Category Archives: CAA Blog

Join us in enjoy the writings of CAA members from around the world.

How do I choose a two-wheeled vehicle to fit my horse?

This questions was asked as part of a series called “Tack Room Talk” in the March 2003 edition of The Carriage Journal. Three different individuals answered the question

Answer by Andreas Nemitz of Pahl, Germany. Andy Nemitz has been awarded all the German driving qualifications, including the top licenses for driving and for FEI driving trainer. He is the owner and operator of “Coaching in Bavaria” and he is a popular speaker at CAA functions. His primary interest lies in coaching and pleasure driving.

A two-wheeled carriage is best to drive if it is well-balanced, i.e., on flat ground the shafts neither press onto the saddle nor do they tend to go upward. In this case a well-built English cart shows its great advantage by the playing of the shafts in the leather loops, it prevents the awful “nodding” of the driver during driving, in contrast to a race horse sulky.

To achieve this, the shafts should run parallel to the ground. As far as I know there exists a list by the late Gordon Cantle with diameters of the wheels (and the lengths of the shafts as well). **For your convenience the list is posted at the end of this article.

If you have already bought a two-wheeler whose shafts do not run parallel to the ground with your horse, there are two remedies:
1) you lower the leather tugs at the saddle (if the width of the shafts do allow this), or 2) you can enlarge the wooden blocks on top of the springs, and you may achieve the parallel alignment again. With original vehicles you may, however, lose the harmony in their overall appearance.

Answer by Katie Whaley (then of Southern Pines, NC). Katie has been involved in driving her entire life. She is a successful competitor (singles, pairs, four-in-hand, and tandem) in combined driving and pleasure driving, and she is a pleasure driving judge.

I usually go by the height of the dashboard of the carriage; it should be the same height as the rump of the horse or pony.

Answer by Chris Higgins of Framingham, MA. Chris trained and managed John M. Seabrook’s coaching stable for over twenty years, during which time he successfully showed pairs, tandems, and four-in-hands at Devon and the Royal Winter Fair. Before coming to the United states, he was employed at the Royal Mews, London. Chris is a judge and consultant, and he has been involved with driving horses for more htan 30 years. His interest is in coaching and pleasure driving, as well as combined driving.

When going to buy a carriage, the first thing you need to measure is the distance from where a shaft would attache to the saddle tug on your harness (obviously when on the horse). Put the shafts of the vehicle you are interested in on a stand so that the carriage is level, and measure the distance from where the shafts would attache to the trugs on your harness pad to the ground. If these measurements vary greatly, this carriage will probably be unsuitable for your horse.

However, there are things you can do if the carriage measurements are close to what you need. First, you can adjust the harness tug a hole in either direction without causing much of a change to the vehicle’s weight distribution. Second, if the carriage is a bit too low, you can block up the springs. Unfortunately, if the carriage is too high, its’s difficult to lower it.

The balance of the carriage is also a large consideration because of the potential weight on the horse’s back. Check balance by simply putting people in the carriage and lifting the shafts to the height at which they would be attached to the horse. If you can’t lift the shafts, the weight will be uncomfortable for your horse, and if the opposite is true (if it flies up with not much resistance at all), the shafts will be likely to pull up and cause the belly-band to ride too tight against him.

The point of the shaft should be near the point of the horse’s shoulder, giving him enough room behind to sit in his breeching without touching the carriage. The breeching strap should be attached far enough forward to allow the horse to be able to work properly in the breeching, and should be of a length to accommodate this without being wrapped around the shaft. It is thought that one wrap around the shaft with the breeching strap passing through the dee is stronger than the strap passing once through the dee. This is a matter of opinion, but it should not be passed more than once around, for the simple reason that if you have to get this strap off in a hurry, the binding of the wraps on the saft will greatly hinder this process. Also, if you intend to show, the look of many wraps tells the judge that your harness does not fit this particular vehicle.

The shaft should be long enough to have this necessary room. The width between the shafts should be comfortable for the horse; too narrow will rub the horse, and too wide will disrupt the unity of movement between horse and carriage.

You may also want to give some thought to the height at which you would like to sit behind the horse. If you choose a Meadowbrook-type carriage, you will be lower to the ground and very stable, but without the luxury of being able to see past the horse and down the road, providing you with a somewhat limited view. On the other extreme is the cocking cart, with its extremely high center of gravity, you will have unsurpassed visibility (being at nosebleed altitude), but much less stability. A middle ground is generally preferable.

Gordon Cantle’s List
Gordon Cantle's list

Cleaning Harness – Museum edition

Q) We have a lot of good harness in our museum collection, but no member of the staff really knows anything about how to care for it properly. Can you help?

A) We recently asked Gerry Glazier, who has cleaned the harness here at the CAA office as well as for several museums, what he uses. He recommends Bienenwachs Lederfit-Oel, a beeswax oil from Germany that many tack stores carry, but added that “any quality leather conditioner” can be used. We’d also like to share tips and hints that Russ Fagan shared with the CAA. Mr. Fagan was a harness maker of long experience.

