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IMEHA Harness Classes

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Class Menu
  Arena Show Classes:
  Fine Harness
  Pleasure Harness
  Show Draft Harness
  Combined Driving
  Pleasure Driving
  Dressage Driving
  Combined Driving Cones
  Pleasure Driving Obstacles
  Sleigh Classes:
  Sleigh Pleasure Harness
  Sleigh Show Draft Harness
  Sleigh Dressage Driving
  Sleigh Pleasure
   Driving Marathon
  Sleigh Driving Obstacles
  Working Sleighs
  Winter Harness Racing
  Sleigh Parade or Costume
  Miscellaneous Sleighs
  Other Harness Classes
  Modern Working Harness
  Historical Harness
  Before 1950
  Harness Trail
   or Endurance
  Harness Racing
  Harness Parade
 or Costume
  Cowboy Cart Shooting
  Miscellaneous Harness
  Harness Library
  Driven Dressage Competition
 By Beverly Lynch
  Helpful Harness Diagrams



  1. A harness of some type is required for all entries in this division.
  2. Bridles should fit snugly to prevent catching on the vehicle or other things. Throatlatches are required. Most harness bridles should have a cavesson or noseband of some type, but this is not required as some bridle styles do not use them. Bits are required for all competitive events. Teams of horses do not need to have matching bits.
  3. Blinkers should be correctly adjusted so that they do not appear to rub on the horse’s eyes or impede forward vision.
  4. Black harness is considered appropriate for painted vehicles and natural wood vehicles with black trim (shaft and pole trimmings, dash, or fenders), or natural wood vehicles with iron parts painted any color except brown. Reins/lines may be black or brown.
  5. Russet harness is considered appropriate with natural wood finished vehicles with black or brown iron; painted vehicles with natural wood panels; or vehicle painted brown with brown iron (shaft and pole trimmings should match the harness).
  6. Traces should run between the shaft wrap/tugs and the horse’s body, then through the breeching strap.
  7. Breeching should hang level just below the rounded part of the horse’s rump. It must not hang loose. Breeching is required on any vehicle without a brake. Breeching is not used in Fine Harness.
  8. All metal furnishings should match between harness and vehicle and be sturdy and polished.
  9. Breast collars are appropriate for lightweight vehicles. The breastplate should be at or just above the horse’s point of shoulder but not too high as to press on the neck.
  10. Full collars are suggested for heavy carriages like coaches, brakes, phaetons, dog carts, etc.
  11. A wider saddle is suggested for two wheeled vehicles as more weight rests on the horse’s back. A narrow saddle is more appropriate for a four wheeled vehicle.
  12. Martingales are permitted only if appropriate for a vehicle – standing martingales may be used with Stanhope Gigs or George VI Phaetons, for example.
  13. Martingales and overchecks are prohibited in obstacle classes and Driven Dressage for all carriages. Sidechecks are only allowed in Dressage in Training level. Failure to comply will incur elimination.
  14. In multiple hitches, each pair of horses is connected by crossing the inside reins/lines to keep them centered. From above, the lines on a multiple hitch horse team should make “X’s” between each pair, with the “X” in front of the horses’ collars. The left outside line goes directly up the left side of the near (left) horse, through the left hame ring or terret, and attaches to the left side of the near horse’s bit. The left inside line (or cross check) goes through the near horse’s right hame ring or terret and then attaches to the left side of the off (right) horse’s bit.
  15. Reins/lines should pass through terrets or rings, located on the collar, or on the saddle of a breastcollar harness to keep them from catching on the harness. A breastcollar harness may also have rings on the neck strap; if it does not, the lines are permitted to pass underneath the neck strap if necessary.
  16. Snaffle bits are allowed with rubber or leather mouthpiece (except in Show Draft Harness). No twisted wire mouthpieces or tying down of tongues allowed.
  17. Teams should match in breeding or type and way of going. Matching in color is not required.


