So You Want to Drive a Tandem?

by Jay Hubert

So you want to drive a tandem? Have you lost your ever loving mind? In the Duke of Beaufort’s Badminton Library publication Driving (1889), Major General Teesdale quotes a celebrated horse dealer as saying: “I always look upon a man who drives a tandem as a fool; He makes two horses do the work of one and most likely breaks his silly neck.”

So you STILL want to give it a try? OK, I will try to lead you through some of the steps to get into the tandem business.

There is one big issue about driving a tandem. It requires more than one person to do it successfully and safely. I realize there are some folks who try to do it alone, but I am not one who will, nor will I recommend it to anyone who asks. I say that with full realization that both of my ponies are VERY reliable as singles, and seldom miss a step while in tandem. There are just too many things that can happen, none of which are good.

Well, I’ve got the bug. I am definitely hooked on tandem. One of the first things I did was to build a good rein board with provision for four reins so I could practice handling the reins. Somebody recommended the Paul Doliveux book Driving a Tandem. I found it listed at the ADS book store and sent away for it. I also sent for Mary Ruth Marks’ excellent handbook on Tandem Driving. In the meantime, I had reported on my weekend adventures on the CD-L (an Internet E-Mail list) and received some good advice from several folks including Sterling Grayburn. I also got advice on assembling the harness and even got a set of Roger Rings from Bruce Campbell in Florida. Bruce implied that I was crazier than he was, so I might as well have the rings. (I’m still using them, Bruce!)

I found an old roadster harness in the back of the back closet, and after a liberal application of Harness Honey, I made the traces into trace extenders, lengthening an old breast collar with sewn in traces into a suitable length.

One thing to remember while we are going through the process of assembling a tandem harness, is the budget was very tight. Yes, I could go out and buy a full set from a harness maker, but then I would not be able to go to events where I could use it. So everything falls together based on how well I can utilize pieces from here and there. We started trying to figure out what we could do to adapt what I had into a tandem harness. The wheeler harness was not much of an issue. I was using a Smucker’s Pleasure harness, with some Deluxe parts for showing a single, so I had a good start. We added a couple of Dee rings at the trace/breast plate connection, and two big bull snaps for the ends of the leader traces. We made temporary trace carriers out of baling twine, and trace extenders out of the same stuff. Orange baling twine. Yikes, not TOO noticeable! I had a couple of old sets of pony harness, and we adapted a bunch of pieces into a useable, but not very pretty working harness.

This is about enough to get started. If things are working out, and you want to get SERIOUS about tandem driving, we need to acquire some serious specialized equipment.

By now I was starting to acquire some REAL tandem tack. In addition to the Roger Rings that Bruce Campbell sent me, I had picked up some tandem rosettes at Martin’s Auction, as well as some drop loop rings borrowed from Irene Gillis. Jud Wright had some tandem reins, both wheeler and leader for sale, so I bought them. What a concept…. Matching reins! I also picked up a pair of long or “English” leader traces from Jud, and ordered matching breast collars from Smuckers, along with new wheeler traces. Barb Lee had a set of leather traces left over from her pony days, so I bought them as well.

OK, now lets step back a minute and take a look at what we have for equipment now. The wheeler is wearing a basic single harness with the following modifications: tandem terrets on the saddle; tandem keys in the trace buckles, and Roger Rings on the bridle. All of these pieces are commercially available, and the total cost would be under $200. If you are not familiar with these harness fittings, I will explain them.

Tandem terrets are split terrets, with two places for reins on each side. Some are made with two rings, set vertically. Mine are one large ring, split with a roller on a bar. Tandem terrets help to separate the reins, which is critical, as they tend to become a bundle of spaghetti in exciting moments.

Tandem keys are a device that slip around the trace buckle tongue and serve as a connecting point for the leader traces to attach to the wheelers traces.

Roger Rings are devices to carry the leader reins past the wheeler’s head in a manner that discourages tangling and interference with the wheeler. There are several devices available to accomplish this feat, including bridle rosettes with rings (tandem rosettes), rings on drop straps, and rings that buckle in to the wheeler’s bridle. I have tried all three devices, and personally prefer the buckle-in Roger Rings.

The leader wears what is essentially a single harness also. In place of breeching, there are hip drops to trace carriers, and in place of shaft tugs, there are trace carriers, usually slotted. I made mine out of small fine harness shaft tugs. When we showed under the late Jack Lyndon, he recommended going to a simpler crupper, WITHOUT buckles, as the buckles tend to catch the reins when turning. I tried this out with a very old buckle-less crupper, rescued from an ancient roadster harness, and found this to be true. So I cleaned and refinished this piece and use it today. The hip straps for the trace carriers go through a slot in the back strap, and this gives a very smooth surface for the reins. As a note, my rear trace carriers are made from an old running martingale that had buckle-in rings. The bridle is standard and the bridle and breast collar matches the wheeler’s.

We use two types of traces. The primary set, used for pleasure shows, and presentation and dressage at CDE’s are long or English traces. They are about two feet longer than ordinary single traces on my ponies. This dimension would be different for a larger animal. On the bottom of each trace, a brass loop is sewn in, about mid flank on the animal. This loop is for connection of a safety strap, that runs from the trace to the mid point of the girth. It keeps the trace from slipping up over the top of the leader’s back, adding a little control to the actions of the leader. Tandem traces and tandem girths are available commercially, as well as the safety straps. I was able to purchase used traces and made my own safety straps andgirth connections.

I mentioned tandem bars earlier. Tandem bars function like a single tree between the leader and the wheeler. One bar is attached at the ends to the tandem keys on the wheeler’s harness, and supported in the center by a strap that runs through the false martingale ring on the wheeler’s breast collar. In the center is a ring to which is connected via flexible connection a second bar that connects to the leaders traces, which can be of normal (single) length. For safety, I use quick release snap shackles to connect the leader’s traces to the leader bar. This setup slightly shortens the distance between the leader and wheeler, and gives a more flexible connection between them. It also reduces the need for trace supports as mentioned above, as the bars are supported from the wheeler’s breast collar.

It seems that interest in driving tandems is increasing. Nearly every time I pick up a driving magazine, and read the results of events, I see more and more tandem entries. I personally enjoy the challenge of tandem. It is certainly NOT boring, even out on a pleasure drive in the country. If you think you want to go out and try it, gather up a good reliable animal to drive in the wheel, and get a very forward, animated animal for a leader. Then get yourself to a trainer who understands tandems and go for it!