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|Evolution of the Western Saddle|
There is no real consensus on the origin, history and evolution of the modern western horse saddle. This page provides some generally accepted insight into the history of horse saddles. Hopefully you will find this information helpful and of interest. It is adpated from an article by Shelley Jessop.
The Evolution of the Western Saddle
The Early History of the Saddle
(Consider the word “saddle” to refer to a seat or pad used to support the rider on an animal, chiefly a horse.)
Exactly when man domesticated the riding horse is questionable. Which of the many human societies first utilized the horse as a mount is debatable. But the fact progress went from a walk to a gallop once man and horse became partners is undeniable. However, we know the Chinese, Assyrians and Persians were skilled riders 3,000 years before Christ.
Notwithstanding that Brahmans were possibly the first "riders," there is no doubt the Chinese were the first real "horsemen." The Chinese were harnessing the horse about 4,000 BC. There is great evidence to support the idea the Chinese used the horse earlier, to a greater extent and in more ways than did any other civilization. The Chinese were involved in selective breeding and selective conformation (having several different kinds of horses for different jobs) as early as 1,000 years BC
About 2,000 BC the Hittites over in the Mediterranean were doing their thing with the horse. They were using the horse for war, and they were winning. Evidently the Hittites had it together, for it seems it was the Hittites who left the first text on the care and rearing of horses. The document was written about 1,600 BC and contains some advice about the training of a horse which is as applicable today as it was then. For example, the Hittites said a horse needed the equivalent of about 100 miles of gallops before being asked for real speed. Most trainers today will agree the modern Thoroughbred needs about 100 miles of gallops before being asked to show some of his speed.
Some claim the Assyrians were the first of the eastern Mediterranean cultures to make use of an article resembling a saddle. All they lacked was a stirrup, but at the time, so did everyone else.
The Egyptians were also using the horse about 1,650 BC as a mean of expanding their empire. Curiously, they had no interest in riding astride, preferring the chariot. Maybe they didn’t ride because their horses at the time where not much like the Arabian of today.
The saddles mentioned in the Bible are generally considered to have been saddlecloths. The ancient Greeks sometimes used saddlecloths, but they had no saddles and often rode bareback. The Romans did not use a saddle until near the end of the empire. The Native Americans of the Great Plains of North America were famous horsemen, and usually rode without saddles. To riders accustomed to the saddle, however, its advantages are decisive. Probably saddle as we know it today, was developed either in
Historically horses were ridden bareback, or with only a blanket over their back. Riders throughout the centuries hunted, fought in wars and traveled great distances all while riding bareback. Some claim a tribe called the Sarmatians who lived by the
It appears that people rode horses (astride) for over 1,500 years before they had devised a method for achieving greater stability in the saddle. An early form of the stirrup can be traced to
Early History of the Western Saddle
The Western Saddle, that we know today, was greatly influenced by the Spanish Vaquero (cowboy). The following is a condensed excerpt from a highly informative and beautifully detailed article that documents the history of the Cowboy. The article is entitled 'Cowboys-Vaqueros, Origins of the First American Cowboys' by Donald Gilbert Y Chavez (www.unm.edu/~gabbriel/index.html).
Historians are aware that
What we term the “western saddle,” Americans of the first half of the nineteenth century generally referred to as the “Spanish saddle.” Thus they showed their awareness of its place of origin. Americans of that time commonly used the term "Spanish" to distinguish whatever related to New Spain-Mexico and her provinces to the north:
From the 11th century West European institution of "chivalry," (which originally had the same meaning as "cavalry") evolved the age of knighthood. The saddle of chivalry, (a la estradiota) consisted of two large rigid bows, the rear end couching the pelvis of the rider, connected by wooden planks. The seat was padded on both sides between the rider and the horse. The fork swell or pommel rose high in front of the rider so as to protect the stomach from the force of the opposing jouster's lance. The cantle was high enough to secure the rider from being forced over the rear of the horse and close enough to the pommel to further snugly secure the rider.