  1. Lines/reins should show little to no slack at all times as they are the primary communication with the horses. When a driver is implied but no doll is used, lines should lie across the top of the dash or front of the vehicle, with the ends hanging neatly down inside the vehicle or resting neatly on the seat.
  2. Dolls may hold lines in one or both hands for a single horse; both hands are usually used for two or more horses. Elbows and arms should be held comfortably close to the body.
  3. One Hand Driving: lines are held in the left hand, with the right rein entering between the first finger and thumb; the left rein enters between the ring and middle fingers, and both reins exit the hand below the little finger. The left hand and arm is held at a slight angle across the front of the body, centered behind the horse. To turn right, the hand is rotated up in toward the chest; to turn left the hand is rotated down and out.
  4. Two Hand Driving: reins enter the upright hand between the thumb and first finger and exiting below the little finger. For large teams, the additional reins are separated by the fingers of each hand- first rein between thumb and first finger, second rein between first finger and middle finger, etc.
  5. Whips are usually held in the right hand. The thong of the whip should be long enough to reach the shoulder of the farthest horse. It may be looped up out of the way around the handle when not in use. Whips are required for many competitive events.
  6. Driver dolls should sit upright, with feet flat on the floor of the vehicle, and should appear to be looking where they are going. Drivers sit on the right-hand side of the vehicle unless its construction does not allow this. (Driver may also sit in the center in a recreational, working or historic entry.)
  7. A driver must always be on the vehicle if grooms or passengers are on the vehicle. An entry may have up to one groom per horse. Grooms must sit beside or behind the driver, and may only stand behind the driver in Combined Driving Marathon.
  8. A groom or attendant may stand at the head of the horse while in a lineup, but should stand two paces away from the horse.
  9. Show grooms must wear a hat or protective headgear. In all show classes, grooms may wear stable livery or in more formal vehicles, full livery. Less formal attire may be used where it is permitted for the driver.
  1. Stable Livery : a conservative suit with a white shirt, dark tie, derby , dark shoes and leather gloves; OR a conservative jacket with jodhpurs or drill trousers, jodhpur or paddock boots, white shirt, stock or four-in-hand tie, gloves, and derby or conservative cap; OR hunting attire with a hunting derby or bowler.
  2. Full Livery: a close fitting body coat with buttons of yellow or white metal ideally matching the harness, white breeches, black boots with tan tops, white stock, black top hat and brown leather gloves. Preferred color of coat is conservative and complementary to the vehicle.
  1. Whip Salutes are performed as follows: hold the whip vertically in the right hand, butt end even with the face; OR hold the whip in the right hand, parallel to the ground, with the handle even with the face; OR a gentleman may hold the whip in the left hand and remove his hat.
  2. Junior or novice drivers may not drive stallions.


  1. Vehicles are optional for all classes, except in the Sleigh section where a vehicle with runners is required. If no vehicle is used, traces and reins should be arranged neatly.
  2. The comfort of the horse is essential. Horses should be hitched with plenty of clearance so their hocks will not hit the vehicle when in motion. The ends of the shafts should not be further forward or backward than the center of the horse’s shoulder. The pole should reach the distance of the middle of the horses’ necks while in draft. Shafts and poles should be either level or slope down from the horse’s shoulder to the vehicle.
  3. Vehicles ideally match the style of the horse- high-actioned horses with formal vehicles, ground-covering horses with road or country vehicles, etc. This is not required, however.
  4. Specialized marathon carts (vehicles designed for marathon use) should only be used for Combined Driving Marathon, TREC Driving, Distance Driving, or other informal uses.
  5. Wire-wheeled or pneumatic-tired vehicles are not allowed beyond training level in most competitive disciplines. Wire-wheeled vehicles may be used in Fine Harness and breed-specific shows. Pneumatic tires are most commonly seen on heavier modern working vehicles.


