Horse brasses are decorative items often used with draft harness leather drops…If you look closely at show harness you will see them coming down over the loin area and other places as the harness gets more elaborate. Most decorate things have a tie to historical reasons and we find that some variation of horses brasses were on pieces of shield that were used to protect a horses kidneys in battle in Medieval times. In more modern times they were given as awards in draft horse competitions the same as we give trophys today. The Great Circus Parade that was held for many years in Wisconsin, made a special drop for the teamsters each year and then destroyed the mold. They are quite heavy and unique.
My friend Kirsty Farnfield has a collection and points to links below showing photographs from the decorated harness classes from the National Shire Horse Show at Peterborough in 2002, 2011 and 2012:
Cornish harness made to celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana:
May Day parade harness: Doesn’t this make you think “Spring!”? Above photo and below photo courtesy of Forgetmenot Here (Tony Golding) via Kirsty Farnfield
Kirsty shares that many harness brass started out as early pagan symbols of protection against the evil eye and other such superstitions, different designs like sun wheel and other much repeated patterns were variously to protect the horse, ensure a good crop etc. Many ancient designs are still in use today although their meaning has often been lost.
Other brasses would be given as prizes to horsemen at mayday parades for the best turned out and cared for horse, rewards for long service, or saved up and bought either by the carter/horseman himself or for him as presents by his friends and family to add to his harness. I think I will have to have a brass made to celebrate the mini gypsy horse!
Commemorative brasses are still very much in production today – Kirsty collects the Peterborough Shire Horse Show brasses which are made in a new design in a limited edition every year, and has one for every year attended, including a special one for “the show that never was” – the 2001 show cancelled due to foot & mouth.
In addition Kirsty collects royal cememorative brasses and has a few Queen Victoria ones, King George, Queen Elizabeth’s various jubilees, royal wedding ones etc.
Kirsty also put together a couple of martingales with a selection of brasses personalised to her, much as carters would have in years gone by. They include a camel (for Egypt), an Ark (for Turkey where the Ark was supposed to have come to rest), a windmill (for Holland fondly reminding of time spent and many friends), a horseshoe (trained as a farrier), a warwickshire bear (went to Warwickshire College of Agriculture) and some horses (honoring work with horses).
I have asked Kirsty to send me some pictures of her wonderful collection, but for now I will just share a couple photos….