Tandem Harness

Friend has Belgians.
He bought them trained to drive single, team & even as Wheelers in a Pickax.

Now he’s decided he wants to drive a Tandem.
He has team harness & did a trial run, but the lead horse obviously had no clue, kept trying to drop back & place himself with the Wheeler.

I have zero knowledge of harnessing a team or tandem. Friend drove a tandem once, a long time ago & with horses trained to that configuration.

I told him he needs Tandem harness, based on ads I’ve seen that mention (as best I recall) fittings for the saddle worn by the lead horse.
He insists he has what it takes already. Mentioned lines, but no other change in harness.
Am I worried for no reason?

Needs a set of very long lines to run from Leader, thru rings on wheeler bridle, then thru terret rings that are split horizontally to keep reins apart. Leader can wear a single horse harness but needs trace carriers. Not sure of “the look” in draft hitches, but traces “probably” go back to a set of singltrees hung off the wheeler’s collar. This was so both horses could actually pull the load while delivering in narrow alleys and city streets in the old days. Drafts may have some unique way of connecting the leader I don’t know about.

The carriage folks often shortcut with very long leader traces and two unique pieces of metal called “Tandem keys” that fit on wheeler trace buckles instead of using singletrees. Usually no breeching on leader because she can’t hold anything without shafts or a pole! Less to polish!

He needs a whip with lash that reaches the leader, should she need a touchup for forward.

Then the fun, not all horses will work as leaders!! A leader MUST be forward, brave and BOLD out there alone. No partner for confidence. They have to respond well to voice commands and Driver has to have nimble fingers!! What works in feel, pressure with a Pair or Four needs to be half or less on the Tandem leader. Even then leader may whip around, stop by the carriage for a pat, because she got too much (a twitch!) rein pull in a turn!!

Suggestion with new Tandem is having ground person lead the leader for a while, get her used to being alone, out front. Getting her forward may take a while to understand. STRONG suggestion to NEVER take the Tandem out alone!! Things can go bad in a heartbeat, second person can save you, untangle horses, fix trace the leg went over, pull the leader back straight. Driver alone CANNOT do any of that. Tandems are just faster in every area, especially when it goes wrong!! And it will, even in the arena.

You only create a good Tandem by diving them a LOT, put the miles on them. If his chosen leader is not improving after some time, he may want to exchange the horses, try the wheeler as leader instead. We have done two Tandems and a three with the Pair and a leader. Each took a good while to get improved. More than a couple months of regular driving sessions. Leaders were used to being in Pairs, not out alone in front. The three horses were actually the worst, he was not as brave as we wanted, though a terrific leader in the Four. The Tandems were for CDE competition, so needed to be very brave leaders, FORWARD even when we could not see ahead on curves. Different horses in both Tandems, so started from scratch each time. They were pretty good for Fall competition with Feb/March starting Tandem driving. Leaders were BROKE, obedient, excellent driving horses. Pretty unflappable everywhere, to add this knowledge on. We STILL had issues to work thru to get them correct, understanding what we wanted. Then there were the harness modifications to make things safer, improve their drivability. But they were light horses, we were going to ask MUCH from them. Perhaps the potential draft Tandem won’t be working at that speed or skill level, to be so highly polished, yet still very enjoyable to drive.

Tandems do keep your blood racing, which scours out all your veins and arteries!!

Driver WILL want to practice using that long lash whip, throwing lash out, bringing it back without hitting wheeler area, not tangling in harness or wheels. Best practice is sitting on the tall carriage/wagon/cart seat, hitting paper targets on bales where horses would be. Close the aisle doors so the neighbors don’t see you acting “peculiar”! Ha ha Driver NEEDS to be able to hit what he aims at.


“scours out your veins and arteries” :grin: I love this!

Thanks X 1,000,000 @goodhors !