  1. Sleighs” here includes all winter vehicles with runners instead of wheels – sleighs, cutters, bobsleds, driven skijoring, etc. A vehicle with runners is required for this section.
  2. Sleighs may only enter Sleigh section classes.
  3. Cantering is not allowed in competitive events while using a sleigh. This includes Arena Pleasure, Arena Draft, Dressage, and Obstacles. However, cantering is allowed for entries not depicting a competitive event, such as recreational driving. Keep in mind that snowy footing can be slippery and that high speeds may be dangerous.
  4. Sleigh obstacle courses should be set with smooth, wide turns and wider clearances than for wheeled vehicles due to the larger turning radius.
  5. Harnesses should have breeching, as runner vehicles rarely have effective brakes.
  6. Footing for all classes should suggest snow, but deep snow should be avoided. Ankle deep or less is preferred; roads, trails and competitive events especially may have flat packed or groomed snow.


Historically, bells were used as attention-getters – in winter to alert others to the oncoming silent traffic, or on parade harness or delivery vehicles such as ice cream vendors. Of course they sound nice too! Modern use is much the same, though bells are not usually permitted in show events.

The two most common types are neck bells (placed around the collar or the horse’s neck, with 1 or 2 short straps to secure them to the harness) or body bells (which go around the girth area, passing outside of the shafts or pole to prevent rubbing on the horse). Other bell types include rump straps (a short strap that buckles onto to the back strap); saddle chimes, hame bells, or swingers (typically fancy bell brackets that attach directly to the harness using screws); and shaft or pole bells (a set of bells bolted underneath or on top of the shafts or pole of the sleigh). Bells may also replace harness brasses anywhere on a draft harness, when appropriate.

Bells are only allowed in the following classes, where appropriate: Sleigh Pleasure Harness (field entries only), Sleigh Draft Harness, Working Sleighs, Sleigh Parade or Costume, Miscellaneous Sleighs, Modern Working Harness, Historical Harness, Harness Parade or Costume, and Miscellaneous Harness.


  • No harness.
  • Incorrect harness or vehicle for a class that requires a specific type –pleasure harnesses in the Fine Harness class, marathon carts in Dressage, sleighs not in the sleigh section, etc.
  • Entry entered into the wrong class.


  • Incorrectly adjusted harness or vehicle
  • Illegal equipment (boots in dressage, etc.)
  • Dolls dressed inappropriately for the class or poorly positioned
  • Harness Bells are not used in modern show competitions, but may be used in certain classes where appropriate.


The guidelines listed below are just suggestions on choosing a model for harness. No gait should be given preference over another as long as the gait shown is appropriate for the class entered.

A good harness horse must appear to be under control at all times – a harnessed horse is controlled only by the reins, voice, and whip. It should appear quiet and willing.

The most versatile pose for a harness horse is a trot, as it is the gait used to show off the harnessed horse. Commonly, classes call for a Slow Trot (collected, though not as collected as a Dressage collected trot; the horse should appear submissive to the bit), Working Trot (a free and steady working speed where the rear feet touch the ground in the hoof prints of the forefeet. This should be an even and balanced gait on a lightly taut rein), and Strong Trot (a faster trot with a lengthened stride, though not fully extended as in the Dressage extended trot. Excessive speed is penalized). A trotting horse may be able to compete in almost any harness event. High-stepping and flashy trots are called for in Fine Harness and sometimes Show Draft harness. Some gaited breeds do compete in harness and their intermediate gait replaces the trot. Saddlebreds do not rack in harness.

Walking and halting are also often called for in harness. Horses should walk calmly but energetically. Halted horses should ideally stand square or parked out, depending on breed, in an arena class. A rein back (backing up) may be asked for in arena classes or Gambler’s Choice obstacle classes.

Canter and Gallop are rarely seen in harness shows as it is dangerous. Cantering is allowed in high level Marathon events. A very controlled canter may be called for in Advanced level Driven Dressage. Galloping is best kept for emergencies (Fire Department, doctor’s buggy, etc.) or informal racing.

Other poses can be used as well. A twisting barrel horse could be negotiating an obstacle in a Combined Driving Marathon, for example. Be creative!


American Driving Society -

FEI Driving -

British Driving Society -

TREC Driving -

British Horse Driving Trials Association -

Harness Bells and their use -

Rural Heritage- farming and working harness -

Sleigh Events ::

Library of Congress, American Memory –search for photos and early films of many subjects including videos of fire department horses in action c. 1900-

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Updated: January 16, 2013