Driving configurations

While there are an infinite number of horse to vehicle combinations the main types of carriage turnout are:


Horses have been driven single for more than 5,000 years. A horse can be hitched by itself is one of the most common types of driving. It is the style used in harness racing, pleasure competition and recreational driving throughout the world. In some areas it is still used as a mode of transportation.

When a single horse is harnesses, it is typically between two shafts which allows it to pull evenly over long distances. A pony turned out in a vintage Concord Wagon Runabout during a pleasure competition. [/caption] The main gaits seen in the show ring are the walk, trot (slow, collected, and extended), and canter. Pacing (moving the feet on one side of the body together) is not seen in the show ring as it is not a pulling gait but it is common to see horses used for transportation and racing pace as it is a faster gait than the trot.

Pair or Team
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A team is more than one animal used together for draft. A pair (two horses) is can therefore be referred to either as a pair or a team. A pair of horse are typically hooked to a vehicle (usually four wheeled) with a pole between them. Humans started using pairs around 2500 BC, although typically a person would walk beside the horses rather than drive them. The weight that a horse can pull differs by breed and individual but it is not unusual for a pair of draft horses to pull weights over 2 ton.


While driving tandem (one horse in front of the other) dates back to the 12th century, it first became popular as well as sociably way to reach hunts during the mid-1800s. The horse in the front (leader) is the horse that the owner would hunt with. The leader would be relatively fresh as that horse does not pull any weight, the wheeler (back horse) is actually pulling the carriage. Tandem driving is referred to as an advanced school of driving and one that is comparable in some ways to driving a four-in-hand. The horses must be well trained, especially the lead horse, as there are no shafts to guide him and he is about 10 feet out from the carriage. One important difference between a ‘regular’ cart and a tandem cart is that the tandem cart sets the driver up high enough that he can see over both horses’ heads.

The unicorn hitch is a three horse hitch, with a pair behind a single horse. The origins of the unicorn hitch are lost to history but coachmen would drive unicorn if a horse went lame and had to be left behind. Breweries sometimes used them in narrow spaces – they were easy to unhook and move a big barrel with. And then there is the farmer who trained the ‘unicorn’ horse to follow the cut edge of his crops, making it easier for him to watch the machinery. Regardless of the use, everyone agrees that this is a very difficult style of driving that requires a well trained leader and an experienced driver.


There are numerous reasons to use a three-abreast configuration. In Russia, the traditional way of driving is to troika, or three-abreast, configuration. The troika is the only harness combination with different gaits of the horses. The center horse canters while the outer horses trot. This allows them to cover ground very quickly (up to 31 mph) without wearing out the horses. For much of the rest of the world, the three horses travel at a much slower pace. Three horses can pull more than two, thus making the configuration very popular with farmers.

four 2four

A four-in-hand is a team of four horse that are driven by a single driver. This style is used in coaching, combined driving, farming, and in the show ring. Typically a horse is taught to drive single, then as a pair and then as part of a four-in-hand. The horses closes to the wheels are called wheelers and the horses farthest out are called leaders. Drivers often use the Achenbach rein method, which is based on the British Coaching style.

Gloria and Five Cocking Cartpickax

A pickaxe is three animals in front of a pair, also shown here is a reverse pickaxe, with three in the rear. This configuration is sometimes called a hammerhead or a five-in-hand. The style is native to Hungary but was also used in Spain and Australia.

Six or Eight Horse Hitch
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The six and eight horse hitches are more commonly found in draft breeds as that configuration was needed to pull a heavier wagon. Stage coaches, depending on the route, were also pulled by six horse hitches as they were needed for inclines. As with four-in-hand driving the lead horses are called leaders and those closest to the vehicle are called wheelers. The team of horses in the middle are called swing horses. Wheel horses tend to be heavier as they are always pulling, swing teams need to have control and balance, while the leaders need to be confident and obedient. When making a turn the lead horses start the turn first with the rest following their lead.