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Western Saddle Rigging Demystified

Western Saddle Rigging Demystified
 by: William R. Savage
Explanations as to how to rig a western saddle often go into much more detail than is really needed by the recreational rider. Rigging is quite basic in concept although it should be noted that in installing the rigging the saddlemaker must be very careful and precise in doing it correctly. While the basic function of the rigging is to attach the saddle to the horse, this must be done correctly.
Ask a little kid (or someone who draws "stick pictures" like I do) to draw a horse with a saddle on it. The cinch will probably be depicted as dropping down from the center of the saddle and going around the middle of the horse's belly. This would seem natural and in fact the "old timey saddles" of the 19th century were essentially rigged this way. It's called Center Fire rigging and requires a rather wide cinch (6-8 inches) to keep the cinch in place.
The evolution of Rigging Design
Like so many other parts of a saddle, the rigging got to where it is today largely through evolution. Someone would change something that needed changing, experiment a bit, and come up with a new "design". Circumstances relating to the use of the saddle would often dictate the need for changes in the approach to the rigging.
With the advent of the saddle horn as an aid in roping, Center Fire rigging was found to have some disadvantages. Rope the calf and stop the horse and the saddle would tend to be pulled forward with the cantle perhaps rising. The answer to the problem was found in Full Rigging where the position of the cinch is directly below the fork or pommel rather than at the center of the seat. Tightening the cinch on a full-rigged saddle actually pulls the saddle forward slightly while also pulling it down so the saddle is pulled into the low part of the horses back. If you look closely at the full-rigged saddle you'll note that the cinch doesn't drop straight down but comes forward at a slight angle, going around the horse's sternum rather than the center of the belly.
Full rigging still had some disadvantages as a roping saddle and as a recreational saddle when traveling over rough terrain. The cantle would tend to rise when going downhill or roping a calf. Texas cowboys are credited with solving the problem by the addition of a billet or back cinch attached in a line below the cantle. Add the back cinch and you have Double Rigging, with a front cinch only you have Single Rigging.
Further refinements were made with either the performance of the horse or comfort of the rider in mind, or both. If your cinch is halfway between the cantle and the pommel you have Center Fire Rigging, if the cinch is under the pommel you have Full Rigging - but you know that already. What if the cinch is three quarters of the way from the cantle? The answer - a Three Quarters Rigged saddle - seven eights of the distance (i.e. about at the rear of the pommel - a Seven Eights Rigged saddle).
What about a saddle with a rear cinch only? I haven't seen any write-ups on that one although somewhere along the line someone may have experimented with the idea. They may not have lived to tell about it! In any event don't try it.
Knowledge is Power - Impress Your Friends
Armed with the above knowledge you can impress your friends with your knowledge of saddlery by taking them with you to the saddle shop and asking to see what they have in the way of a "seven-eights single rigged saddle" . You likely won't impress the shop owner since that's how the majority of saddles are rigged nowadays. Actually seven-eights with either single or double rigging are the most popular configurations.
You could also ask for a double rigged center fire saddle in which case the shop owner would likely roll his eyes and talk about you long after you've left. The reason - with center fire rigging a back cinch is so close to the front cinch that it serves no practical purpose.
Single or Double Rigging?
Double rigging adds stability which is an advantage if you're going to be riding in very rough couontry (ups and downs) much of the time. Otherwise, the back cinch is "just another piece of leather to worry about" according to some, and they prefer single rigging for that reason.
Rings and Clamps
There are several ways in which rigging is attached to the tree or the skirt. If you're buying a quality saddle I wouldn't worry too much about O-rings, D-rings, or plates. Sit in the saddle and see if it's comfortable and then decide if seven-eights or whatever is right for you.
Copyright © 2005 W. Savage. All Rights Reserved.

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