Pondering Chariot Harness

Chariot racingMy desk is piled high at the moment with books about harness. I suppose it’s no surprise, then, that an article that came to my attention this week about the excavation of an ancient chariot would have me focusing in on what they said about harness.

I recently completed an article for Rural Heritage magazine called “Harness Variety and Function.” My research included exploring why different types of draft harness are built in different ways. I expect this primed me to wonder how chariot harness might differ from other harness with which I’m familiar. Since the article on the ancient chariot mentioned that only bits of leather had been found, I had to turn to other places for information. Two immediately came to mind. The first is the collection of photographs I took at a chariot race several years ago, and the second is a picture in last year’s Mischka Carriage Driving calendar that I found striking showing a six-abreast of Friesians put to a chariot. (To see videos of Friesians put to chariots, click here and here.)

Harness can be thought of as having four components. The draft component is perhaps the most obvious: those parts of the harness involved in moving a load. The communication component is also easy to understand: the bridle, bit, and lines that allow communication between driver and equine. The stopping and backing component seems to be more difficult to grasp since this component is often incorrectly adjusted. The last component, the support component, includes those parts of the harness that connect or hold up the other parts of the harness.

My research turned up that the vast majority of draft harness in North America has all four components, but not all components of harness are present or needed in all situations. It’s interesting to note, for instance, that for extremely accomplished drivers/teamsters, the communication component can be optional because they can work their animals loose-headed. What component of harness is not present in the chariot harness?

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013

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About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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