It was from the 'a la estradiota' and 'la jineta' styles and the saddles designed around those styles that the first vaqueros developed an American saddle to suit their own needs and preferences. From their research the saddle experts have a reasonably good idea how the western stock saddle evolved and appeared. However, because there are no surviving fully documented saddles from the colonial American Southwest and
The first saddle models had no saddle horn. The saddle horn was an innovation invented through necessity by creative Spanish and Mexican vaqueros. Livestock was first tied to the horse's tail. The horses surely having objected to towing anything larger than a sheep, vaqueros then tied the home end of their lariat to the "D" ring on the side rigging of the saddle. That proved less than efficient, so some ingenious vaquero invented a large wooden bulbous saddle horn cut from the same piece of saddle tree; also called a manzana or apple. The second Viceroy of New Spain claimed some credit for "la silla vaquero" the new vaquero saddle with a saddle horn for roping. It is my guess, however, that it was a "creative hands on" practical minded lesser known working vaquero who through trial and error invented the prototype of what eventually became the saddle horn. This first Spanish style (
By the early 17th century, the modified jineta saddle utilized by the first colonial Mexican stockmen had evolved into a distinctive national form: la silla vaquero mexicana. It became famous in the mid-19th century in the western United States as the vaquero saddle or Mexican cowboy saddle. This form displayed many variations, some regional and some occasioned by the taste and uses of its owner. One variety was sometimes called la silla charra, or charro saddle. The influences of the early Mexican saddle have been preserved in large part in one of our local saddle styles, The Santa Fe saddle even in more contemporary time. Richard Ahlborn, in “Western Words” indicates that "by the early decades of the 19th century, the Mexican (Vaquero) stock saddle had assumed the general appearance, of the stock saddle that was to become the standard in the western part of the United States, another vast region where further regional modifications would continue to take place. The vaquero saddle was also the precursor of the "Texas" saddle which included such modifications as double rigging.
Top to bottom: Charro,
Many of the first generation of Anglo Cowboy Texas had missing thumbs. While novice cowboy Anglo Texans were taking cowboy lessons from their Mexican Vaquero teachers they were unable to tie the lariat around the saddlehorn like the seasoned Hispanic Mexicans. Often they were not able to rope the steer, turn the rope around the saddlehorn, and then remove their thumb between the rope and horn before the animal pulled tight. Consequently, they lost their thumbs. This was the beginning of the Texan tradition of roping technique where the rope was first tied to the saddlehorn, then lassoing the animal. To this day on occasion you will still come across a cowboy who lost his thumb the same way. The one major change within the range of forms typical of the Mexican saddle occurred after 1875 as a result of the efforts of groups of charros – Mexican horsemen devoted to the art of the Mexicana riding style who were anxious to preserve the traditions and skills of authentic Mexican horsemanship. As a result of their efforts, charreria was organized into a national sport and is now a traditional part of the Mexican culture," as well as some parts of the U.S. Southwest.
The popularity of the American West was largely owing to the salesmanship of Buffalo Bill Cody, who in 1883 started thrilling crowds across America and the world with his Wild West show, which featured riders outfitted with deluxe western regalia much fancier than what any working cowhand would use. The show's gilded image of the frontier was so persuasive that buckskin fringe and tack with ornate tooling became part of the region's culture, inspiring genuine cowboys and dudes alike.
Buffalo Bill Show Posters
Military Influence on the Western Saddle
While more utilitarian than civilian models, military saddles were nonetheless affected by cultural influences. Some periods were more ornate, some less, reflecting then-current fashions, concepts of national identity, and prevailing views of the military. Saddles reflected a much more significant influence as well. In the early days of the nation, American military saddles were dead ringers for English and French gear. During the expansion West though, concepts of cavalry changed, as did the conditions and needs of the fighting man, at the same time that Americans were making increased contact with the outposts of the Spanish empire. Spanish saddles and techniques learned from the Moors in ancient wars, and well adapted to use on the vast expanses of the new world, were far better suited to frontier conditions. The practical men of the fledgling United States picked them up rather quickly beginning in the first quarter of the 19th century, both in terms of a series of military saddle designs, and in the evolution of what we now call the "western" or "cowboy" saddle. The shapes of the saddles changed, as did concepts of equitation. In the first half of the 20th century, free of the demands of Indian warfare, and without much other fighting to do, the cavalry drifted back to English and French-influenced equipment and techniques, in search of European style and finesse. (Copyright ©1999 “Clinical Observations on the Collecting of Military Saddles” by Joseph Sullivan, originally published in the Texas & Southwestern Collectors' Association Newsletter via The Military Horse Forum - www.militaryhorse.org)
The McClellan Military Saddle: As has been recounted in numerous other works, George B. McClellan developed this saddle over a number of years. This saddle has its beginnings in the Crimean War, where Capt. McClellan was sent, like many officers, to observe the activities of the combatants. During this time it is surmised that he was able to observe, and perhaps test for himself, a great variety of foreign military equipment. This seems to have been the case, as he was spurred to suggest a wide range of changes to the equipment then in use by the U.S. Army.
