I received an e-mail with a question about using a breast collar or a full collar for a Spider Phaeton. The answer isn’t always that straight forward. Here’s the question, and my reply.
Hi there!! I’m a new driver and in training with my horse Red. We are planning on doing basic pleasure and picnic driving. I do want my turnout to be “correct” but I’m hearing lots of conflicting info.
I stumbled upon a great deal for a Kuhnle Spyder Phaeton formerly owned by [a well known competitive driver]. I purchased it because it was appropriately sized, in great condition and I loved the style.
Now my harness is a breast collar style. It has the breast collar that is slightly contoured, but I may upgrade to a Comfy Fit Deluxe contour breast collar. The harness is all black biothane and with chrome fitting and it matches the carriage.
I’m hearing that for the Phaeton, being a formal carriage, I need a hames/collar set up. But I have found lots of pictures of top competitors in phaetons using breast collars.
What’s appropriate and if I do decide to compete will I be penalized for the breast collar over the hames style?
Thanks for the question. The short answer is: You’ll be fine using the breast collar you have with your new carriage. These days the majority of drivers harness their horses with breast collars, in both formal, and informal vehicles.
The long answer is: Well, that depends…
The question of “will I be penalized for…” assumes that judges are holding a checklist of turnout requirements with point values for each and every possible infraction. In reality, this isn’t how turnouts are judged.
In pleasure classes, turnouts are compared to one another. In a pleasure show setting it may depend largely on who else is in your class. Comparing one turnout to another can be a bit like comparing apples to chairs. The judge has to choose the turnouts that best represent each individual style of horse, carriage, and driver combination. Certainly being “correct” for combination is important, but often times participants focus too much on getting the right equipment (and god knows, the right hat!) rather than fundamentally important factors such as fit and maintenance.
I’ve seen a ring full of carriages lose to a home built pipe cart with a heavy pony wearing a very basic, early generation synthetic harness.
In every other turnout in the ring we found a laundry list of grievances (not the class pictured above). There were carriages in poor repair, dirty, or didn’t fit the horse. Harnesses that were dirty, with unpolished leather and tarnished fittings that didn’t match the carriage fittings. In cases that harnesses that were appropriate, they blatantly didn’t fit the horse. There were horses that were poorly groomed, and drivers that were almost obscenely overdressed. This was quite disheartening to see in a class, that from outside the ring looked to be a very attractive collection of horses and carriages.
As we moved from one turnout to the next, the gentleman who did the best with what he had gained more and more credit in our eyes. His harness fit his pony well. It was clean, with all of the metal matching and polished. The pony was well groomed. The carriage was the correct size for the pony, clean, and in good repair. He had the appropriate spares, was dressed modestly, as was appropriate for the carriage and pony he was driving.
Myself and the other judge came to the same conclusions without consulting one another until after the class was placed. As judges in the ring, it was an awkward moment, because those viewing the class from outside the ring could not see all that we saw.
It Can Go Both Ways
In more competitive classes this can go another way. For example; Let’s say you are in a turnout class with your Spider Phaeton, a synthetic breast collar harness, you wearing a nice felt hat, and your groom dressed in hunt attire. Next to you comes another turnout, with the same carriage, but the horse is in a leather Kay collar harness with chain linked hames. The bridle has squared blinders, with a metal browband, and rosettes. His carriage and harness are appointed in polished brass (thus more formal), and he is wearing a grey top hat, with his groom in formal livery.
On paper, the other turnout is “more correct”, and would likely best you in a turnout competition. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’d be first place, and you’d be second, because there may be another turnout that was equally “correct”, but presented a more esthetically pleasing picture.
However, in a reinsmanship or working class, this may not be the case, since your turnout is only one small aspect of what you are judged upon. In those cases better driving, and better training will best the “more correct” turnout. The point is, that you can choose to follow every letter of the term “correct”, and still be second best.
Choosing Your Focus
Focus on fit and function first. Make sure you are using harness that fits the horse well, and does the job. A breast collar harness will certainly do that when using a light weight Spider Phaeton.
Full collars are certainly attractive, and more formal, but require a much more specific fit to your horse. However, you’ve identified that you have a synthetic harness, with chrome fittings. Both of those factors would be considered “informal”.
I’m not sure that there is anyone who makes a synthetic full collar. If there is, you’re getting into mixing and matching a leather harness component with a synthetic harness, which looks piece-meal at best. I’d be pretty hard pressed to recommend a synthetic collar, since the collar needs to be able to take the shape of the horse that it’s on. A poor fitting full collar can significantly effect your horse’s way of going, and actually cause injury.
As far as upgrading to a “Comfy Fit Deluxe” breast collar, that would have no bearing on your turnout unless the current collar does not fit well. A shaped breast collar is a great thing for a horse who has the conformation that requires one. However, if a horse’s conformation is well suited to a straight breast collar, a shaped breast collar may do more harm than good. The shaping of the breast collar can lead to gaps in the bearing surface of the breast collar meaning that there is more force applied to areas that the horse is bearing into the collar.
If you are someone who enjoys the details of having everything perfect, that’s great. It involves a little research into the rule book, and other sources for “correct” turnout, such as the CAA’s Carriage Turnout Guides. Bear in mind however, “correct” turnout is as much about fashion as it is function. In other words, at one time it was not considered “correct” to turnout a carriage with natural wood in a formal way. No one would have dreamed of something so unconventional as a painted carriage with natural wood accents. Yet, we see that sort of thing on a regular basis today.
As you can imagine, getting everything “just so” can be time consuming and expensive. For some people, that is the focus of their hobby. They enjoy getting everything just right. That’s excellent, as long as they have a reliable horse who won’t screw up all of their hard work on the fine details.
If the main focus of your hobby is driving your horse, then choose equipment that works well for you and your horse. You enjoy the Spider, so you should drive the Spider. Make sure your horse’s harness fits well, and yes, it’s good to have the fittings match the carriage.
I’m not saying to ignore all of the conventions of a well turned out carriage.
I’m just saying that there is a whole lot more to the sport than simply shopping well. I’d recommend spend your time and resources on learning to train and drive your horse. The dividends of that work pay off each and every time you drive your horse, rather than just in a turnout class.