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An 18th century coachman, who really loves their horses and won't allow any harm to come to them, needs a mechanism to instantly disengage their four-wheeled carriage from the horses midride, setting the animals free (perhaps with the pole and parts of tack still attached), in case they spook, or the cart tips over or catches fire, or something. However, they only have basic handyman tools available, and not a lot of time to set it up.

How much work would be involved in rigging such a mechanism?

Would it be something as simple as replacing the pin that holds the pole, so that pulling on a strap or kicking it hard enough disengages the pole? And maybe tying the breechings in a way so that a pull on an extra strap undoes the knots?

Or would it be a much more complex endeavour, requiring a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a few good hours of hammering and sawing and whatnot, way beyond a handy coachman's abilities?

Note: I have only basic knowledge how a horse and a carriage looks, and have googled a bit, and that's it.

Note 2: I don't need an exact solution, with specific knots and actual carriage types. I just need to know if I can handwave it or not. A rough "yeah, it could be done more or less like this" versus a "nope, it's way more complicated" will be just fine.

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like something that should already exist for sail boats -- where you need to quickly release a rope that might or might not be under stress at the time. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jun 16, 2022 at 16:25

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Quick release knot

https://www.horsejournals.com/life-horses/how-tie-quick-release-knot

knot

It’s fast and easy to tie, but the true value of the quick release knot lies in its ability to be quickly and easily untied in the event of an emergency. If a tied horse panics and pulls back on the rope, a single tug on the end of the lead will free him.

The quick release knot’s ability to provide an “emergency exit” is the reason it is valued as the knot of choice for safely tying horses.

The link walks you thru how to tie it. It is basically a slipknot. If you pull on one end of the knot the thing comes untied. I like the part of the article that discusses "Houdini Horses" who lean to pull the loose end themselves to get away and go do their free horse thing.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's the type of strap knot I was thinking of, but would it work for a harness under load? The site describes it as fine for tying horses while at rest. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ @SinustheTentacular it must work under at least some load or the horses could just pull free. What difference does it make if the horse is pulling a cart or a stationary post? $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Jun 16, 2022 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L: Some knots are difficult to untie when under constant stress and need at least a little loosening before they can be undone. A horse panicking at a post may repeatedly, sharply tug on the rope, but it won't pull it all the time, and there will be loose moments for releasing the knot. Should the carriage slip off the road and the horses would scramble to not be pulled off as well, they'd put a LOT of constant stress on the harness' straps. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 10:46
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Why not a simple seat belt buckle ?

If the seat belt buckle invention is posterior to XVIII century (1946?), this is tipicaly the type of thing Leonardo da Vinci could have invented : In case of energency, press the button and release your horses. You can found many patens of seat belt buckle: here is one. Of course it require some blacksmith work but maybe a simpliest design exist.

enter image description here

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If you look at horse carriages, many of them involve some wooden beams attaches to the horse by rope and leather strips. You won't be able to undo those really quick.

A very crafty woodsmith could make a mechanism to disengage the beams, but you ruled out having that professional.

Without resorting to professional tinkering with the carriage, your best option might be the a technique that is used to free stuck animals called the Murica Maneuver. Basically have a really high caliber shotgun on you and shoot the beams. The horse(s) will run while still pulling beam pieces around, but they will be otherwise disconnected from the carriage.

Fun historical fact: the expression "riding shotgun" comes from the old west, when the carriage coach would usually be accompanied by an armed person sitting by their side. That was to disencourage robbers. So it is actually pretty accurate to have a shotgun available during your horse emergency.

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    $\begingroup$ I never said no to tinkering with the carriage at all - as long as said tinkering can be done using DIY methods with whatever tools happened to be available in the shed. Unscrewing a few nuts and bolts and replacing them with hooks, for example, is certainly an option. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @SinustheTentacular fair enough, I've edited that to mention tinkering by a specialist. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ This would be a lot easier if you want to give the team a chance to escape, rather than releasing each horse individually; just detach the entire harness from the cart. Not sure if horses are smart enough to not run on opposite sides of a tree in this circumstance; I know there's humans that don't meet that standard. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @CristobolPolychronopolis: Sure, I even mentioned detaching the pole (leaving horses tied to the pole, but free to roam as a team), but I don't know enough about carriages to be able to confirm whether it's at all possible, or perhaps the pole is usually riveted or somehow secured to the carriage making it infeasible to make quick detachment possible. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 21:27
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The quick release knot is probably a good solution but also know that panic snaps exist for this exact reason. I don't know when they were invented but they're fairly simple mechanisms so it's not unreasonable to say your character used or created one if they're clever.

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  • $\begingroup$ They probably could create one, but that's exactly what would require a blacksmith's assistance, not easily whipped up from spare nails and hooks and a few straps of leather one could find in a shed. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking more something made from wood, especially since you said you didn't need the details, just some handwaving. The design wouldn't have to be the same as those small snaps (especially if you want to attach a whole carriage at one point), it would just have to use the same concept. The fact that they exist as mundane agricultural equipment would be more than enough for me as a reader to believe someone could create a similar device for their carriage. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but that requires a confirmation from someone knowledgeable about horse carriages: is it enough to detach like 2 or 3 straps, or hell no, there are at least 8 points where a team of 2 (or 4?) horses can be tied to the carriage, and it'd take at least a few precious seconds to undo ALL of those, even using some variety of a panic snap. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 21:33

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