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Cavalry and saddle fit

From: Kevin

Dear Jessica, your archives are amazing. It's hard to believe that anyone would do all of this for free, but I guess you're a truly exceptional human being. My wife has been on HORSE-SENSE ever since you started it, but I have to admit I've only been reading it for about a year. I have perused the archives, however. Wow. This question doesn't directly relate to our own horses, but I'm hoping you can settle a bet that I have with my brother-in-law. It's about saddles and saddle fit and the U.S. Cavalry. Neither Joe (brother-in-law) nor I have made a study of this, but we're disagreeing about our impressions. I'm of the opinion that there have been such amazing changes in our understanding of horses and saddles and horses backs and how they work, that the old Cavalry ideas of saddle fitting wouldn't be very useful or applicable today (especially since our modern saddles aren't those split-down-the-middle MacClellans). Joe thinks that the old Cavalry guys knew more than we do now. We've agreed to let you settle the bet. What do you say?


Hi Kevin! Thanks for the kind words about HORSE-SENSE.

I'm afraid that I'm going to have to side with your brother-in-law on this one. ;-) You'd be surprised to know how very much those "old Cavalry guys" knew about horses and saddles and horses' backs!

As for the saddles themselves, you're right, there are very few riders (other than re-enactors) using MacClellan saddles, but (a) those weren't the only saddles used by the cavalry, there were Whitmans in use also, and (b) those saddles, carefully adjusted, kept a lot of horses very sound through work that's much harder than the work most of our horses do today.

I'm going to quote from a small book that's in front of me now. It's the fourth edition of "An Officer's Notes" by Captain R.M. Parker (U.S. Cavalry), published in 1917 (and costing two dollars).

*** Fitting The Saddle

There are six axioms in saddle fitting:

(a) The withers must not be pinched or pressed upon (b) The central line of the back must have no pressure put upon it (c) The shoulder blades must have full and unhampered movement (d) The loins must not carry weight (e) The weight must be put upon the ribs through the medium of the muscles covering them (f) The weight must be evenly distributed over a surface which extends from the play of the shoulders to the last true rib. ***

There follow several pages of text detailing exactly how saddles should be placed on the horse's back, how to determine and adjust the fit. There is also a reminder that any given arrangement will fit a horse only as long as the horse is in the same condition as it was when the saddle was fitted to the horse, and that adjustments will need to be made as the horse's shape changes through conditioning.

So I think you'll agree that those "old Cavalry guys" knew very well what they were doing, and why they were doing it. I wish that more people today knew as much! If today's riders would pay attention to, and FOLLOW, those six axioms, today's horses would be much happier and more comfortable.


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