling technologies as larger horses were needed to pull heavier loads of both supplies and weapons. The invention of the horse collar in China during the 5th century (Southern and Northern Dynasties) allowed horses to pull greater weight than they could when hitched to a vehicle by means of the ox yokes or breast collars used in earlier times. [3] The horse collar arrived in Europe during the 9th century, [1] and became widespread throughout Europe by the 12th century. [3]

With the invention of the automobile, the tractor and other internal combustion vehicles, the need for driving horses diminished, beginning with the end of World War I and to an even greater degree after World War II. However, interest in driving competition for horses continued, with the horse show and harness racing worlds keeping interest alive, and the development of the sport of combined driving continued to refine the art of proper training and driving techniques. In addition, many third world nations retain a need for driving horses for basic farm work and transportation.

See also

Related Research Articles

Tack is equipment or accessories equipped on horses and other equines in the course of their use as domesticated animals. Saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses, martingales, and breastplates are all forms of horse tack. Equipping a horse is often referred to as tacking up. A room to store such equipment, usually near or in a stable, is a tack room.

Cart simple vehicle designed for transport, mostly uniaxial

A cart is a vehicle designed for transport, using two wheels and normally pulled by one or a pair of draught animals. A handcart is pulled or pushed by one or more people. It is different from a dray or wagon, which is a heavy transport vehicle with four wheels and typically two or more horses, or a carriage, which is used exclusively for transporting humans.

Carriage Generally horse-drawn means of transport

A carriage is a wheeled vehicle for people, usually horse-drawn; litters (palanquins) and sedan chairs are excluded, since they are wheelless vehicles. The carriage is especially designed for private passenger use. A public passenger vehicle would not usually be called a carriage – terms for such include stagecoach, charabanc and omnibus but second-hand private carriages were common public transport, the equivalent of modern taxis. It may be light, smart and fast or heavy, large and comfortable or luxurious. Carriages normally have suspension using leaf springs, elliptical springs or leather strapping. Working vehicles such as the (four-wheeled) wagon and (two-wheeled) cart share important parts of the history of the carriage, as does too the fast (two-wheeled) chariot.

Wagon Four wheeled vehicle (mostly pulled by draught animals)

A wagon or waggon is a heavy four-wheeled vehicle pulled by draught animals or on occasion by humans, used for transporting goods, commodities, agricultural materials, supplies and sometimes people.


Carting is a dog sport or activity in which a dog pulls a dogcart filled with supplies, such as farm goods, camping equipment, groceries or firewood, but sometimes pulling people. Carting as a sport is also known as dryland mushing and is practiced all around the world, often to keep winter sled dogs in competition form during the off-season.

Hackney pony

The Hackney pony is a breed of pony closely related to the Hackney horse. Originally bred to pull carriages, they are used today primarily as show ponies. The breed does not have its own stud book, but shares one with the Hackney horse in all countries that have an official Hackney Stud Book Registry.

Sulky lightweight cart used for harness races

This article describes the horse cart. For the locality in Australia, see Sulky, Victoria.

Ox Common bovine draft and riding animal

An ox, also known as a bullock in Australia and India, is a bovine trained as a draft animal. Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle; castration makes the animals easier to control. Cows or bulls may also be used in some areas.

Combined driving

Combined driving is an equestrian sport involving carriage driving. In this discipline, the driver sits on a vehicle drawn by a single horse, a pair or a team of four. The sport has three phases: dressage, cross-country marathon and obstacle cone driving, and is most similar to the mounted equestrian sport of eventing. It is one of the ten international equestrian sport horse disciplines recognized by the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI); combined driving became an FEI discipline in 1970.

Bullock cart cart made up of wood and driven by bullocks

A bullock cart or ox cart is a two-wheeled or four-wheeled vehicle pulled by oxen. It is a means of transportation used since ancient times in many parts of the world. They are still used today where modern vehicles are too expensive or the infrastructure favor them.

Horse-drawn vehicle vehicle pulled by horse; mechanized piece of equipment pulled by one horse or by a team of horses

A horse-drawn vehicle is a mechanized piece of equipment pulled by one horse or by a team of horses. These vehicles typically had two or four wheels and were used to carry passengers and/or a load. They were once common worldwide, but they have mostly been replaced by automobiles and other forms of self-propelled transport.

Draft horse showing

Draft horse showing refers to horse shows exclusively for horses of the draft horse breeds. In North America, though a small number of draft horses are also shown under saddle, the term "Draft horse showing" refers to a specific horse show competition that primarily features driving exhibitors presenting their horses to be judged in harness. Worldwide, some draft horse shows also feature riding classes.

Roadster (horse)

Roadster is a type of driving competition for horses and ponies where the horse and exhibitor appear in equipment similar to that used in harness racing. It is derived from the historical use of certain horses hitched to light carts that traveled quickly from one place to another, often racing on ordinary dirt roads, hence the name. The term is also used to describe the horse used for such competition. Horses pull a light sulky and drivers wear racing silks. However, the exhibitors do not race. Instead, they perform in an arena at horse shows at trotting gaits that include a slow jog, a medium speed "road gait," and a rapid and long-strided but controlled trot referred to as showing "at speed." Animals are evaluated on performance and manners.

A horse's harness is many things including a saddle.

Pleasure driving

Pleasure driving is a horse show class seen in the United States, which features light breeds of horses and ponies hitched to a two or four-wheeled show cart. Horses are driven at a walk and two speeds of trot, generally designated as a working or regular trot and an extended "strong" trot. Many horse breeds compete in Pleasure driving. Most classes are judged on the horse's manners, performance, quality and conformation.

Breeching (tack) strap around the haunches of a draft, pack or riding animal

Breeching ( "britching") is a strap around the haunches of a draft, pack or riding animal. Both under saddle and in harness, breeching engages when an animal slows down or travels downhill and is used to brake or stabilize a load.

Glossary of equestrian terms List of definitions of terms and concepts related to horses

This is a basic glossary of equestrian terms that includes both technical terminology and jargon developed over the centuries for horses and other equidae, as well as various horse-related concepts. Where noted, some terms are used only in American English (US), only in British English (UK), or are regional to a particular part of the world, such as Australia (AU).

Troika (driving) carriage pulled by three beasts of burden

A troika is a traditional Russian harness driving combination, using three horses abreast, usually pulling a sleigh. It differs from most other three-horse combinations in that the horses are harnessed abreast. The middle horse is usually harnessed in a horse collar and shaft bow; the side horses are usually in breastcollar harness. The troika is traditionally driven so that the middle horse trots and the side horses canter; the right-hand horse will be on the right lead and the left-hand horse on the left lead. The troika is often claimed to be the world's only harness combination with different gaits of the horses.

Harness saddle

A harness saddle is an element of horse harness which supports the weight of shafts or poles attaching a vehicle to a horse. Like other types of saddle, it lies on the horse's back directly behind the withers, often has an internal supportive framework, often called a saddle tree, and usually is secured on either side by a girth passing beneath the horse. Unlike riding saddles, it is an integral part of the harness and is not used as stand-alone equipment.

Outline of animal-powered transport Overview of and topical guide to animal-powered transport

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to animal-powered transport:


  1. 1 2 3 Chamberlin, J. Edward. Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations. Bluebridge, 2006, p. 166-167 ISBN   0-9742405-9-1
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