Which Western Cinch Can You Use for Your Horse?
In a Western saddle, you can use two cinches. There's a front cinch, which we all know and always need, and there's a back cinch. In this article, we'll refer to the front cinch as cinch.
The cinch has been used for almost 3000 years. It appeared around 700 BC in the Middle East when Assyrian warriors added straps to their decorative saddlecloths.
Like most products, chinches are available in various materials. A good cinch should have pressure-distributing, shock-absorbing, moisture-wicking, and breathable properties.
The three most common material types for Western cinches are artificial fleece, various types of synthetic cinches, and natural materials, all of which have their pros and cons.
- Artificial Fleece: Feels soft against the skin but requires regular maintenance. If not cared for daily, it can become hard. It may slip faster than other materials but is good at pressure distribution and shock absorption.
- Synthetic: Often made of neoprene, easy to clean, pressure-distributing, and shock-absorbing. However, they are known to crack over time. Many horses may develop skin irritations because neoprene can become very hot, as it is not moisture-wicking and breathable. Nowadays, there are various neoprene chinches with special patterns or air holes mimicking the benefits of a natural cinch.
- Natural Materials: The most common are wool (also available in fleece and felt form), mohair (from Angora goats), and alpaca (from alpacas). These materials are the softest for the horse and therefore very comfortable against its skin. They are pressure-distributing, shock-absorbing, moisture-wicking, and breathable.
Wool and felt are versatile in different climates and also provide protection behind the buckle against direct contact with the horse. However, if wool is not well-maintained, it can clump, making it uncomfortable and losing its positive properties. Mohair and alpaca are used in woven chinches and do not have the clumping risk. These materials breathe and dry better than artificial and wool products, making them easier to maintain as they do not retain moisture.
Old cowboys and traditional Vaqueros wove their cinchas from horsehair. It was effective and robust. Similarly, nowadays, mohair and alpaca are used for weaving cinches. These cinches offer the best expansion for your horse's breathability among all materials. Alpaca chinches are softer than mohair chinches, making them suitable for very sensitive horses. Mohair cinches, on the other hand, can absorb more water than alpaca chinches and are generally easier to clean. Over time, these chinches will collect a layer of the horse's own hair, providing extra comfort. However, these string chinches may easily gather twigs and brambles during an outdoor ride.
All chinches should be cleaned regularly for maintenance. Accumulated sweat, hair, mud, and moisture damage the girth over time and expose your horse to skin issues and discomfort. Additionally, you cannot see any damages to your cinch under the dirt. Always let your cinch fully dry before storing it.
- Artificial Fleece: This can be occasionally machine washed if brushed in between uses. Brush off dirt and grease daily before use to keep the fleece airy. Do not brush after use because it can push dirt into the cinch if it's not fully dry. Good rinsing after a sweaty ride can be done daily, but the cinch is typically not dry for the next ride in the Netherlands.
- Natural Materials: Remove the wool liner from the cinch and wash it regularly in a hand wash with wool detergent. Let it dry thoroughly and brush before use. Daily cleaning before use, like artificial fleece, is essential. Clumped wool is challenging to restore. Ideally, purchase a second liner to alternate during drying. For woven chinches of mohair or alpaca, daily cleaning before use is sufficient to remove sweat. Traditionally, cowboys left horsehair on the cinch for added comfort. A yearly hand wash with wool detergent should be enough. Since these chinches do not have separate liners, the buckles can damage your washing machine.
- Neoprene: Easy to clean; just rinse after use, and you're done. It dries quickly, making it the easiest to maintain. Occasionally spraying with a disinfectant and you're good to go.
It's important to remember that the material of your cinch also determines which material you use for your latigo and off billet. Your horse needs some flexibility from the cinch when moving and breathing. To achieve that flexibility or "give" as your horse moves, you must use a combination of cinch and latigo that promotes this. Leather is a natural fiber that "gives," so leather latigos slightly expand and move with the horse during riding. This provides a stable, secure fit while remaining comfortable for your horse. A rule of thumb is that a synthetic cinch should always have a leather latigo and off billet, so the whole setup gives enough to be comfortable for the horse. If you want to use a nylon latigo and off billet, make sure your cinch itself gives enough to compensate for the stiffness of the nylon. Therefore, nylon latigos and off billets are best used with a cinch made of alpaca or mohair.