Harness and saddlery keep in military stores for long periods were given a heavy dressing of “dubbin” before being packed away. This dubbin was made from pure tallow and neatsfoot oil in the proportions of three to one, by weight. A small amount of beeswax was also added sometimes. Leather treated like this was difficult to polish before all the dubbin had been removed from the surface. Dubbin should not be applied to patent leather, but it could be used on the inside surfaces of straps on harness stored away.

Some Hints For The Care and Maintenance of Harness by Russ Fagan
A good carriage and well-trained horse can offer good sport and a lot of pleasure, but even the best whip cannot prevent an accident if the harness is weak and unsafe.

General Care

State Harness
David Saunders did a fantastic job of cleaning the State Harness owned by Gloria Austin prior to the 2017 CAA Conference. Each piece of harness was taken apart and cleaned individually.
A lot of old harness is used these days, and it should be cared for and inspected regularly to prevent accidents.

A good way to keep harness soft and strong is to wash it with Ivory or Castile soap and warm, but not hot, water, scrubbing well to remove sweat and dirt. Afterwards, be sure to hang it straight, or lay it out, to dry away from sun or heat. After it is dry, apply a good lubricating dressing, preferably one made from animal oils and fats. Let this penetrate thoroughly, then rub in black paste saddle soap or yellow soap for russet harness or reins. This should be done two or three times a year, but the harness should be cleaned after every use, using a damp sponge and glycerine saddle soap, to remove sweat or mud. More frequent applications may be necessary if the harness is used often, and especially for those parts that are most exposed to sweat.

Metal hardware should also be cleaned after every use. Brass tarnishes very quickly when exposed to sweat and the dust from horses’ coats. If it is rubbed thoroughly with a clean cloth immediately after it is taken off the horse, it will be easier to polish later. (Editor’s note: Some people spray a little Endust on the cloth first, or even directly on the brass, which seems to help with this task.)

Modern patent leather is cleaned with water and dried with a soft cloth.

When a high polish is wanted on the harness for shows or special occasions, a good paste shoe polish should be used. Any accumulated polish should be scrubbed off after the show season and the leather fed. If this is not done the surface of the leather will dry and flake because of the build-up of wax.

Examination of Worn Parts
The harness should be checked each time it is used, and weak places noted for repair or replacement.

The bridle, because it is light and subject to the heat and sweat of the horse’s head, is often the first to show wear. Inspect the crown billets, and the bit billets, for wear and tears. The cheeks, at the top buckle, and just below the winker, are trouble spots.

On pair harness, the pole-straps (pole-pieces) are often left on the pole and, not consequently, do not get cleaned with the harness. As they control the vehicle, it is important that they be strong and safe. The leather center of a neck-yoke can be dangerous if allowed to become hard and dry. This weak condition is often hidden by a coat of paint.

The bit billets at the end of the reins wear through use and may also get chewed. These should be watched, as also should the body of pair reins where the coupling reins (inside cheeks) buckle in; this part takes a lot of strain and needs extra care.

The breastplate (or choke-strap or false martingale) gets a lot of heat and sweat where it passes between the horse’s legs, and, with harness that has the breeching attached to the center of the girth, the breastplate has to play a part in holding back the carriage. It needs to be kept in sound, supple condition with extra feeding.

Carriage and Harness Care
Carriage and Harness Care, part of the CAA Guide to Carriage Turnout and Appointments, is available for purchase through the CAA. Topics include dust, heat and humidity, care of wicker, and the cleaning of carriages.
On single harness, the backband (or shaft bearer) should get special attention and, if it is of the sliding type, be sure to get to the center portion. Shaft tugs, whether round, French or Tilbury, get a lot of wear in use and need care.

All styles of single harness have some sort of safety strap to hold down the shafts. This may be a straight bellyband, or there can be wrap straps, but they must be strong and pliable. If the safety strap breaks, the horse has no way of controlling the vehicle and it can run up under him, or, in the case of a two-wheeler, it can upset backwards. Breeching straps (or hold-back straps) are sometimes fitted with snap hooks and may be left on the shafts without getting the attention they need. Since they are as important to a single horse as the pole straps are to a pair, they should get special care.

All parts of the harness need to be looked after, and the above are those that need repair most frequently.

From the Summer 1997, Vol. 35, No. 1 edition of The Carriage Journal.

Jump on the Bandwagon…or Circus Wagon…or Bandchariot…?

Mainesville Sax Horn Band
The Mainesville (Ohio) Sax Horn Band, ca. 1860, was beautifully outfitted with the latest in upright and bell-front instruments, fancy hats, and a gaily painted bandwagon. The percussion section, as usual, was prominently situated at the rear of the vehicle.- The Expansion of Jazz by Dr. Karl Koenig

It is safe to say that most carriage collections do not include a bandwagon, however, many historical societies and museums have photographs of community bandwagons within their collections. Those vehicles can look very different from each other leading to the question, “Are there different types of bandwagons?”

