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Cart or wagon: How do you choose a driving vehicle?

By PATRICIA DEMERS - Horsetrader columnist - August 21st, 2014 - Feature Article

Fourth in a series

Before there were autos, there were carriages, and choosing an appropriate vehicle for our needs hasn’t changed!

What do you need it for? How many seats? Price? Type? Color? Do you want something new and modern, or an antique or classic?

Is the right fit a subcompact, a midsize or station wagon? A sporty model or a cargo wagon? It seems we aren’t so “modern” after all!

As well as choosing desired features, you will need to figure out what size “engine” and how much “horse power” you will need. Whether you will be driving a single, pair, or even more, you’ll need to have an appropriately-sized equine to pull the vehicle of choice, taking into consideration not only the weight, strength, and level of training of the equine, but where you eventually will be driving.

Driving is all about form to function, meaning appropriate to the task at hand.

Two common questions are “How much weight can my horse pull?”,and ”What type of vehicle should I get?” Typically, an equine can pull its own weight on hard, level ground. However, the moment you get softer ground such as loose dirt or sand, uneven surfaces and small inclines or hills, the equine’s ability to not only PULL, but STOP the vehicle changes dramatically.

You must also consider the appropriate harness to the vehicle. Do you need a breast collar or a neck collar? Will you need breeching, brakes or both? If you are planning on driving on anything but a FLAT arena, you WILL need breeching! A good rule of thumb is if the shafts and single tree are level to the ground, the vehicle is probably designed to be used with a breast collar. If the shafts are angled upward from a lower point of attachment to the carriage, a neck collar may be proper. This does not apply to jog carts, which are mostly designed to have an upward-angled shaft, but are of a design light enough to be pulled with a breast collar.

The weight of the vehicle is also a consideration. The heavier it is, the more sturdy and wide the harness breast collar or neck collar must be in order to displace the weight while pulling.

Just as with cars, we have to consider the quality of the materials and manufacturer. In carriages, you get what you pay for. Some vehicles can be very serviceable with very little maintenance, or some may come with a lot of “deferred” maintenance that must be addressed before it is safe for horse or driver. It’s bad form to go rolling down the street with parts of the carriage falling off, leaving a trail of nuts and bolts like bread crumbs. Some carriages are better designed with higher quality materials than others. You must always think safety — not only for you and your horse, but for those around you! Whichever you choose, please seek the advice of a knowledgeable source, whether it be a book, a professional, auctioneer or driving veteran. Please educate yourself, or it can be expensive — and unsafe!

The most basic and economical cart is the two-wheeled pipe cart, often called an “Easy Entry.” A step up from the pipe cart is a jog cart, which is mostly wood with a metal frame. Both of these vehicles sit lower to the ground, and your visibility to see beyond the equine is limited.

Many people new to driving want a Doctor’s Buggy, but these are not suitable to the green driving equine or newer driver. The turning radius of the wheel is very limited, as the front wheels don’t rotate under the vehicle’s body. When the wheels go through an opening or under the body of a carriage, it’s referred to as a “cut under” — these are much safer.

The next very basic vehicle to consider, is a road cart. The body of the cart rides above the axle and provides better visibility over the horse and down the road. They come in a variety of sizes, from mini to draft, and there are a variety of four-wheeled types of wagons and carriages readily available.

Another question that arises is how long should your shafts be. Shafts are the twosticks or pipes that lay against your horse’s side when driving a single equine. A pole is the long stick or pipe that goes between a “pair”, or two horses.

If you take your horse’s stable blanket measurement, that will be the approximate minimum length of shaft needed. So if your horse is a 72-inch blanket, a 72-inch shaft would be the minimum length. Length is measured from the shaft tip to the single tree. The lower a cart sits, the longer the shafts have to be so the horse’s legs won’t contact the cart when trotting. For instance in jog carts, you’ll want to add more length. Most carts are designed to have the shafts horizontal to the ground, or only slightly tilted upwards. Don’t forget to make sure the shafts aren’t too wide or too narrow, either. Your single equine should have just a few inches between their sides and the shafts. More than four inches on either side is too wide.


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