A well-maintained cinch lasts a long time. Visible frays or tears or damaged hardware always mean it's time for a replacement. Regularly check your cinch for general wear and tear. Damage usually occurs due to poor maintenance or spur use on the cinch area. Your cinch is one of the most crucial components you use when riding, so it's wise to use a cinch with stainless steel hardware. Stainless steel hardware lasts long, does not rust, and does not corrode, all of which are essential for the lifespan of your cinch. It may seem expensive to replace your cinch that looks "good," but the money saved is not worth the safety risk. If the cinch breaks during a ride and injures you or your horse, you'll wish you had replaced it earlier. This also applies to latigos and off billets. Check them regularly to ensure they are in good condition.
To determine the size of your cinch, it's best if you can try different sizes. Perhaps there are some riders at the stable who will let you try a cinch. During our saddle fitting consultations, we always have fitting cinch. Since cinches for Western saddles usually come from America, the sizes are in inches. They are measured in steps of 2 inches. The most common sizes are 26-28-30-32-34 and 36 inches. For ponies and warm-blooded horses, smaller and larger sizes are also available.
The rule of thumb is that from the rigging dees, where the off billet and the latigo are attached, to the top of the cinch, you should have about 20 cm (8 inches) of space. However, this only applies to saddles without dropped rigging; most Wade-type saddles have dropped rigging. In that case, it's better to stick to 13-15 cm (5-6 inches). If you can't try cinches, you can saddle the horse with the pad you normally use and attach a string to both rings. Make sure the string is really in the girth position and have someone else hold the saddle for safety. Subtract 40 cm (2 x 20) from the length of the total string. The remaining cm can be converted to inches.
Of course, this is a guideline. Also, pay attention to the following points:
- The buckle should sit well above the elbow. You can feel this bone well. Photo elbow bone!
- The end of the cinch should be on the flat part of the horse's side.
- It is always important to ensure that the cinch lies flat against the horse's body and has no wrinkles or folds, and that the horse's skin is not folded or pinched anywhere!
The last thing to consider when choosing a cinch, of any type, is the width of the cinch compared to where the saddle has the rigging position. This determines where the cinch will hang. The descriptions below are a general guideline - some saddle makers have their own specific place for rigging, which may not exactly fit into one of these categories.
A full position saddle places the cinch directly under the pommel.
A 7/8 rigged saddle places the cinch slightly further back, or 7/8 of the distance between the pommel and the cantle.
A ¾ rigged saddle is even further back - the cinch sits at ¾ of the distance between the pommel and the cantle.
The further forward the cinch point is, the more attention you need to pay to whether the cinch fits in the horse's elbow zone, regardless of the type of cinch. An 8" wide roper cinch can interfere with a horse ridden in a full-position saddle just because it is too wide. The same cinch may work fine with a 7/8 or ¾ rigged saddle for the same horse because the cinch point is further back, literally allowing space for the wider cinch.
It should not be necessary to tighten your cinch super tight, and your saddle should be well-balanced and secure without doing so. Tightening the cinch too much is uncomfortable for your horse in the buckle/latigo area and puts unnecessary pressure on breathing. Tightening it excessively does not fix your own imbalance and/or the horse's crookedness. Find your solution in training and instruction. Our experience is that a shorter cinch helps more with the sliding from left to right of the saddle than a longer cinch. The disadvantage is that if your cinch is too short, the buckle can quickly come into the armpit area, which does not always cause damage to the outside but dissections show that it also causes damage to the inside.
One thing is certain: there are many variables for each individual case. Unfortunately, there is no standard that works for every horse and every saddle combination. Listen to your horse - if it is not performing as usual or behaves uncomfortably even though the saddle fits well, look again at the cinch.
The style of the cinch depends on your goal, personal preference, and, of course, the best fit for your horse.
- Straight: This is the most common style and suitable for almost all horses. You don't risk the cinch sitting crooked behind the front legs or in the armpits. Ideal for full position and 7/8 rigged saddles.
