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For most people the closest they will ever come to horse harness is a set of brasses hanging over the fireplace. Yet for anyone interested in carriage driving and equestrian sports the chances are your entire house has bits of horse harness and tack in every room.
Harness for pulling carriages and coaches is designed to spread the load over the strongest part of the pony of horse. The majority of harnesses do this using a breast collar that allows the load to be distributed over the horse's sternum, or breastbone. A breast collar is only suitable for light loads, such as pulling a small cart with two passengers. Anything heavier would place too much pressure on the sternum and can restrict the horse's air supply. For heavier loads a horse collar is employed that allows the horse to take the full load across shoulders and chest. Depending on the size and shape of the horse and the nature of the load to be pulled will dictate what sort of harness is used.
For example, a false martingale may be used to hold the collar in position and stop it sliding down the horse's back. This passes from the girth, underneath the horse between the front legs and is secured on to the breast collar. If the harness tends to slip forward then a crupper is used. This is attached to the back of the harness saddle a long a single piece of leather which then forms a loop of padded material that goes around the horse's tail.
The bridle of a horse harness is also different to a riding bridle in that it often has blinkers either side of the horse's eyes which can prevent them becoming distracted by other traffic around them. The reins are usually threaded through the upper part of the bridle via the throatlatch. Back bands and belly bands are used to support the shaft or pole of the carriage and keep these firmly in place so hey do not slip out as the horse is moving.
The harness used for heavy draught horses is perhaps the most elaborate. This is where the brasses are so often seen adorning fireplaces originate. They were purely for decorative use, although some historians believe they originated from amulets used to ward off the evil eye. But their popularity rose in the 19th century not only for display and military horses but also by carters and drays who even used them for advertising. Brasses were attached to a piece of leather that would usually hang from the false martingale on the horse's chest. The British Royal family owns some of the most elaborate horse harness seen today. These harnesses are used to pull the decorative state coaches and are often made of Morrocan leather with gilded details. This stunning array of horse harness can be viewed at the Royal Mews in London.