Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Draught Harness and Horse Collar Making

Terry Davis at work on a collarThe ancient craft of draught harness and horse collar making dates back some one thousand years and still continues today much as it has always done. HCA Friend Terry Davies still carries on the skills and techniques required for this traditional craft.

The use of horses as a ‘working tool’ is dependent upon the application of fit-for-purpose harness and here the skills of the harness and horse collar maker play a vital role.
Collar making, using Rye straw and leather was, up until the early twentieth century, a separate craft practiced by a sub-division of harness makers who were trained specifically for the purpose and who were inextricably linked in the production of draught horse harness.
The skills of the collar maker lie in the ability to produce superbly crafted collars of great artistic and utilitarian merit, to fit the diverse range of size and conformation of horses on which they are used. Collars that fail to comply with the needs of the horse have the potential to seriously injure or curb the animal’s ability to perform its tasks efficiently. The old adage of ‘one horse one collar is an appropriate one that still governs the making of collars to the present day. 
Terry Davis at work on a collar
 In current times, the role of the horse as a ‘working tool’ has been superseded by technological advances and many of the affiliated crafts associated with their use have fallen into serious decline. The remaining collar and harness makers in the UK can now be counted on the fingers of one hand. 
There has been, however, over the past two decades a strong revival in the use of horses. This is driven by aficionados who remain attached to the horse and the long history surrounding it.
Carriage driving and the eco-friendly interest in the working horse has brought about this revival and so collar making as a traditional craft continues to be practiced with demand coming from both the home and European markets. It is hoped that this can be maintained and the long established traditional skills of the craft can be preserved. 
Detail of horse collar making
by Terry Davis 
Images of Terry Davis, © Joshua Davis, by kind permission