Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been a teamster all your life, let’s set the record straight right now: there are a few things that, no matter how hard we try, will never go by the book.
The imagination is a powerful tool: in our minds, we can achieve just about anything. Carrying all of those thought processes over into real life, however … well, that’s a different story. Here are three expectations meeting the cold light of day in three realities, with regards to harnessing up draft horses.
Identifying the parts of the harness
Expectation: Of course you’re going to learn what everything’s called, because that’s what good horsepeople do!
Reality: Whatever, at least I know where everything is supposed to go.
True story: my sister-in-law and I have been harnessing horses together for so many years that I can remind her “don’t forget to do that dangly strap” and she’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Swinging the harness up onto the horse
Expectation: Load the harness up onto your shoulder from back to front, place a hame in each hand, take a wind-up swing and then loft everything neatly and gently right over your horse’s back like a professional.
Reality: Load the harness up onto your shoulder from back to front, place a hame in each hand, take a wind-up swing and stab your horse in the ribcage with the hame buckle. Get collected, attempt to slide the harness back up onto your shoulder again, apologize profusely to your brilliantly-patient draft animal, take a wind-up swing, lose your balance and fall into your horse. Pick up harness from the floor, wrestle harness back onto your shoulder, skip the wind-up swing and shove one section at a time onto your horse’s back and sort it out later.
Draft horses are tall and even if you’re a tall person this is not an easy skill to master.
Always remembering every step of the process, every time
Expectation: You wouldn’t get your riding horse to the mounting block and discover you had forgotten to attach the girth, and you certainly would never step out of the barn with an important piece of the harness still undone.
Reality: Let’s face it: the more straps, buckles and attachments exist, the greater the chance you’ll forget one of them, even if you do this whole process almost every day.
In my personal repertoire is forgetting to attach an outside line (prepare to go in circles like a lame duck), forgetting a check rein (depending on the horse, this may or may not be a huge issue, but on the wrong horse this can be disastrous) and forgetting somehow to cross the inside lines, meaning that every time I tried to steer one horse stopped while the other continued onward in a straight line. Thank goodness for quiet and well-broke horses who can take a joke.
Go draft horses, and go driving!