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Horse Driving

Draft Hitches 101

Draft horses are commonly associated with draft driving and heavy harness work. Here’s a quick overview of draft horse driving terminology, including different hitches:

  • Team: two horses hitched side by side
  • Tandem: two horses, one in front of the other
  • Unicorn hitch: a team with one horse in front
  • Four-horse hitch: two teams of horses
  • Six-horse hitch: three teams of horses
  • Eight-horse hitch: four teams of horses
  • Lead team: the team of horses at the front of a hitch
  • Swing team: the middle team of horses in a six-horse hitch
  • Wheel team: the team of horses nearest the wagon

So how do the teams get selected? Josh Minshull, driver of the Express Clydesdales, a six-draft horse hitch representing Express Employment Professionals in Oklahoma, describes their process: “Color has to be right,” he says. “We like to have black with four white legs and white on their face. They have to be the right size, and then they have to have the right style and conformation to mate up with the rest of the team, because you want your whole team to be uniform.”

“Then you have positions in your hitch,” continues Minshull. “The wheel [team], which is closest to the wagon, is your biggest horses. Usually they should be pulling about 60 percent of the wagon, so you want them to be bigger, stronger horses. As you go out, the next team is the swing team, and they’re going to be a little bit smaller. Then the lead team is the smallest but the most athletic, most alert team. It takes awhile. We’re constantly switching horses around to have the best team at any particular time.”

When shown in competition or exhibition, draft horses traditionally display an eye-catching array of decorations in addition to their impressive wagons and shining harnesses. Plumes, tassels, mane flowers, mane rolls and tail bows are popular ways to accentuate the innate beauty of the draft breeds and add a bit of pageantry to hitches.

Read More: Draft Horses

Kim Klimek

Kim Abbott Klimek first got involved with horses as a junior in high school, then went on to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies with a concentration in communications from Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J., in 2005. After college, Kim worked for model horse company Breyer Animal Creations, writing copy for products and helping to write and edit for Just About Horses magazine. In the fall of 2007, she joined the Horse Illustrated team.

View Comments

  • Nice summary and explanation. I hear about the “big hitch”. What exactly is a “big hitch”? I’ve read a few articles, but there is no definition and I can only guess from usage.

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