False-Shaft Construction

As demonstrated in my videos, Teaching Horses to Drive - A 10 Step Method, hitching and driving horses in false shafts is, for me, an important intermediate training step between having a horse drag objects on the ground and hitching to a vehicle.

This concept came to me many years ago from a great friend and teacher, Doris Ganton, author of the book and video, Breaking and Training the Driving Horse.

Caution: Before hitching or driving a horse or other equine in false shafts, the horse must be properly and thoroughly prepared for this step. Please do not attempt to put a horse in false shafts until after studying my video.

False Shafts can be quickly, inexpensively, and easily constructed from two poles, a cross piece, and readily available hardware. The first order of business is to determine the dimensions for your false shafts, so they will fit the horses, ponies, mules or donkeys you plan to use them with. You can choose appropriate dimensions for your animal(s) from the following chart:

Length of Poles

12 Hand Pony - 9 feet

Average Light Horses - 10 to 12 feet

Large Light Horses/Most Drafts - 12 to 13 feet

Length of Crosspiece

12 Hand Pony - 36 inches

Average Light Horses - 46 inches

Large Light Horses/Most Drafts - 48 inches

Distance between poles:

Front tips of poles - 24 inches - 26 to 28 inches - 28 to 30 inches

At crosspiece - 32 inches - 38 to 40 inches - 40 to 42 inches

Front Tips to Crosspiece - 6 feet - 6 feet - 8 to 8 1/2 feet

Tips to Hold Back Loop - Harness Dictates


Two Poles - It's imperative the poles be strong enough that they will not be broken if the horse steps on, kicks or lies on them. Poles should be made of wood (smooth, green poles - not dry, brittle poles as they may break with sharp, dangerous ends), metal pipe, or heavy-walled (schedule 40) PVC pipe. The poles' diameter should be such that the front ends easily slide into the harness' shaft loops, but the poles' diameter should be as large as possible for strength.

One crosspiece - 2-by-6 or 2-by-8-inch board.

Two U-bolts, with flat washers, lock washers, and nuts. Arc size depends on the pole diameter.

Two threaded hooks, with flat washers, lock washers, and nuts - 3/8-inch diameter, length depends upon the diameter of the poles where they will be placed (alternative - eyebolts with heavy snaps attached to hook into traces).

Two eyebolts, with flat washers, lock washers, and nuts - 5/16-inch diameter, length depends upon diameter of the poles where they'll be placed.

Two hold-back straps (if not on harness).


1. Cut the poles to length, smooth all rough or sharp places, and round the tips.

2. Cut the crosspiece to length, round the front edges and smooth all rough or sharp places.

3. Lay out the poles with the appropriate taper and distances between them.

4. Place the crosspiece on top of the poles in the appropriate position, and drill two holes in each end of the crosspiece (near the front) to accept the U-bolts.

5. Place the U-bolts around the poles and up through the crosspiece holes; add the U-bolt plates, lock washers, and nuts; and hand-tighten.

6. Recheck the taper and measurements between the poles, then drill holes for the threaded hooks through each end of the crosspiece (near the rear) and through the poles.

7. Thread a nut all the way to the end of the threads on each threaded hook, follow the nuts with flat washers and place the hooks in the holes with the hooks up and tips pointing back. Add flat washers, lock washers, and nuts and hand-tighten.

8. Recheck the taper and measurements between the poles and then fully tighten the U-bolts and threaded hooks.

9. Drill a hole at the appropriate location in each pole for the eyebolts, insert the eyebolts from underneath the poles, and secure them with flat washers, lock washers and nuts. The location of the eyebolts depends on the length of the hold-back straps on the harness used, and must allow for adjustments of the hold-back straps for proper, safe hitching.

10. For safety, cut and smooth the ends of all bolts.

For more information, contact Doug Hammill at Box 415, East Glacier Park, MT 59434; 406-250-8252; workshops@dochammill.com, www.dochammill.com.