I’m afraid the required hours driving won’t happen here.
Both drivers (Son & Dad) work full-time.
Driving is limited to their outdoor fenced paddock with a track drug in. Maybe 1/2ac?
I doubt they’ll research (or purchase) the harness modifications you described.
Or do the required whip practice.
No whip is carried now, so…
I will cut/paste your info & text to them
Better than saying nothing :woman_shrugging:

At least my friend - the son - was amenable to calling in help from local Draft folks who show a 6, as well as tandem & unicorn.
And Dad had a lead on the horse in front for the test-drive.

From what you described so well, the horse they chose to lead seems to think he belongs back in a team.
Unlikely they’ll switch positions as the Wheel horse now is the taller @ a solid 19h, Lead is a skosh under that.
Drafts don’t need the speed or technical savvy a CDE tandem would. Driving will be limited to an arena & crossing the diagonal to change direction at most.

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@2Dogs You are helping the best you can. They will know more after you share, than they do now. Perhaps their draft friends will be helpful in learning Tandem from. Arena walls may help keep things smoother for them to learn. Like your pony acquaintances, you can’t save them from their poor choices. Your middle name is not Cassandra (cursed by the Greek gods) is it? I feel like her at times, prophesying doom, but totally ignored.

We had help, much in useful tips, plus he took Tandem lessons with driving ponies. Those little devils were FAST!! Could tie themselves in a knot before you could blink! Patiently waiting on you though as they got untangled. Husband later said they did it to get a rest time! Ha ha He wanted to try Tandem for the challenge, our horses had Pair work down well. They were our first driving horses, beloved for their “freeze when you get scared” thinking. Kept bad from getting worse! The second Tandem was even more fun, we actually had Tjeerd Velstra’s book to refer to, in having a better Tandem! He had so many new ideas to incorporate in our thinking, and they worked!

Once the our Leader got confident, it was like riding behind a heat seeking missle! She snaked thru trails and hazards, cantered the Tandem to make up time between hazards. They looked like western pleasure, smooth, relaxed, but deceptive in their speed over ground when clocked. Tandems are a bit like driving semi trucks, fast on open trails but pretty slow in hazards because the length can not get thru fast, so you try to make up time between hazards.


Thanks :blush:
I guess I just believe in Research, Research & Get Help from One Who Knows before I try anything new.
And when I see or hear of something with Injury Potential for horse, driver or both, my Spideysense gets twitchy :dizzy_face:

One very experienced Driving friend, whose miles are self-admittedly limited to roads & trails, has the same answer for all issues:
Drive every day.
Um… Just not possible for a lot of us.
So I look for solutions that include finesse over repetition :sunglasses:

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Probably irrelevant but possibly interesting: when I worked at Morven Park’s carriage museum, some of our Tandem literature talked about using a tandem hitch to take a hunter to the meet, in the front position and, presumably, not pulling but getting there without the tiring of carrying a rider or the possible escaping of being ponied. That “fact” still sticks with me 20-some years later.

We had some paintings of young men terrifying the populace with their speeding tandems, and one of a leader horse halfway in a storefront, causing chaos.


@ShenanAnna All true information historically! Tandems were status symbols, the sports cars of rich young men because they are a difficult hitch to drive. Tandems are harder than Fours say our driving friends who drive both combinations. That single leader wayyyy out there can take “notions” you do not expect while cruising down the road!

We appreciate our good old horses better now, we were so lucky to have them! Bold and fearless just was their nature, a GIFT!! Now we are having to develop new leaders for the Four. It will be interesting to see how things shake out. Would NOT attempt a Tandem anytime soon!! Ha ha


@ShenanAnna & @goodhors I read/heard that about tandems too.
Fie! On those Rowdy Young Victorians!! :laughing:

The funniest tandem I ever saw was at Villa Louis Carriage Classic on the Cross Country course.
Coming to crossing a longish bridge over water, the leader hesitated.
{Spectators’ intake of breath} Then Wheeler chest-bumped him & over the bridge they went! :grin:
Wheeler’s 'tude had plainly said “Oh No, you DON’T!”


