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Ch. 9: Horse Outfits

We have now finished the detailing of your wear and food. There remains still the problem of how you and it are to be transported. You may travel through the wilderness by land or by water. In the former case you will either go afoot or on horseback; in the latter you will use a canoe. Let us now consider in detail the equipments necessary for these different sorts of travel.



Sawbuck Saddle.


You will find the Mexican or cowboy saddle the only really handy riding saddle. I am fully aware of the merits of the McClellan and army saddles, but they lack what seems to me one absolute essential, and that is the pommel or horn. By wrapping your rope about the latter you can lead reluctant horses, pull firewood to camp, extract bogged animals, and rope shy stock. Without it you are practically helpless in such circumstances. The only advantage claimed for the army saddle is its lightness. The difference in weight between it and the cowboy saddle need not be so marked as is ordinarily the case. A stock saddle, used daily in roping heavy cows, weighs quite properly from thirty-five to fifty pounds. The same saddle, of lighter leather throughout, made by a conscientious man, need weigh but twenty-five or thirty, and will still be strong and durable enough for all ordinary use. My own weighs but twenty-five pounds, and has seen some very hard service.



Riding Saddle.


The stirrup leathers are best double, and should be laced, never buckled. In fact the logic of a wilderness saddle should be that it can be mended in any part with thongs. The stirrups themselves should have light hood tapaderos, or coverings. They will help in tearing through brush, will protect your toes, and will keep your feet dry in case of rain. I prefer the round rather than the square skirts.

In a cow country you will hear many and heated discussions over the relative merits of the single broad cinch crossing rather far back; and the double cinches, one just behind the shoulder and the other on the curve of the belly. The double cinch is universally used by Wyoming and Arizona cowmen; and the "center fire" by Californians and Mexicans—and both with equally heated partisanship. Certainly as it would be difficult to say which are the better horsemen, so it would be unwise to attempt here a dogmatic settlement of the controversy.



Proper Way of Arranging Straps on Holster and Saddle.


For ordinary mountain travel, however, I think there can be no doubt that the double cinch is the better. It is less likely to slip forward or back on steep hills; it need not be so tightly cinched as the "center fire," and can be adjusted, according to which you draw the tighter, for up or down hill. The front cinch should be made of hair. I have found that the usual cord cinches are apt to wear sores just back of the shoulder. Webbing makes a good back cinch. The handiest rig for attaching them is that used by the Texan and Wyoming cowmen. It is a heavy oiled latigo strap, punched with buckle holes, passing through a cinch ring supplied with a large buckle tongue. You can reach over and pull it up a hole or so without dismounting. It differs from an ordinary buckle only in that, in case the rig breaks, the strap can still be fastened like an ordinary latigo in the diamond knot.

On the right-hand side of your pommel will be a strap and buckle for your riata. A pair of detachable leather saddle bags are handy. The saddle blanket should be thick and of first quality; and should be surmounted by a "corona" to prevent wrinkling under the slight movement of the saddle.

A heavy quirt is indispensable, both for your own mount, if he prove refractory, but also for the persuasion of the pack horse.

When with a large outfit, however, I always carry a pea shooter or sling shot. With it a man can spot a straying animal at considerable distance, generally much to the truant's astonishment. After a little it will rarely be necessary to shoot; a mere snapping of the rubbers will bring every horse into line.

The handiest and best rig for a riding bridle can be made out of an ordinary halter. Have your harness maker fasten a snap hook to either side and just above the corners of the horse's mouth. When you start in the morning you snap your bit and reins to the hooks. When you arrive in the evening you simply unsnap the bit, and leave the halter on.

Rope and spurs will be necessary. I prefer the Mexican grass rope with a brass honda to the rawhide riata, because I am used to it. I once used a linen rope with weighted honda that was soft and threw well. The spurs will be of good steel, of the cowboy pattern, with blunt rowels. The smaller spurs are not so easy to reach a small horse with, and are apt to overdo the matter when they do. The wide spur leathers are to protect the boot from chafing on the stirrups.

There remains only your rifle to attend to. The usual scabbard is invariably slung too far forward. I always move the sling strap as near the mouth of the scabbard as it will go. The other sling strap I detach from the scabbard and hang loopwise from the back latigo-ring. Then I thrust the muzzle of the scabbarded rifle between the stirrup leathers and through this loop, hang the forward sling strap over the pommel—and there I am! The advantage is that I can remove rifle and scabbard without unbuckling any straps. The gun should hang on the left side of the horse so that after dismounting you need not walk around him to get it. A little experiment will show you how near the horizontal you can sling it without danger of its jarring out.