The Model 1913 McClellan Packer's Saddle: This odd saddle was made as a saddle for packers ("wranglers" of supply pack trains) who needed the horn for lead ropes, etc. Quite a number of other personnel in cavalry organizations were also issued packer saddles instead of the regular McClellan service saddle. Many packers relied on commercial, western-type saddles, which were later made by contractors such as R.T. Frazier and K.C. Saddlery Company for a short time during WWI. These McClellan packers were totally different in dimensions from the cavalry/artillery McClellans, as they were generally used with mules. The saddles featured a bare brass horn, and four brass rigging rings, and two horsehair or mohair cinchas. These generally had steel knife-edge stirrups. (Copyright © The Military Horse Forum - www.militaryhorse.org)
Left to right: The first McClellan 1857 and The Model 1913 McClellan
|General Information About Saddles|
GENERAL SADDLE INFRMATON
Hopefully you will find this western horse saddlery information helpful and of interest when you shop for top quality western saddles and tack made by leaders in the horse saddle industry: Simco, Longhorn, American Saddlery, Circle G Brand, Southern Riding, and Abetta. This is adpated from articles by Shelley Jessop and Don Blazer.
The Western Saddle
Whether you participate in riding for pleasure or competition, few things are more important than having a saddle that properly fits both the horse and rider. Saddles can be compared to shoes; and we all know the discomfort associated with an ill-fitting, uncomfortable pair of shoes!
Designed for long hours in the saddle, the western saddle needs to be comfortable for both the rider and the horse. The wide flaps of the typical Western saddle distributes the rider's weight over a large area of the horse's back, making it more efficient and comfortable for the horse to carry its rider. The wide fenders keep the horse's sweat off the rider’s legs and the stirrups are wide enough to allow the rider’s feet to rest comfortably. The horn is used for roping cattle and provides an extra aid to rider for balance.
Whereas the previous article outlined the history of the western saddle, this article summarizes the main parts of a typical western saddle, describes the main types of western style saddles available, and provides basic guidelines for fitting a saddle.
Modern Western Saddles
As time went on, saddle design continued to change to meet the needs of the working cowboy, the rodeo contestant, and the rider who was seeking a comfortable seat when heading down the trail for a pleasure ride. Saddles continue to be redesigned and redeveloped with “New and Improved” varieties appearing constantly.
The Hope Saddle by Carrico's Leatherworks of Edna, Kansas
Simco® Arabian Saddle
Longhorn® Show Saddle
Simco ® Roping Saddle
Simco ® Specialty Saddle
Synthetic Saddle by Abetta®
The foundation of the saddle is the tree. Today saddletrees are made of a choice of different materials. By far the best tree to go for is the "bull-hide covered wood" tree. This tree is made out of Ponderosa Pine with one or two layers of wet Bull-hide or rawhide stretched over it. As the hide dries it shrinks forming a vice-like covering. This makes for a very resilient and strong tree, which however has an element of "give" in it. Inferior trees are often covered with canvas or cheesecloth or poorer quality hides (e.g., goat) and are suitable only for light pleasure use. Saddletrees are also made out of molded fiberglass and other plastics but again these generally are suitable only for pleasure use and not for Ranch and Rope work. The tree consists of:
The part of the tree that rests along the sides of the horse's spine is called the "bars." The size, shape and angle of the bars are what determine the fit. The three basic types of tree include the Quarterhorse (widest and longest bars, accommodating most "stock type" Quarterhorses), Semi-Quarterhorse (narrower bars, conforming to Thoroughbred type Quarterhorses), and Arabian tree (shorter bars, fitting shorter backed Arabian type horses). They should fit smoothly along the length of the horse's back and evenly distribute the pressure and weight of the rider and saddle. Both the length and angle of the bars affect how comfortably the saddle fits the horse.
Also called the Pommel. Fork design gives shape and definition to the front of the saddle. An "A-Fork" is just what it's name implies; the front of the saddle looks like an "A" as it rises from the bars to the horn. Other fork styles are somewhat broader in appearance, with more swell to the fork. The more swell to the fork, the more support you feel.
The design of the swell/fork, as well as the angle of the bars, help to determine the width and height of the saddle gullet. This, in turn, affects how well a saddletree fits the horse's withers. The saddle must clear the withers. Too low a fit in this area and the horse can become sore quickly.
This may be tall or short, thick or thin, and have a large horn cap or a small one. The angle used in attaching a horn to a tree also varies. The intended use for the saddle usually determines the horn design.
The term "high-backed saddle" refers to the cantle design used in the saddle tree. A higher-backed saddle can seem snugger in fit than a low one, given the seat measurement, simply because it offers more support in a higher position on the rider's back. This can come at a loss of flexibility for the rider so a lower cantle is often found in a roping saddle or when a quick dismount is needed such as in steer wrestling.
