I hope you will have found out the mysteries of harnessing before you start on this expedition, but I will take the opportunity of giving a few hints.
We will return to the collar, to which I have already referred. If the pony has a big head, or the collar is on the small side, you must take off the hames first. The hames are the metal portion of the harness, by which the traces join issue with the collar. Make the pony face you, then with a hand on each side of the collar, the small end down, give it a vigorous push and it will be over his head in a second. Once on the neck, you will find it quite easy to turn the collar round with the narrow part upwards, but before you do so it is advisable to buckle on the hames, as it is usual in England to buckle them at the narrow end, and it is difficult for a boy to reach the withers of a tall pony in order to perform this operation. If you find the pony's head does not slip easily through the opening, take the collar in both hands, put one knee in the inside and then place all your weight on it for a second.
Unless the pony is very quiet, it is advisable to tie his head up again whilst you put on the rest of the harness. Buckle the hames on securely, so that there is no chance of them slipping, and then turn the collar round.
The adjustment of the crupper is very simple to those who are in the habit of harnessing horses, but it is by no means an easy task for others. There always appears to be some risk in standing at a horse's heels and taking liberties with his tail, but there is really no danger. Stand directly behind, take the tail in one hand, having previously doubled up the loose hair, then with a vigorous push raise it to an almost perpendicular position and slip on the crupper. See that there are no hairs caught up, and that the bight of the crupper is as far as it will go. If you do this part of your work in a half-hearted or hesitating sort of way, the pony will exert all his muscles to hold the tail down; but go at it boldly and he will allow you to do it at once. Of course, before putting on the crupper you will have laid the pad loosely on the pony's back, when all you have to do is to draw it forward and buckle underneath. Bridle and reins will then complete your task, but, as I have known people get muddled about the latter, a few words of instruction will not be out of place.
Take the reins where they meet in a bight and run your hands down to the buckle ends. This is merely to see that they are not twisted. Reeve each end, first through ring on pad, then ring on hames, and lastly buckle on to the bit.
Now that you have succeeded in getting the harness on, you will not find much difficulty in joining the pony to the cart, but you might get somebody near by to give you a little assistance. Raise the shafts, then pull the cart forward or back the pony, and insert the shaft ends in the tugs on the pad as far as the " stops," which are there to prevent them going any further back. Hook on the traces and buckle the bellyband, not too tight or too loose, but loose enough to give the cart a little play.
Unless you live in a very flat country I strongly advise you to use breeching, though you will find the majority of grooms have a rooted objection to it, their general substitute being a kicking-strap, which is of no possible use except to prevent a horse kicking. No boy ought ever to drive a horse or pony that is likely to kick, and a man is foolish willingly to sit behind an animal that has previously been guilty of this vice.
A kicking-strap may be of some use, when fastened at the right angle, as a preventive in breaking young horses, but is very seldom any help in holding down the vicious old when they really mean to kick.
Breeching is for the purpose of holding back a cart going down hill, and when it is not used the whole weight must come on the horse's tail. If you consider the matter, you will see that a horse's breech is the natural and best portion of his body for holding back a weight.
You must use your own common sense in finding out the place in the shaft for fastening the breeching, and also the exact tightness it should be buckled. On most carts you will see the metal staples for both breeching and kicking-straps, but I shall leave it to you to choose the right one. When you have finished putting the animal between the shafts, back him gently, and if the weight of the cart comes on the breeching and not on the stops, you will know that you have accomplished the feat correctly. There should be just a little play between breeching and traces, that is, when one is tight the other should be slack.
I may add that I consider a tub—low cart with door behind—is the best and safest conveyance for boys when they drive themselves.
However, we are wasting all the best of the day in talking, and it is time we started for the picnic. The provisions are packed, so that you can now jump in and drive away.
Let me earnestly entreat you not to play tricks while in charge of a horse.
If you are going any distance, do not go too fast at first, and always remember you have the same distance to come back. Different ponies have different rates of speed, but it is an excellent rule never to drive horse or pony quite up to his full pace if the journey is at all likely to be long. When you drive him beyond that speed he is certain to break into a canter, and will soon be tired. Some ponies are naturally lazy, and will not trot up anywhere near their limit unless the whip is applied, but please remember there are others equally generous and willing, who are imbued with a spirit of gameness that is continually urging them on—this must be controlled. I have often heard a stupid groom, in reply to a remonstrance from his master about driving a horse too fast, say, " I never touched him with whip." This sort of man thinks if he lets the horse go his own pace he cannot be accused of driving too fast, and it is such men that ruin high-spirited horses.