Tandems and unicorns. Unicorn hitch would be when you have a big sport break which would wear out a single wheeler

Draft Unicorns & Tandems use one of the big hitch wagons.
Like all other teams of more than a pair, the Leaders are the “headlights” - the horses with the highest action. Wheelers do all the pulling.

Draft tandems are typically showing in a 2 wheel stud cart, but I have an old post card of some percheron horses plowing in tandem in Paris france a while back.

When I hook the tandem I typically remove the lazy straps from the wheel horse, then put them on the collar rings of the wheel horse. Typically I run the lead horse in a spider, but there is no reason it can’t go in a breeching. I have straps but you could use chains as well to go back from the single tree of the cart between the shaft holders of the wheel horse then through the lazy straps on the collar and hook to the heel chains. From my understanding CDE rules state that the traces need to hook to the cart behind the backpad, but I have seen it done all different ways. I have never been to a draft horse show that required you to hold a whip when driving tandem, but it doesn’t hurt.

as far as my lines go I typically run the lead lines through collar, (not the back pad on show harness), then I use a set of butt rings on the butt of the lead horse, and I like to hang the line carriers on the wheel horse from hame rather than the bridle, it makes a better line, then I double up the line carriers on the butt of the wheel horse so each line has its own ring.

I agree not all horses lead, I would make sure that you are very comfortable driving the 4 up before you attempt the tandem,

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Gosh, changing from light horses to drafts means learning a lot of new vocabulary! I sure don’t know a very many of those harness parts by those names, not sure guessing would have me correct. Thanks for adding to the discussion, always good to learn more!

When we did CDE Tandem, there was no rule about Leader traces having to end by Wheeler saddle. Our Leader traces ended at the Wheeler breastcollar. Lots of Pleasure drivers clip Leader traces to hames/breastcollar trace buckle with those Tandem keys. If you have a “genuine” Tandem Wheeler harness, there is a small ring on the hames trace buckle to clip Leader traces with the spring cockeye into.

The line of rein thru hames instead of saddle sounds interesting. Drafts tend to be upheaded, shorter necked for pulling power, so it could help with straightness of the lines. We do not use any rein rings on the hips. For us it causes more rein drag, both taking up and releasing reins to the Leader.

Driving a Four first is definately recommended!! Being automatic with the reins is required. If you have to look down at any speed beyond a walk, you ARE going to get in trouble!! Ha ha Tandem sure gets your blood racing!

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Thanks for the info.
Pls excuse my misinformation recalling the Draft tandems cart.

For now, friends’ tandem aspirations are on hold.
One horse was just shown (to cart) at our County Fair & did well against the Big Names that use Fair as a stopover on the way to NA Classic shows.
Driver is now playing Catch-up with his business after missing nearly 2 weeks showing.
So, I expect the Experiment won’t be happening again for some time :wink:

I had only heard about it verbally from carriage people but you inspired me to go looking, in the USEF carriage pleasure driving division I found this, under CP264(I have no idea what the means)

  1. Tandems: Lead horse tugs must be attached to the wheel horse’s tugs behind the belly band or directly to the singletree. At no time shall lead tugs be attached to the hames of the wheel horse.

I have never shown in a show that was governed by USEF but there it is. The only logic I can come up with for this rule is that I could see how on some harness that the lead horse could pull on the breeching of the wheel horse and pull its hind legs out from under it if there was enough forward impulsion.

