A western saddle (also used in western movies) is designed for comfort when a rider has to go on horseback for long hours. It is basically used for western riding, adopted from the saddles of vaqueros, those early horse and cattle trainers and handlers from Mexico. The western saddle is a working saddle, providing security for the rider and more control of the horse, especially when the rider has a lasso in one hand while handling cattle. It comes in different variations made for specific uses.
A cinch, a term common in Western US is also called a girth, which is used in English and Australian saddles. It is used to keep the saddle in place. It is a wide piece of strapping material, usually made of rawhide that goes around the belly of a horse. It is tied and secured to the other side of the saddle by a wide leather strap called a latigo.
Keeping the saddle and you on the horse depends on how you cinch your western saddle. Below are tips on how to do just that.
- Place the saddle on the horse. The cinch should be hanging down on the right side of the horse. The correct side to mount a horse is on the left side and this is also where the cinching and tying should be done.
- For easier cinching, drape the left stirrup over the saddle horn to allow you to move without it getting in the way.
- The end of the cinch is attached to a wide leather strap or latigo. This acts like a belt that can be tightened, either with a buckle tongue pushed through a hole on the latigo secured to a D-ring or secured with a latigo knot. This knot that is like a half-hitch knot is how the cowboys of old used to cinch their saddles. There are two cinches, one in front and one at the back.
- Pull the cinch from the right side of the horse, around its belly towards you. You should be standing on the left side of the horse. Make sure that the cinch is not twisted. Pull the end of the latigo through the ring attached to the end of the cinch. The end should come out towards you. Pull the cinch close to the horse’s belly, pull up any slack but do not tighten it yet.
- Pull the latigo up and insert it on the top ring, usually a D-ring attached up the side of the saddle. Push the latigo through the ring towards the horse side and bring it down and through again to the ring on the cinch. The latigo end should again come out towards you. You may have to do this a couple of times if the latigo is quite long.
- Newer versions of the latigo have several holes just like a belt, so you can buckle it to a required tension. However, you can still fasten the cinch securely by knotting the latigo the old-fashioned way. With enough length left on the latigo after you have made a couple of passes through the rings, insert the end of the latigo one more time through the top ring, towards the side of the horse. Pull the end to the left and out then bring it across to wrap around the strap and through the top ring again from behind before threading the end through the loop that you have formed and pull it tight. It is just like knotting a neck tie.
- Adjust the tightness of the front cinch to a snug fit and check if the western saddle will come loose when moved from left to right. Fasten the back cinch when you are satisfied with the tightness of the front cinch. You may have to adjust the cinch when you have been going around for some time.
Check the tightness of the cinch. It should be tight enough to prevent the western saddle from slipping to the side but not too tight that it will bind and restrict the horse in any way. A very tight cinch will prevent the horse from breathing properly.