University of Vermont AAHS

LITIGATION CORNER: The Draft Horse

by
Jan Dawson
President, AAHS

[reproduced from Winter 2001 issue of Caution:Horses]

In the world of the draft horse it seems that many people believe that the rules are different, that somehow the rules for safety change. They also seem to believe that driving is driving no matter what the team is pulling. Both of these beliefs are a long way from the truth.

Stabling the Draft

Many draft horse shows still use standing stalls with the horses facing in and their haunches toward the aisle of the barn. Often these show barns have narrow aisles which do not allow visitors to pass safely behind the horses. The shows, which can be county fairs or something similar, encourage visitors to come and see the horses. Many of the patrons of a country fair have not seen a horse before, let alone a huge draft horse weighing more than a ton. The owners of these horses do a considerable amount of business at these shows so they want this traffic through the barns.

The protection for the passers-by has often amounted to no more than a butt rope or chain, or a wood panel behind the horse. Most horse owners post someone to stay with their horses and share this duty with other owners so that no horse is left unattended. These horse tenders are to keep people from getting too close, touching , or going into the stalls. There are flies in the barns and no amount of spray will change that. The accident was bound to happen.

While at some barns the management places caution tape that forms a funnel so that the visitors must walk through the middle of the aisle. A better solution has been the change to box stalls for the protection of the public. There have been a few reports that horses have kicked through the stalls but that will not happen with a quality stall. Better to kick through the stall that kick a person.

The public mentality always seems to be, “It must be safe or they wouldn’t let us be here.” We must try to make this a true statement.

Driving the Draft

In another case we were made aware that there are various ways to drive a draft team and what is taught in schools for farming with draft animals has nothing to do with driving a wagon full of people.

The most well-meaning of people can cause a great deal of damage to himself and others for not researching the subject well enough or taking the time to purchase an appropriate vehicle.

The defendant in this case had attended a farming with horses type course or perhaps his wife did. He bought a team at an Amish auction and believed everything the sellers told him. He bought a wagon that he used one way for some purposes and turned around the other way to haul people.

One night while taking people for a wagon ride to see some Christmas decorations, the horses spooked and by the time the horses were stopped by a barrier he had hit two trees, had the horses rear up, lost most of the passengers and fallen off the wagon himself. He had been told that the only way to stop these horses was to let them run till they ran into something. Mistakes, our experts tell us, there were a few.

The horses were incorrectly hitched. His wagon was backwards with the bangboard in the back which is why he fell off, his assistant did not get off to head the team when they first stopped, and he was driving with a loose “farming rein” instead of with contact. Driving with contact is necessary when driving passenger vehicles so that the driver can feel what the horses are going to do and stop them before it becomes a disaster.

What might this unfortunate person have done? Initially he should have done more research into driving and taken some lessons. He should have seen the difference between driving farm implements and passengers. He should not have attempted to rig his wagon without expert advice. He surely should have researched harnesses to make sure his team was correctly harnessed for the purpose.


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