PATRICIA SMITH: News Flash For Carriage Drivers
Here is a newsflash for drivers. I was merrily reading the latest edition of The Carriage Journal last week and came across an advertisement that stopped me in my tracks.
Smucker's Harness Shop is closing. Moses Smucker, who has been in business for 38 years, is retiring and closing up shop. Whoa.
Smucker's Harness Shop is located in Churchtown, Pa., in the heart of Pennslyvania Dutch Country. They have been THE place to purchase harness since 1962.
Although Smucker's isn't the only manufacturer of leather harness, for people just getting into the sport of carriage driving Smucker's offers a good entry level set of leather harness that doesn't break the Bank of Monaco.
Almost everyone I know that started out driving before synthetic harness was available bought their harness from Smucker's.
Measuring for harness is a right of passage for drivers. It is guaranteed that no matter how carefully you measure, some piece won't exactly fit your horse once it arrives.
It is a good lesson in patience to have to send back a piece or two for re-sizing.
What fun it was to go through the catalog and pick out the style of harness you wanted for your horse.
Smucker's carries everything from a very workmanlike harness with no patent leather on it to their super deluxe harness with brass fittings and patent leather accents.
I picked out a deluxe black harness with patent leather accents for my filly when she was 3 years old. (You should only use russet harness if your carriage has russet fittings on the shafts.) She's 10 now and it has held up beautifully. It was my only set of harness for about five years and then I did purchase a synthetic harness for everyday use. That way you have to clean the brass only before you go to shows. It is the ultimate test of patience to clean leather harness with brass fittings. I'm convinced that the only people who ever get the brass sparkling clean are people who have served in the military.
For traditionalists, there is nothing as beautiful as leather harness with brass fittings on a carriage horse.
I got a chance to visit Smucker's years ago. Smucker's carries saddles and bridles but they are primarily known for their harness. They carry every kind of harness a driver might need -- Four-in-hand harness, pair harness, tandem harness, gig harness, draft harness and logging harness. They also carry all the accessories like harness pads, spares kits, whips, driving bits and solid brass bells.
According to the advertisement in The Carriage Journal, Smucker's will be accepting harness orders until December 31, 2008.
I wondered if there would be someone else in Amish country to pick up the ball.
I went to the Smucker's Web site and found out that Mose's son, Daniel, will continue to make custom harness "on a full or part-time basis, most likely under the name D. M. Smucker."
Still, it's the end of an era. When Smucker's started out, the harness was all made by hand. Heck, they didn't even have a catalog for years. When they finally did print a catalog, I got two just to have an extra. I used to take one out on cold winter nights and dream about what I would get for my horse next. Now, it may become a collector's item.
Equestrain correspondent Pat Smith can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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