Stopping harness-related injury and suffering

A collaboration between Brooke and SaddleAid to to help working horses, donkeys and mules.

We need to address the highly prevalent problem of working equids being injured or impaired by their harness.

Peter Muckle, founder of SaddleAid

Locally-constructed cart and harness on a horse at an Indian brick kiln.

The Problem

Virtually all working equids are operated with some form of harnessing - ranging from simple means of pack attachment to complex systems of hitching multiple animals to carts - making harnessing a key welfare issue of international significance and one that is common to all populations.  Harness-related welfare problems are amongst the most prevalent afflictions for working equids, and include skin lesions and associated risk of infection, pain and discomfort during work, and additional energy expenditure due to working inefficiently.

Harnessing influences welfare on a momentary, daily and long-term basis and has the potential to have both immediate and cumulative effects on an animal’s welfare.

Uncomfortable and inefficient neck-yoke harness on a Kenyan cart donkey.

The Collaboration

SaddleAid was founded in 2014 with the aim of alleviating equine and human suffering through development of safe and welfare-friendly saddlery and equine equipment and harness-related education.  Building upon a successful initial collaboration through Brooke’s Innovation Fund, it was mutually agreed to continue this effective partnership focussed on harness-related activities.  We believe that Brooke and SaddleAid working together and exchanging respective expertise will strengthen abilities to achieve our shared objective of seeing working equids around the world in comfortable and effective harness.

The Solution

This project aims to develop harness-related guidance that can be utilised not only within Brooke and partner programmes, but by other organisations and individuals internationally.  We hope to support those who are interested in improving equine harnessing and could benefit from technical guidance to strengthen harness-related activities and impact.

Animals in comfortable and effective harnessing can breathe properly, move correctly, are not weakened by pain or injury, can work more efficiently and potentially live healthier and longer lives.

In terms of human impact, animals in better harness can be healthier and more productive in the short and longer term, supporting positive economic and livelihood gains through increased income and decreased healthcare costs for those who depend upon them.

A donkey struggles to balance an overloaded cart in painful, unsuitable harness in rural Ethiopia.

The Work

The essential first step was to conduct a harnessing learning needs assessment with a wide range of Brooke and partner staff.  This provided valuable information to inform the content, structure and delivery of learning resources to support field workers striving to address harness-related equine welfare issues, and ensure that project outputs will be appropriate to meet their needs.  Importantly, this process also enabled 135 personnel from 12 countries around the world to contribute and help shape the project at an early stage, making this a truly international initiative benefiting from a wealth of field experience.

We need to address the problem of well-intentioned harness interventions that are ineffective, do not mitigate welfare risk, and fail to meet desired outcomes.

Ashleigh Brown, Global Animal Welfare Advisor at Brooke

A comprehensive review of all working equine harness-related intervention activities around the world is currently underway, yielding valuable insight into common difficulties and how to overcome them.  This, coupled with the learning needs assessment, will guide the development of practical guidance for conducting harness improvement activities in the field.

This initiative creates a strong foundation for strengthening harness-related activities throughout Brooke’s international work.

The Goal

Success in addressing harness-related problems has the potential to generate significant benefits for working equine welfare and associated human livelihoods on a vast scale.


The diagram below summarises our vision for a positive scenario related to working equine harness, depicting the four integrated and overlapping components we feel are integral to success. We envisage that this initiative in conjunction with Brooke’s broader range of activities with animal-owning communities, service providers and policy makers, will contribute to ensuring that the animal, human, work environment and harness complement each other to promote the best possible welfare.

Theory of Change

Achieving our vision requires both individual and systemic change in existing practice around working equine harness. We anticipate that positive impacts on the animals, and the people who work with them, are attainable through appropriate harness being locally available and used well - which in turn is facilitated by the people involved having the capacity, opportunity and motivation to change their current behaviour.

Video: Identifying learning needs for working equine harness improvement

Ashleigh Brown, Brooke’s Global Animal Welfare Advisor, delivered a flash talk on ‘Identifying learning needs for working equine harness improvement’ at the 29th International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) Annual Conference.