How to Measure the Length of a Horse Cart Shaft

By Kim Joyce

Shafts for a horse-drawn cart or buggy flank the horse and connect the vehicle to the horse and harness, representing the steering mechanism. According to Dave Engel, proprietor of Engel’s Coach Shop in Joliet, Montana, the horse both pushes against the shafts to turn the vehicle and pulls the vehicle using the singletree mounted to the shaft crossbar. For horse carts (two-wheeled vehicles), proper distribution of the load—the driver and goods or passengers—steadies and balances the cart. The shafts, designed for single-horse driving, also help hold the cart level.

Measure shaft length from the shaft tips to the front of the cross bar—the bar that connects and stabilizes the two shafts near the cart—for most buggies and other four-wheel horse-drawn vehicles. Accurate measurement is important to make sure buggy shafts fit the horse: typically 87 inches in length for draft horses, 75 or 76 inches for most saddle horses, 60 to 65 or 66 inches for small to large ponies and 48 or 54 inches for miniature horses. Shafts need to be the right size to attach correctly to the horse or pony harness.

Add 12 inches to these lengths (above) for comparable horse cart shafts, typically offered in pony, saddle horse and draft horses sizes. The two main differences between buggy shafts and cart shafts are shaft length and the method that cross bars attach. To make room for the driver’s footboard, cart shafts are about a foot longer, and the shaft crossbar for carts is mounted either above or below the two shafts, rather than mortised between them as with buggy shafts.

Add a circle brace to your two cart shafts, attached just ahead of the crossbar, for extra stability and safety—essential for cart shafts but optional for shafts used with buggies.

Consider, too, the various shaft styles. Both buggy and cart shafts come in drop heel and double bend styles, the latter used to position both crossbar and singletree well ahead of the point of shaft attachment to the axle—needed to avoid problems during sharp turns for vehicles with “forward” bodies. Cart shafts also come in a straight heel style for use with village and Meadowbrook carts.