Although German sometimes follows the same word order as English, it doesn't always. That can lead to confusion and as if that wasn't bad enough there is the problem of interpretation, as illustrated in the following German to English examples:
A sign in a hotel catering to skiers read "Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension".
Another reads, "In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter."
Also there is, "Do not enter the lift backwards, and only when lit up."
And finally in Germany's Black Forest: "It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose." You can see that translating modern German into English is fraught with problems.
Into the recipe for a translation disaster we should throw two more ingredients; one, the original text was written three hundred years ago and was certainly a lot less erudite than say, Samuel Johnson, who lived at roughly the same time. An example of his incomparable style should suffice:
"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Yes I know - not really the same at all, but I just liked the quote! A better example would be this:
"The place, which the wisdom or policy of antiquity had destined for the residence of the Abissinian princes, was a spacious valley in the kingdom of Amhara, surrounded on every side by mountains, of which the summits overhang the middle part. The only passage, by which it could be entered, was a cavern that passed under a rock, of which it has long been disputed whether it was the work of nature or of human industry. The outlet of the cavern was concealed by a thick wood, and the mouth which opened into the valley was closed with gates of iron, forged by the artificers of ancient days, so massy that no man could, without the help of engines, open or shut them."
Imagine translating that into modern German!
And lastly, the writing of that particular quote about horses and carts was written not only in eighteenth century German, but in the most attrocious handwriting to such an extent that it is barely legible. Despite this considerable handicap there are people who have managed to extract what they believe to be the correct meaning. Given that and the other considerations I have outlined above,a small dash of scepticism is in order.
In any case, in my opinion the advice to put the horse before the cart merely refers to MT 20, the design of which, was ascribed to an aquaintance, and should not necessarily apply to all designs. I don't mean that it is wrong so much as we might have over emphasised its importance.
In fact you could put the horse before the cart and let it push it, but there is a reason why this method was never generally adopted. The harness most commonly used, compressed the poor old horse's windpipe when it pushed, causing potential harm or death. But it is another matter when using mechanical leverage. Levers can push and pull and twist and turn about a pivot so don't rule out putting the cart before the horse.