If you love draft horses and admire the proper fit and styling of harness, it’s a sad sight to see what was once nice harness ruined by improper storage or hanging. Whether your choice of harness is BioThane, leather or nylon, there are basic factors regarding its care that can’t be ignored if you want it to have a good serviceable life. One of these is hanging it properly for daily use.
At Troika Drafts, we’re fans of harness racks. Ours are made locally with lumber milled from our own land. Harness hooks are fine in most cases, and we still use them on a short-term basis during the workday, but our racks keep the harness well organized and in the proper shape. The racks also allow for easy access.
Harness racks come in two styles: wall-mounted racks and floor racks. Floor racks take up more room, but can be moved around seasonally and are easily taken to shows. Wall-mounted racks are usually permanently mounted to a wall, though there are specialized box-type racks that can be moved and taken to shows if needed.
The best harness racks allow the harness to stay properly shaped, much like the form it’s in when it’s on your horse. There should be no bends or creases in the harness as it’s hanging, and one part should not crush or weigh on another. The racks should be situated where they receive adequate air circulation and are not subject to moisture, sunlight or other harsh conditions.
One highly recommended practice is to have a tack room for your harness that is convenient but separate from your barn hallway and stall area. Ideally, this is an area you can close off for security reasons, as well as to keep dampness and dust off your harness. In dry weather, the room can be left open for the flow of air, but if you live where it is humid, being able to close off and dehumidify the room will further extend the life of your harness. In addition, a small separate room for your harness will tend to keep birds, rodents and other contaminants away.
For those in colder climates, a small tack room may also enable a bit of heat in the winter, allowing for harness that dries well and bits that stay warm and ready for use. Note that leather harness ages more quickly if it freezes, so if leather is your choice, a heated tack room should definitely be part of your plans.
Tips for hanging harness
Ensure that the rack sections that hold your harness are at least a few inches wide and well-rounded so as not to cause creasing or bending. This is especially important if the harness will hang for a long period of time before it’s used again. All harnesses, especially leather, will retain some degree of memory when forced and held into a shape for a long period of time.
Even though it’s the first item removed as you unharness your draft, the bridle is the last item hung on the rack. It should lie outside the collar or on its own holder. Bridles are easily misshapen, and blinker stays can be damaged if subjected to the weight of a collar or other parts of the harness.
Collars and collar pads should always be wiped clean and dry after use, and then hung upside down and backward on the outside or separate from the harness. This keeps them dry and prevents the area that rests on the horse’s neck from becoming misshapen due to any pressure from the rack or other parts of the harness.
BioThane and nylon harnesses can be washed right on the horse. Hang them on a rack out of the hot sun and ideally in a breeze to dry before storing inside.
Lines should draped “long and light” along with the harness. Always drape lines where they are clear of buckles or adjustments. Never crease driving lines near the buckle or in areas where they adjust, as this increases wear in the areas where lines are the weakest.
Take the time at least once a year to clean and inspect the bolts of your hames and heel chains. A stiff wire brush will remove any rust, and a little beeswax (or other lubricant that won’t attract dust) rubbed into the bolts will make them easier to remove for the next cleaning.
Make it a core behavior to automatically inspect your harness every time you put it on and take it off your horse. Take special care and repair any stitching that may be coming loose, and replace parts that are starting to crack or show excessive wear. In addition, pay attention to stitching and adjustment holes near buckles and Conway buckles. These areas may look fine, but the holes can split or stretch under stress, and damage may not be visible except under close inspection.
With the best of care, a harness often has a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. If you take excellent care of a harness, hang it properly and keep it dry, it will not only provide working comfort for your draft, but also preserve your investment for years to come.