"Cuttin' Loose" by Billy Cook® Saddlery
Cinch (Front Cinch):
The cinch is the wide strap that fits under the horse to secure the saddle. Anywhere from 26”-36” long, cinches are often made of Mohair Blend material (usually 27 strands), Felt or Neoprene. The Latigo is attached to the cinch, and in turn tied to the Front Rigging Dee with a flat knot. Always secure the front cinch prior to the back cinch. Conversely, when unsaddling, undo the front cinch last.
Front Rigging Dee:
A metal ring to fasten the latigo through, which in turn is attached to the cinch.
Back Flank Billet (Rear Cinch):
The back flank billet should not hang down more than one inch when fastened, to prevent the horse's foot from becoming caught if scaling steep hills. A keeper strap should attach the back cinch to the front cinch under the horse's belly. The rear cinch is not used with all types of saddles.
|Saddle Selection - Fit Rider and Horse|
When it is time to start looking for your saddle, there are several main considerations to take into account before you begin:
What type of riding will you be doing? Have an idea of the type of saddle you are looking for before you start shopping around. Ensure that you have chosen a saddle that suits the style of riding you will be participating in.
Saddle fit and you:
Does the saddle fit you? A good fit saddle should feel very comfortable to sit in. Larger people will need a bigger seat; children and smaller adults will require a smaller, narrower seat for comfort. Saddle seats of children's saddles are 13” or less with adult saddle seats ranging from 14 - 18” (See image). Sit in the deepest part of the saddle and reach back. Place your hand flat on the seat. There should be one hand's width between the back of your seat and the cantle.
Photo used with permission from Cheryl McNamee www.equusite.com
Saddle fit and your horse:
Does the saddle fit your horse? This is very important!! And it is not an easy task to determine the proper fit. It is best to have an expert help you out when you are testing saddles. Once you have a potential saddle in hand, ask yourself the following questions.
Are the Bars the right length and angle for your type of horse? There should be no rubbing on the hipbones. (See Parts of The Western Saddle: The Tree: Bars).
Is the saddle level on the horses back? Place it on the horse first without the pad. Jiggle the saddle with the horn. It should slide into position with the cinch falling vertically, about an inch behind the horses elbow. Look at the skirt, is should not slope up or down. The seat where you will be sitting should be level.
Does the pad clear the saddle? Saddle up with the pad. The pad should clear the saddle on all sides by a couple inches. It should be thick enough to provide cushion. When testing saddles, use the pad that you will actually be riding with.
Can you slide 2-3 fingers sideways under the gullet? More room indicates the bars are too narrow, less room indicates the bars are too wide.
Can you slide a flat hand under the saddle on both sides of the withers? The saddle should not hit the withers, but rest behind the shoulder.
Does the saddle sit securely? The saddle should fit securely, even without the cinch's being done up. The saddle should not rock very easily from side to side even when the front cinch is undone.
How does the saddle fit after riding for about 15 minutes or so? Ride, then dismount and recheck the fit. Trot and canter for at least 15 minutes, dismount and recheck the fit again.
Is your horse exhibiting any type of behavioral problems while test-riding the saddle? Pinning his ears, bucking, nipping at his sides or any other unusual behavior may indicate a problem with saddle fit.
What kind of condition is the saddle in? Make sure your saddle is safe. Check for wear, damage or faulty construction. Are the stirrup hobble straps present? Is there a keeper to attach the front and back cinches? String can be used temporarily. Plan on replacing, repairing or adding additional pieces as required.
Note: Keep in mind that fit of your saddle will change based on your horses age and condition. Be aware of the changes in your horses form and adjust your tack accordingly. The perpetual squeak of a new saddle until it is broken in is a myth; squeaking indicates that the saddle is made from poor quality leather. There should be very little, or no squeak at all, even with a brand new saddle.
What can you afford? Having a custom made saddle is the ideal. The bare tree can be fit to the horses back prior to the saddle being built, ensuring a good fit. But, due to the cost involved, it is beyond the reach of many people. As the old saying goes “You Get What You Pay For”. Establish your price range and then get the best quality saddle for the best price. We are confident that you will do just that here at The Saddle Zone. Ensure you have a feel for the price range of similar saddles. Consult with your expert to ensure you are being charged a fair price.
Do you have enough experience to choose your own saddle? There are a countless variety of saddles on the market. It can be overwhelming, particularly if you are a new rider with limited experience. Recruit an expert to help you evaluate saddles and to assist you with selecting the appropriate one for you and your horse. Even if you do have some experience, it is always a good idea to get someone else's opinion. An experienced and reputable horse-person, saddle maker or trainer are all good candidates.
A saddle is a very important aspect of the total experience for both the rider and horse, in addition to being a substantial investment. Take the care and time to select the right one. Remember, a good saddle will last a lifetime providing the rider and horse with comfort for blissful hours of riding!
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