If a horse didn’t do what we wanted, we would say “glue factory” close to its ear. Supposedly, old horses were taken to a factory where their hooves were used to make glue. We also had this idea that horse hooves were used to make Jello. We never knew if any of those stories were true. But that did not stop us from passing them on to the horses. The horses were essential to the farm. Early in the morning, with dew still on the grass, Bob went out to the fields to find Dolly and Prince. They grazed overnight in the same field as the cows. With the halter slung over his shoulder, Bob slowly approached the horses with a sugar cube or a small apple. “Here, Prince,” he said softly, his hand outstretched. “Here, Dolly.” Dolly and Prince advanced slowly, but sometimes stood their ground. They knew the routine.
The halter slid over the horse’s head. It had a nose band and a strap that buckled around the head, but did not have a bit to put in the horse’s mouth. A six-foot-long quarter-inch rope attached to the halter allowed Bob to lead them to the barn for harnessing.
A really smart horse would have bolted rather than submit to the halter and a full day’s work. But then, maybe these two plow horses were smarter than I thought. Perhaps they knew that if they ran away and were difficult to catch, they’d be hauled off to the glue factory. So who’s to say who was smarter; the horses or the Scheckel boys.
Harnessing horses is an art form, and Dad was good at it. The harnesses were stored on pegs behind the horses against the wall. The horse barn was an alcove inside the Big Barn.
First the collar was placed over the horse’s neck. Two horns, or hames, stuck out the top of the collar. Coiled-up reins could be hung on these hames. I didn’t know that when I was little. For me, those hames were used to hang onto when Dad lifted us up and set us down on the horse to ride to or from the field.
The bridle slipped on next and had a bit that was placed in the horse’s mouth. The reins connected to either side of the bit. The sides of a horse’s mouth are very sensitive, so pulling on the reins tugged on the bit, which yanked the horse’s head from side to side.
The reins were black leather straps that extended from the bridle back to the driver. Supporting rings carried the reins over the horse’s back, preventing them from getting tangled. When two horses worked as a team, which was often the case, the outside rein from each horse went back to the driver, and a short bridging strap or rope connected to the inside of the bits. In this way, the farmer drove two horses with only two reins.
The collar was everything. Made of leather and stuffed with straw, the collar fit over the horse’s head. All the weight from pulling was applied to the collar, so the fit was important. If the fit was bad, the horse developed sores.
Harnessing horses was not easy work. I was small, horses were big. That’s why I was so impressed by my dad, who was an expert at harnessing Dolly and Prince. He always harnessed on the left side of the horse, and I learned to do it that way as well.
The collar was placed over the horse’s head; the leather strap on top of the collar adjusted to make sure the collar was not too tight. Next, Dad would reach for the harness, sling it atop the horse, and slide the hames into the slots on the collar. He straightened out all the straps, then the breaching that went over the tail and pulled the tail free. The breaching, the big strap around the rump, is the piece of the harness the horse pushed against when backing up an implement.
<Insert Fig 2 Lawrence (author) and Phillip are one year apart in age. Bob came along about 18 months later. The three of us grew up together”.>
The belly band ran under the horse, and Dad snapped the reins into the hames. A yoke strap was attached to each side of the horse’s collar. The bottom of the yoke strap had a snap fastener. When hitched to an implement, the snap fastener attached to the neck yoke, a three-foot wooden bar that fastened to the horse-drawn implement tongue. The neck yoke was suspended from the collar of the harness.
The “tugs” were thick leather straps that attached to the hames and collar and ran along both sides of the horse. A length of chain attached to each end of the tug strap. The chain was used to hitch the horse to a singletree. The singletree was a wooden piece, three to four feet long that fastened to the tugs of the horse harness. The center of the singletree attached to a doubletree.
A doubletree was a wooden swinging crossbar that attached to the smaller singletree bars. Doubletrees were used when two horses were hitched side by side to pull a wagon or other farm machinery.
The neck yoke wooden bar had a big four-inch metal ring that fit around the tongue of the implement or wagon. A metal stop prevented the ring from sliding back to the bar, and it was also used for the horses to push against as it backed up any implement.
The bridle was put on last. The bridle had those blinders, or cups, that prevented the horse from seeing to the side. I always figured those blinders were used to prevent the horse from being startled by anything happening to the side. But they could have been used to prevent dust and debris from irritating or blinding the horse.
Once the bridle was put on, the rope attached to the bridle would be tied to the hole in the stall. The horse was ready to work. If the horse was needed immediately, it would be led out of the barn and attached to the appropriate implement.
A team of horses was attached together, the reins were brought down off the hames and the team was either brought to the fields or hitched to a wagon or other farming machinery. They were all set to do a long day of hauling in the farm fields.