- Roper: This style is traditionally known for its use on the ranch in situations where a lasso is tied to the horn of the saddle with a cow at the end. The wider shape helps absorb and distribute pressure over a larger surface while keeping the saddle in place. The roper style is designed to be more comfortable for the horse and has become very popular for trail rides for the same purpose of distributing pressure and safely preventing the saddle from sliding forward or backward on terrains with lots of hills. It also provides more security for horses with a low wither, preventing the saddle from sliding too quickly. Due to the cinch being wider behind the front legs, this does not always work with a full-position saddle.
- Anatomical: This style tapers or cuts back near the horse's armpits, helping prevent irritation and sores in the armpit area. For many horses, this is a solution if they quickly suffer from irritation in the armpit area, but also if your horse has difficulty in lateral movements or spinning, anatomical cinches provide more space for that. Usually does not work with a ¾ rigging; these saddles will tend to slide forward.
The back cinch
Every cinch has two smaller D-rings on each side of the center of the cinch. The front D-ring is for attaching any auxiliary reins or breast collar. The D-rings should always be in the center so that the pressure from the cinch is evenly distributed on both sides. The rear-facing D-ring is for your back cinch hobble, a short leather attachment for the back cinch. A cinch hobble keeps the back cinch in place, preventing it from sliding backward into sensitive areas such as the flank. This helps avoid turning your horse into a bucking horse.
Back cinches are not the same as the cinches used at the front of your saddle. A back cinch is usually entirely made of leather with two buckles attached to the so-called flank billets.
In general, a back cinch is not always necessary on a Western saddle. However, there are several good reasons to use a back cinch to improve stability and, consequently, safety.
- When riding on rough terrain - steep hills and uneven ground - a rider may notice that their position in the saddle is sometimes compromised. A back cinch can help prevent the saddle from slipping or lifting in these situations.
- If you have a horse with an unusual build, the back cinch can help stabilize a well-fitting saddle by securing it from both the front and the back.
- If you don't want your saddle to rattle when unloaded. Most Western saddles are built on long trees, approximately 25 inches (compared to 18 to 20 inches for dressage saddles). The advantage is that a Western saddle distributes weight over a larger area of the horse's back. However, the horse's build or the placement of the rigging (where the cinch is attached) may sometimes lead to instability at the back of the saddle. This can be observed during groundwork or lunging a horse with a Western saddle, where you may see the back of the saddle moving up and down on the horse's back during trot or canter. Adding a back cinch eliminates this problem (although some may not consider it a significant issue).
- The most common reason for the existence and use of a back cinch is cattle roping. It's not surprising that when you throw the loop of a lasso over a moving cow and then wrap the end of the lasso around the horn of the saddle, there is strong tension on the saddle when the rope is tight. The back cinch helps maintain the position of the saddle by preventing the back from rising when tying a cow. This prevents you from being thrown out of the saddle as a rider, but more importantly, it prevents the front of the saddle from digging into your horse's shoulders.
However, these benefits only apply when the back cinch is used correctly.
You should be able to fit at least two fingers between your horse and the back cinch when the rider is not sitting. Once the rider is sitting and the horse tightens its abdominal muscles while riding, the back cinch will appear significantly looser - so keep that in mind.
If the back cinch is secured in this way, tight but not uncomfortably so, it helps stabilize the back of the saddle (both horizontally and vertically) during riding. This facilitates a balanced, comfortable fit of the saddle in motion from the horse's perspective. So, not too tight, but not loose either, as a loose back cinch is a potential danger for a horse to get entangled with a hind leg/hoof. For example, if your horse kicks at a fly on its belly and turns it into a three-legged monster! (Some knowledgeable people refer to dangling back cinches as "fly hobbles").
Almost all Western saddles have rear D-rings at the back, but some cheaper saddles have them only for appearance and not for function. If you plan to use a back cinch, thoroughly examine how these rear D-rings with the flank billets attached to your saddle are secured. If your saddle has no D-rings, the flank billets are attached to the skirt leather instead. If you cannot see or feel any metal or reinforcement, except for the leather itself, you should assume that the attachment for the flank billets is for appearance only, and they may not withstand the force of a back cinch.
Important: NEVER loosen the cinch before the back cinch is loosened. Ensure that the back cinch is completely out of the buckle and does not remain hooked on a low hole.