A different way to hook shafts and tugs

So, being a Shire person, I tend to pay attention to Shires…but it was something other than that which caught my attention here. In the US I have never encountered this style of shaft/harness before. It caught my eye in a recent video from the brewery, simply because the harness is put on in three pieces: hames/with chain tug connecting to the shaft, back pad with belly band and shaft chain, and then britching with chain to the shaft. This picture shows it clearly. No tugs, just the shafts.
What are the disadvantages? Advantages? For the UK drivers, is this a common harness type? There is a huge benefit in that it clearly goes on quickly in pieces…and you have eliminated the single tree and tugs (the video shows that the front axle functions as the single tree).


Answering myself here…does the lack of an independent single tree cause an issue due to shoulder soreness? I can see it might, at least at a trot at long distances? Of course a brewery horse would never be trotting…

My only observation is that your fate is entirely resting on the quality of that one connection point on a wood shaft, which is getting stress from all 4 directions. At least with a singletree and traces, that’s independent of the shaft.

Good point. That is a lot of stress on the shaft, especially a wooden one, wouldn’t be so bad with metal. I wonder if it is a trade off between safety and comfort with a singletree versus speed and affordability with this setup. (which is at least claimed to be historic)

What you are showing us is fairly common for working horses and ponies in the UK. The harness saddle is a fancier version than old-times plain wooden saddle. That saddle has a special name I can’t think of at the moment. More commonly used on heavy load carrying carts (2 wheelers) to protect the horse’s back from the shaft weight. No shaft weight of his load with this 4 wheeler.

The vehicle shown is set up to be used as a single or Pair. It appears the shafts are connected to the splinter bar, which has the round black things, roller bolts, on the top. Roller bolts hold the Pair traces. Splinter bar pulls forward directly from the futchels of the 5th wheel. Pole end would go thru a fixture under the splinter bar and on back to fasten in the 5th wheel above the axle. There are no singletrees.

This vehicle would always be driven using full neckcollars, as shown on the horse pictured. Full neckcollars allow horse to move much more weight in a load than breastcollars permit. Horse does have to get skin and shoulders “collar fit” so he does not get skin “burned” under the collar in use. Each horse has his own collar, fitted to him. Collars are not interchangeable between horses.

I would call the chain hitch a “traditional style” used by UK Trades people for delivering their goods. I have never used one or seen it except in pictures. It does appear to be “easy on, easy off” with the various chain hooks, less places to wear in use and needing less upkeep for cleaning, conditioning. Sparkling chains add a nice touch!

Singletrees are much more common in the USA, even with antique carts. The three old UK carts we had all used hooks for the traces, because they expected horse pulling them would be wearing a full neckcollar. None had a singletree until we added it to suit ourselves, so we could use breastcollar harness.

I do believe delivery horses trot while being used. “Back in the day,” goods had to be delivered quickly to prevent spoiling. You could sell more with one set of horses delivering quickly.
Perhaps certain trades had speedy horses, while others moved slower. Flashy cobs were common for the cart deliveries, they wanted speedy there! Who wants to take all day to finish work? City delivery horses had short working lives according to the old book accounts.

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Thank you for the information! As an historian by training, I find the different harness types to be fascinating. What is an incredibly common harness type in one place/time or use is simply never seen elsewhere. In my own limited experience, for example, I can’t understand why the Yankee D-ring is not common outside of a very small region.
I wonder why that British style is never adopted in the US. Or was it, and we have lost it because the urban delivery horses vanished completely and our modern driving tradition has a different genealogy based more on pleasure driving and farming? Curious