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close this book Animal traction
close this folder 5. Yokes and harnesses
View the document Yokes and harnesses for cattle
View the document Yokes and harnesses for horses, donkeys and mules
View the document How to harness a horse, donkey or mule
View the document Steering systems
View the document Breeching harness

5. Yokes and harnesses

Yokes and harnesses are kinds of gear worn by draft animals when they work. Most of the gear is designed for pulling; it fits around or over the animal's front, providing a broad, comfortable surface to push against. The "push" is turned into pull through use of rope, chain or leather lines which connect the yoke or harness to the load.

Yokes are normally used with oxen because these animals drive forward with their heads and necks low, and have both strength and protection there. The yoke is a bar or frame of wood which locks two animals together, one at either end of a bar carried on the withers or strapped to the horns. In some instances, equine teams are fitted with padding that allows them to pull from this type of yoke. Other types of yoke are for single animals, and still others are for special use with harnessed wagon teams.

Harnesses are networks of adjustable leather straps and pads used primarily for horses, donkeys, and mules. These animals have broad chests and strong shoulders, and so their harnesses are made to fit against these areas. The use of harness can increase the power of oxen, but the expense of leather and difficulty of ensuring fit have limited acceptance of this practice.

Major types of yoke and pulling harness are discussed in this section. Steering, braking, and backing-up gear is discussed also, because it is used along with pulling gear. A full set of harness consists of a collar or breastband harness, a bridle and lines (reins), and a breeching harness. A yoke is not normally considered a harness; when it is used along with other gear, the set is identified as a "yoke with lines," or a "yoke with lines and breaching".