Tools for Making Sure Your Saddle Doesn't Slip

Mountain horses ready to go on the trail - wearing breast collars and back cinches.
Mountain horses ready to go on the trail - wearing breast collars and back cinches. | Source

Saddle Security

There are few things a rider dreads more than the saddle slipping. Although this can be caused by a loose girth or cinch, there are plenty of other reasons.

The horse's conformation can contribute. Ponies and draft horses with low withers often have the saddle slip sideways, especially when mounting. Many mules have narrow shoulders that tend to cause the saddle to drift forward.

Riding in rough terrain can also cause saddle motion even if your cinch is perfectly tight.

Because of this, a number of devices have been created to help prevent a saddle from slipping.

The Hunting Breastplate

The breastplate is sometimes called a hunting breastplate or English breastplate because it is most often seen in the hunt field. Breastplates are also a very common piece of equipment for the cross country phase of eventing and are sometimes seen in the jumper ring.

The primary purpose of a breastplate is to prevent the saddle from slipping either sideways or backwards, usually when jumping.

The standard three point breastplate consists of a strap around the horse's neck, a strap that runs to the girth between the legs and two straps that hook on to the D-rings on the front of the saddle.

Some people prefer a five point breastplate, which has extra straps that run from the neck strap to the front girth straps above where the girth is attached.

Breastplates often come with a running martingale attachment (rarely, they may come with a standing martingale attachment, but as these are not considered suitable to jump in, this is unusual).

They are normally leather, but can also be made of synthetic material.

The Breastgirth

The breastgirth is used both by English and western riders.

It is a thick strap that runs around the horse's chest, secured to the girth. Some designs have a second strap that runs over the shoulders and prevents it from slipping up and down.

In the English field, breastgirths are seen in hunters and jumpers. Some people believe they give the horse more freedom of movement than a full breastplate.

Western types call this device a breast collar, and generally secure it to the top of the fenders, but it is essentially the same thing and serves the same purpose. It's seen on rodeo horses and when trail riding in difficult terrain.

The Back Cinch

The back cinch or rear cinch is seen exclusively on western horses. It is used on working horses to keep the saddle from drifting forward or digging into the withers.

It is also sometimes seen for trail riding in rough terrain. Often both a breast collar and a back cinch are used simultaneously for extra security.

Many riders recommend not using a back cinch for casual riding or other situations where you don't need it as it is easy to fit badly. A back cinch that is too tight is uncomfortable. One that is too loose is likely to drift back and turn into a bucking strap - not a good place to end up.

A back cinch should always be used with a strap between it and the main cinch, on both sides, to help prevent this from happening.

The Crupper

A crupper is also used to prevent a saddle from sliding forward (it is also an essential part of harness). The crupper is secured to the D-rings on the back of the saddle, and then forms a loop that runs under the horse's tail.

As the area under the horse's tail is sensitive, cruppers should always be either made of leather or well padded. Plain nylon should not be used. (Some horses simply will not tolerate a crupper). The crupper should never be fitted too short. It should never have a pulling or lifting effect on the horse's tail.

Saddle mules at the Grand Canyon rim - note the breeching (but no breast collar...we were only going downhill that day).
Saddle mules at the Grand Canyon rim - note the breeching (but no breast collar...we were only going downhill that day). | Source

Britching or Breeching

Breeching is seldom seen on riding horses, although it might be seen when riding in mountains and extreme terrain.

However, it is commonly used on saddle mules, who tend to have very narrow shoulders (for this reason mule saddles fit a little differently from horse saddles). It is always used on pack mules.

Breeching consists of a strap that goes around the horse's hindquarters, under the tail, and several straps over the rump, secured to the back of the saddle with a strap along the spine. The hindquarter strap is secured to the cinch on both sides.

It is often used with a breastcollar as well.

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