As far as harness parts go, I have worked with a bunch of people and there are many names for most parts, I kind of learned off this picture, I have seen it at probably 15 clinics

I was using the ADS rules when we did Tandem. Rules have probably changed since then. We did not use the long traces for Combined Driving. We had some “incidents” as horses were learning their jobs, found ourselves in dangerous situations. Good thing they were older, WELL trained to stop instantly!! One was the Leader turning shorter, faster than asked, with outside trace pulling Wheeler sideways, almost off his feet! With the trace around his chest, he could not hold her. He was sidepassing, just not fast enough! There were a number of times Leader stepped over drooping (on the ground) trace on turns, so had the trace between her hind legs. This was even with trace carriers. No kicking, but she was not paying attention much either with trace up high when she got straight after it happened. Stop and fix the problem

We went to Tandem Bars between the horses, were very happy using Bars and no problems. She could not pull him over, no droopy traces, and she could pull on straightaways to give him a little rest by being out of draft. Her pull went from his breastcollar to the singletree of carriage. Doing this they would have the same P& R at Vet check, same recovery time. He was not exhausted at the end. Our Leaders, both Tandem and Four, actually work in appropriate spots on the course.

You mention the Pleasure Driving Rules, so the CP and number in USEF Rules is probably a Country Pleasure driving rule. Would not necessarily be THE rule for all Tandems under USEF, or affect CDE Tandems showing under ADS rules. My ADS rules are packed in the trailer at the moment, can’t check current Tandem Rules. We did get questions about our Tandem Bar setup at competitions, lot of interest from other folks because it was so different back then.

Once that Leader “got it” it was an amazing ride as Navigator!! She moved big, we flew down the trails between hazards. And horses only looked like they were loping along! Ha ha

Adding: Carriage driving tends to refer to Pleasure Driving, antique vehicles instead of Combined Driving, though many people do both. We have antiques, mostly use them for Club picnic drives. We don’t show at Pleasure shows very often anymore.

Reading the RULES is very educational! They tell you what is being looked for, specific details for formal and country looks, appropriate vehicles, harness styles for all those different classes. Having a Rulebook will teach you a lot, great reference tool! I need to get the Rules read to be current. Things keep changing all the time! I remember our first ADS rule book only had about 50 pages!! So different now.

I was shocked to find out there is a correct order to hook the traces on both the lead and wheel team, near first far second for some reason…

I have had my fair share of rough tandem drives, now my wife drives that most of the time. Not a very common Draft horse hitch at most midwest shows, it used to be considered a “California” thing, I cant think of any show But Big Thunder which stopped having it a couple of years ago that has it outside of CA.

Unicorn is seen more often in the Big Circuit shows.
Friend & I go to Indy to see the 8s & then the Classic 6 Finals.
Luckily the finals have been located at the MEC in Shipshewana the last 2 yrs.
Last time we went there were 16 entries.
Watching all 16 line up for prizes was amazing.
Even more amazing was watching them maneuver out as each placing was announced.
They were not lined up in order of placing :open_mouth:
I videoed & the whole process took just a bit over 5min.
I’ll post the vid if I didn’t lose it to a new phone :smirk:
ETA: There we’re 16 entries.
Lost the exit vid, but here’s the entry & all 16 lined up - 96 Drafts, shoulder to shoulder in the very large arena :open_mouth::

ETA: fixed typos :roll_eyes:

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House, connecting things in the “proper sequence” is historically a safety issue. Doing the nearest trace to you first, then the far trace, SHOULD keep you away from horse legs, less possibility of getting kicked reaching, than moving between horse and vehicle. Same for reconnecting a Four in the Coaching Quick Change class. Every step of the process needs doing in the correct order, reins buckled to bits, then run back to Driver, traces connected on Wheelers then Leaders. Grooms heading horses of each Pair, then handing in the Driver, then guests. Grooms swing up as coach passes by them. Each turnout is judged by if they do things correctly as well as being the fastest to hitch to the coach and move off.

Unhitching also has steps to follow in the correct order, so everyone remains safe. It kind of got drilled into us, learning from older Pleasure Driving folks using those steps. Hitching and unhitching are the most dangerous times for accidents, so great care needs to become a habit.

That Rulebook is a fountain of information!

I actually find between heats to be more intimidating, at least in Denver they keep you all in the warm up arena that is about 1/2 the size of the show arena and then they rotate the 3 heats in and out, then they need to pull the drive off group out. very close quarters to say the least.

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