Richard E. Conover, in his book, The Fielding Bandchariots, defined bandwagons where the musician’s feet were on the floor of the wagon bed as shell bandwagons or bandchariots. Bandwagons where the musicians rode on the roof were known as tableau baggage bandwagons.  By contrast most carriage makers tend to simply defined bandwagons as either bandwagons or circus bandwagons. Matt Holdzkom, a circus history enthusiast shares on his website, “Tableaus were decorated with carvings, mirrors, and sometimes painted murals. Tableaus were also often used as bandwagons for secondary bands.” By contrast most carriage makers tend to simply defined bandwagons as either bandwagons or circus bandwagons.

Georgetown Silver Coronet Band Wagon
Georgetown Silver Coronet Band Wagon at the opening of the Carriage Museum at The Museums at Stony Brook. – Photo by Carmine Fergo


Afton Citizen Band (NY)
JH Nickerson has recently had the band wagon enlarged, and is to have it repainted. — The Weekly Press, July 20, 1880, Afton, New York

Villages, lodges, and even factories had bands during the mid-1800s, it was seen as a sign of culture and civilization. As a result the bandwagon or village bandwagon was often decorated in rich colors befitting the bands social status but without the ornateness seen in circus wagons. Front wheels were typically in the 40-43″ range with the rear wheels in the 50s – high enough that the musicians were above the crowd as they played their instruments.

If an organization did not own their own bandwagon it was possible to rent one.  The Cincinnati Enquirer (Ohio) on August 20, 1882 makes mention of a 10-mile parade, “One of the biggest street parades the West has ever seen.” Pageant notes include an approval of $30.00 for Captain P. R. Way to procure a large Band-wagon to seat forty young ladies, to be drawn by six white horses.

Seabrook Band WagonThis bandwagon was made in Scranton, Pennsylvania about 1912 and was part of the John M. Seabrook Collection. In 1982 it was the carriage part was painted royal blue, the body was white and blue.  We’re fortunate to have detailed information about this particular vehicle in the archives:

Length of body – 19 feet, 6 inches

Wheels – front 42 inches, rear 57 inches

Seats – 7 seats, rear seat 84 inches wide, others 56 inches

Height of running rail – 48 inches

Splinter bar – 76 inches wide, 36 inches high

Pole – 9 feet, 8 inches long, from splinter bar to pole hook end

Brakes – brakes to rear wheels, hand lever with locking ratchet

Complete with common grease axles, fifth wheel and platform springs.

Ben Hur Band Wagon
Band Wagon, United States, 1901 – used as band wagon at Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901, and as a sightseeing bus at Niagara Falls.
H. B. Witty & Co
H. B. Witty & Co Carriage Factory and Stable – The Brooklyn Union , Brooklyn, New York, 23 Aug 1870

Carriage makers throughout the United States could make a basic bandwagon. Very few specialized in them as it would be impossible to make a living just making bandwagons.  This H.B. Witty & Co ad illustrates the diversity an average carriage maker might need.

Today it is still fairly common for villages and lodges to have bands but less common to see them use an actual horse-drawn bandwagon. One place you can still see one in use is the Great American Brass Band Festival (GABBF) in Danville, Kentucky.

Built during the 1990s the driver/ passenger box appears to have been completed for the GABBF by a Darrell Shannon, according to Tom Tye of GABBF.   The vehicle, with basic farm wagon running gear, currently experiences difficulty turning on modern streets due to the wheels being so close to the box.  A renovation is expected in 2019/2020 to address the issue, a common one in bandwagons.

Interested in knowing more about bandwagons?

The Lehi (Utah) Silver Band Wagon history can be found here.

Iowa’s Town Bands 1890-1930 website

Circus Bandwagons

Circus bandwagon
Circus bandwagon, sometimes called a shell bandwagon or bandchariot. The Carriage Monthly, vol. 30, Jan 1895

“The style of circus bandwagons was entirely different from village bandwagons, for the intention was to be gaudy. The musicians sat at a considerable height, and there were usually compartments under the floor for storage of the instruments. This wagon was built by the Schultz Wagon Co. of Dalton, Ohio. The body and gear were white. The figures were painted many colors, and gold leaf was freely used on the scrolls. Striping of the gear was heavy and ornate. Wheels 40″ and 52”.  Horse-Drawn Commercial Vehicles, edited by Don H. Berkebile

Circus Bandwagon Model
Circus Bandwagon Model – you can see the band on the top of the vehicle, the space below could be used to store instruments.

There were makers who specialized in circus bandwagons including the Sebastian Manufacturing Company, the Fielding Brothers, and John Stephenson, all of New York.  The Moeller Brothers Wagon Co. of Baraboo, Wisconsin and Bode Wagon Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio were also major players in the circus wagon market.

Interested in learning more about circus wagons?

Circus Wagons: An Educational project of the Circus Historical Society, Inc website