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Stallion Harness information and history from Kirsty Farnfield – July 2012

I personally am fascinated by equine history and think it is important to share such things handed down from the older generations as so much horse & agricultural history is verbal rather than written and is so easily forgotten and lost  if the younger generations don’t learn it, we loose it, forget where things came from and why, what their purpose is, and better answers than “that’s just how we’ve always done it”. I’m full of apparently pointless old horse lore but sometimes it has a modern world application which can help

Stallion tack is a traditional English kit: for thoroughbreds and other breeds, however, it tends to be much more plain; for the gypsy cob kit is more akin to shire or other draught horse stallion show kit, which originates from the “stallion walking” kit of days gone by.

In the past stallions would be “walked” each season to the mares. Often hiring societies in each region would be formed by a union of farmers or horse owners, who would club together to hire a good stallion from a major breeder for a season, usually getting a different one each season. The stallion owner would send his stallion to that area with a man who would walk him around the county stopping a different place each day/night, staying in pubs etc (which used to have their own stables), and serving mares whose owners were part of the hiring society.

The bridle is for control, the side reins for extra control and to keep the horse looking smart, as he was a walking advert, the surcingle had attached to it in previous days the stallion’s equipment, a blanket, brushes, a few small items belonging to the walker, and the crupper keeps it in place as well as giving a good tail set to go with the topline given by the side reins. Often there would also be a “stallion rein”, still used as a part of draught horse harness tack nowadays although it is an ornamental remnant. It was a loose rein which ran in a loop to the horse’s neck, through which the walker would loop his arm as he led the stallion along.

The loin straps on this example by the way are unique to gypsy cob stallions, another ornamental remnant. Original purpose of these on a full working harness (for draught work) would be as hangers to support parts of the harness, reins, traces, chains etc to prevent them from dangerously dangling round the horse’s legs when not in use going to and from the field/equipment/work, ie when the horse was not attached to a vehicle or implement.

On gypsy cob draught harness the ornamental pieces are enjoyed for their own beauty, and as in shire horse decorated harness classes, more are added as hangers for decorative horse brasses, basically bling! Gypsy cob stallion harness is unique in that the hangers have migrated over from working harness into the stallion harness, they have no practical purpose but decoration. No other breeds, including draught breeds, use the extra hangers on the loins, although shire stallion harnesses are almost as decorative with contrasting coloured leatherwork etc, they still lack the loin straps.

For examples of decorated harness classes in shires for comparison of the elements which ended up in the evolution of this, take a look at these links – these are decorations for decorations’ sake – the brass harness classes are to celebrate the bling, based on working harnesses, whereas the “flower” ones are a callback to the traditional mayday parades when carters (people who worked the horses) and their families would decorate up their horse to show him off for one day of the year, the wives and children making posies etc to festoon the horse, brushing him up, shining all the brass, and often winning prizes for their turnout and condition of their working horse.

You can see some of the original “loin straps” on shire harnesses, and you can see how the gypsy working harness derived it’s decoration from this idea, and how that translated into decorating the stallion harness in the same way:

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