The Western Saddle: Cinch

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Cinch: The wide “belt” that attaches (by way of heavy leather straps) to either side of the western saddle and goes around the horse’s chest to hold the saddle in place.

horse cinch

horse saddle cinch strap

Cinch Materials: Most cinches are made of Mohair, Synthetics, or Neoprene. Each has its pros and cons.

The best materials transfer heat and sweat away from the horses’s skin. Cotton is good at absorbing water, but loses strength when wet. Mohair (usually the cinch of choice) actually gets stronger when it is wet, and mohair can absorb and “wick away” up to 3 times its weight in water. They are easy to clean and they will last a long time.

New Alpaca cinches are still being tried by many horse enthusiasts who have used mohair for years. They have similar attributes to Mohair with other advantages. The jury is out for some, but others swear by them. No more “stretch” than mohair, as good or better water-wicking capabilities. Softer and more comfortable? Alpaca fibers are softer, and they don’t have the “oil” from the goat’s hair that mohair retains. My next cinch will be an Alpaca cinch for this summer in Texas.

Nylon cinches are not desirable because they will not absorb any moisture or transfer any heat. When a horse is wearing a piece of equipment that allows his skin to become wet or hot, sores and galls will result.

Sheepskin covered cinches also seem to create a lot of heat and are very poor for pleasure riding or trail riding because they collect burrs and stickers. Real Sheepskin also attracts mice and rats who will chew it to pieces in a short time. Most inexpensive “sheepskin” covers are really synthetic and completely destroy any water and heat sink that is necessary to keep your horse cool.

Neoprene cinches are surrounded by controversy. Although they feel soft to the rider’s touch (perhaps accounting for their popularity), most neoprene equipment cannot breathe, creates heat and moisture, and causes chafing very quickly.

Cinch Measurement: Cinches come in different widths and lengths. Length is measured by the length from the outside of the ring on one end to the outside of the ring on the other end.

horse cinch measurement

A general rule of thumb is that the cinch should buckle about 12″ below the rigging plate, but more recent studies have shown that a shorter cinch with longer leather between the rigging plate and the buckle may be beneficial to give a horse more breathing room. It also reduces some of the bulk up under the saddle so that the rider can use leg cues more effectively.

Cinch Width is measured in strands or inches. Widths should vary according to the placement of the rigging. (see Saddle Rigging). If a cinch is too wide, it will interfere with your horse’s front elbows and rub sores in that area.

A saddle that is rigged in the FULL position usually takes about a 17 strand cinch. 7/8 rigging takes a 19-21 strand cinch. And 3/4 rigging takes a 21-27 strand cinch.(see Saddle Rigging).

Wide cinches such as the roper cinch pictured in the top illustration are useful for horses used to rope large cattle. However, it is another urban myth that they are any more comfortable for the usual pleasure horse. Unfortunately, they must be pulled tighter and can cause too much breathing labor, offsetting any advantage in pressure distribution. (In fact, they should not even be pulled tight on roping horses unless they are actually roping)

Cinch Placement: (see Saddle Rigging) Full rigging is the most forward position. It places the cinch under the pommel or swells of the saddle. It does not stabilize the rear of the saddle and would require a back cinch.
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Modern saddles usually use 7/8 or 3/4 rigging, placing the cinch a little forward of the center of the saddle but further back than full. Horses such as barrel horses require more agility and speed and usually use 3/4 rigging. However, most pleasure riding is done with 7/8 rigging (7/8 of the way from the cantle in back to the fork in front), which gives the rider a secure seat but closer to a horse’s center of balance.

Some saddle have a 3-way rigging plate allowing a cinch to be placed in any of the needed positions according to the riding that will be done. (see Saddle Rigging)

Horse Girth Measurement: The cinch will always sit at the point of your horse known as his “heart girth”. There is a small indention on the underside of the barrel of his chest between the withers and the elbows.

Although conventional practice has a cinch buckled high up on a horse’s side at about the height of the point of the shoulder (near the skirt), I have become convinced that the buckles of a cinch should be lower rather than higher on his side. About 3″-4″ above the elbow so that they do not interfere with his leg movement, but below the widest point of his chest. You can use a smaller cinch for this position, and it is more stable without having to be belted up so tight that he can’t expand his chest to breathe.

It also stays out of the way of your leg contact better.

Different horses have a different angle of girth. Friesians (pictured) have withers that are higher and an indention in their top line. That puts your tape a little more slanted. (of course, the saddle must have a high gullet in order not to sit down onto the high withers bone depending on the rigging.

If you use this principle, measure from 3″ above his elbow on one side, down under his belly and back up to 3″ above his elbow on the other. Use this measurement to decide the size cinch he needs. It will be smaller than you estimated using the “old wisdom”.

Cinch Attachment – Hardware: Cinches usually have D or O ring buckles that attach to the cinch leathers. When tightening the cinch, the leather is pulled through the buckle and then secured either with the tongue of the buckle or a cinch knot. A flat D ring is by far the best, as it is harder to distort under pressure. Cinches with roller buckles are significantly easier to tighten than regular buckles.

Brass and stainless steel rigging hardware is best as it resists corrosion and rust (both of which will degrade and rot the leather and cause the rigging straps to break). Poorly maintained rigging straps can be very dangerous, breaking and turning loose under pressure during your ride.

The center of a good cinch should also have two D rings stitched on either side at the center line. These are for attaching tie-downs, breast collars, and connecting straps and should also be made of stainless steel or brass.

Cinch Rigging Attachments: (see Saddle Rigging)

Over cinching is uncomfortable and even damaging to a horse. A too-tight cinch can restrict breathing, making your horse both uncomfortable as well as affecting his endurance. It is often caused by a poorly fitted saddle that slips or has too much padding under it to try to make it fit better. (see Saddle Fit see Saddle Pads)

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