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mountains June 3In September 1981 I rode into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness on a horse named Lucky. I’d hired onto an an outfit whose area had familiar names to me: Magruder, Paradise, White Cap Creek, Cooper’s Flat, Paloma Creek. My dad had spoken often about these places, about the men, the mountains, mules and elk. And now it was my turn to see these places that seemed larger than life in my imagination. Real life turned out to be even bigger than I had imagined. Maybe it was because it was no longer imagined…it was real. “The Selway” was huge, remote, vertical, tough, and utterly beautiful…and living in it as we did, was not for the faint-of-heart. This Selway experience was inaccessible to most folks. It’s wildness was out of reach of the masses, and riding into it horseback gave it a magnified quality. The Selway is still that way today.

I rode in there young, green, and awestruck on a broom-tailed, eye-glazed Appaloosa. Did I mention his name was Lucky?

A doubled and stitched back cinch

A doubled and stitched back cinch

Dale Harwood once quipped that the purpose of the back billets on a saddle was to keep the back cinch from falling on the ground. I’m thinking he may be on to something. Many times over the last thirty years I’ve heard folks say that they need a back cinch in order to help keep their saddle in place while riding in the mountains. Nowadays I recommend that if they insist on adding equipment to their saddle for this purpose, they’d be better off adding a britchen (or crupper) and a breast collar. Most folks ride with daylight between the back cinch and the horse’s belly…hardly a formula for holding the saddle in place!

1942 Hamley Wade centerfire saddle.

1942 Hamley Wade centerfire saddle.

A friend recently gave me a reprint of the 1942 Hamley catalog. I love studying these old catalogs for ideas and a different perspective on things. There are 54 saddles featured, 42 of which are single rigged. All of the fancier saddles pictured are double rigged. Almost all the single rigged saddles pictured are 3/4 or center fire position. Certainly some things have changed since 1942, not the least of which would be horse conformation.

The vast majority of the saddles I make are a 7/8ths rigging position…all of them double rigged. Many folks in Texas and the southwest ride full double rigged saddles, moving the rigging position to full certainly makes a case for having a back cinch. Roping heavy cattle with a 7/8ths or full rigged saddle can be asking for trouble especially if you face what you’ve roped. I can remember just such an occasion when I wished I’d left my back cinch on.

Daylight above my back cinch. I've just climbed 2000 vertical feet and back down with a loose back cinch.

Daylight above my back cinch. I’ve just climbed 2000 vertical feet and back down with a loose back cinch.

Unless you’re a roper (arena or outside) the billets on your saddle are likely there mostly to keep the back cinch from falling off. They add several pounds of weight and serve little purpose. When ordering a saddle though, it is a good idea to have it double rigged just in case you feel you need a back cinch at some point in the future. The billets and/or the back cinch can always be taken off in order to eliminate equipment and weight.