Tag Archives: russet harness

Four Things to Know about Showing in the Pleasure Driving Ring

Summer is here and so is the pleasure driving show season!  Just getting started in carriage driving?  Here are a few things to know before you go to your first carriage driving show.

  1. “Brown or russet harness is appropriate for vehicles of natural wood finish, black harness with painted vehicles.”¹ In all cases your lines are not dyed.
  2. The metal on the harness should match the metal on the carriage. For example, the brass turret rings on your harness saddle should be matched with a brass rein rail on the carriage.  The horse’s bit is not required to match the rest of the metal.
  3. There are three things that every driver should have – an driving apron or lap robe, gloves and a hat.  Your gloves should be brown leather.  Helmets are encouraged.  “A driver’s summer apron is made long enough to reach from a little below the waist to just above the ankles and wide enough to be tucked under the legs at both sides.”²
  4. Driving whips are required.  A proper whip should reach the horse’s shoulder when the driver is seated.  The whip should be in the driver’s hand, not left in the whip holder. ³  (A well balanced whip is worth investing in!)


  • Be sure to clean and polish your harness, carriage and horse!  Even if you don’t have the most expensive turnout in the ring you can catch the judge’s eye by having a really polished turnout.
  • Read the show’s rules.  They can and do differ from organization to organization.

Good luck and have fun!


  1. Driving the Horse in Harness by Charles Kellogg
  2. Carriage Turnouts: Guidelines for the users of horse-drawn vehicles edited by Tom Ryder  Available for purchase here.
  3. American Driving Society Rule Book – Article 8: “An appropriate whip should be carried in hand at all times while driving. The thong on the whip should be long enough to reach the shoulder of the farthest horse.”


When is Russet Harness Appropriate?

Q. There seem to be different opinions about when russet harness is appropriate.

A. There was never any precise rule about this; it is really a matter of taste. In general it depends on the kind of carriage being used and whether it is intended to drive in the city or in the country. Russet harness was used in the country for informal occasions partly because it looked better in dusty conditions and was thought to be easier to clean.

Garland in “The Private Stable” advises buying black harness which is appropriate for all occasions, whereas russet has only a limited use. He lists the carriages to which russet harness might be used as including Runabouts; Lady’s Phaetons; Buckboards; Station Wagons; two-wheeled vehicles of a simple character. The latter would include Governess Carts, Road Carts (Meadowbrook, etc.); Village Carts, Tandem Carts of the ‘Going to Cover’ or Whitechapel sorts. A George IV Lady’s Phaeton with a groom in livery would not be an appropriate vehicle for russet harness.

The American Driving Society rules lay down that if black harness is used with a natural wood vehicle, then the leather trim on the shafts, etc. should also be of black leather. This is intended only as a guide for the show ring.

Russet harness of the best quality was higher priced than black, and this could still be the case, especially if pig-skin facings were wanted on winkers and saddles.

Originally printed in The Carriage Journal, Vol 18, No. 2.