So much for your own riding horse. The pack outfit consists of the pack saddle, with the apparatus to keep it firm; its padding; the kyacks, or alforjas—sacks to sling on either side; and the lash rope and cinch with which to throw the hitches.

The almost invariable type of pack saddle is the sawbuck. If it is bought with especial reference to the animal it is to be used on, it is undoubtedly the best. But nothing will more quickly gouge a hole in a horse's back than a saddle too narrow or too wide for his especial anatomy. A saddle of this sort bolted together can be taken apart for easier transportation by baggage or express.

Another and very good type of pack rig is that made from an old riding saddle. The stirrup rigging is removed, and an upright spike bolted strongly to the cantle. The loops of the kyacks are to be hung over the horn and this spike. Such a saddle is apt to be easy on a horse's back, but is after all merely a make-shift for a properly constructed sawbuck.



Under Side of Pack Saddles.


I shall only mention the aparejos. This rig is used for freighting boxes and odd-shaped bundles. It is practically nothing but a heavy pad, and is used without kyacks. You will probably never be called upon to use it; but in another chapter I will describe one "sling" in order that you may be forearmed against contingencies.

We will assume that you are possessed of a good sawbuck saddle of the right size for your pack animal. It will have the double cinch rig. To the under surfaces tack firmly two ordinary collar-pads by way of softening. Beneath them you will use two blankets, each as heavy as the one you place under your riding saddle. This abundance is necessary because a pack "rides dead"—that is, does not favor the horse as does a living rider. By way of warning, however, too much is almost as bad as too little.

The almost universal saddle rigging in use the West over is a breast strap of webbing fastened at the forward points of the saddle, and a breech strap fastened to the back points of the saddle, with guy lines running from the top to prevent its falling too far down the horse's legs. This, with the double cinch, works fairly well. Its main trouble is that the breech strap is apt to work up under the horse's tail, and the breast strap is likely to shut off his wind at the throat.

Mr. Ernest Britten, a mountaineer in the Sierras, has, however, invented a rig which in the nicety of its compensations, and the accuracy of its adjustments is perfection. Every one becomes a convert, and hastens to alter his own outfit.



Mr. Ernest Britten's Pack Rig.


The breasting is a strap (a) running from the point of the saddle to a padded ring in the middle of the chest. Thence another strap (b) runs to the point of the saddle on the other side, where it buckles. A third strap (c) in the shape of a loop goes between the fore legs and around the front cinch.

The breeching is somewhat more complicated. I think, however, with a few rivets, straps, and buckles you will be able to alter your own saddle in half an hour.



Ordinary and Inferior Pack Rig Usually Employed.


The back cinch you remove. A short strap (d), riveted to the middle of the front cinch, passes back six inches to a ring (e). This ring will rest on the middle of the belly. From the ring two other straps (ff) ascend diagonally to the buckles (g) in the ends of the breeching. From the ends of the breeching other straps (h) attach to what would be the back cinch ring (k). That constitutes the breeching rig. It is held up by a long strap (m) passing from one side to the other over the horse's rump through a ring on top. The ring is attached to the saddle by a short strap (n).



Nearing a crest and in sight of game.


Such a rig prevents the breeching from riding up or dropping down; it gives the horse all his wind going up hill, but holds firmly going down; when one part loosens, the other tightens; and the saddle cinch, except to keep the saddle from turning, is practically useless and can be left comparatively loose. I cannot too strongly recommend you, both for your horse's comfort and your own, to adopt this rigging.

The kyacks, as I have said, are two sacks to be slung one on each side of the horse. They are provided with loops by which to hang them over the sawbucks of the saddle, and a long strap passes from the outside of one across the saddle to a buckle on the outside of the other.

Undoubtedly the best are those made of rawhide. They weigh very little, will stand all sorts of hard usage, hold the pack rope well, are so stiff that they well protect the contents, and are so hard that miscellaneous sharp-cornered utensils may be packed in them without fear of injury either to them or the animal. They are made by lacing wet hides, hair out, neatly and squarely over one of the wooden boxes built to pack two five gallon oil cans. A round hardwood stick is sewn along the top on one side—to this the sling straps are to be attached. After the hide has dried hard, the wooden box is removed.

Only one possible objection can be urged against rawhide kyacks; if you are traveling much by railroad, they are exceedingly awkward to ship. For that purpose they are better made of canvas.

Many canvas kyacks are on the market, and most of them are worthless. It is astonishing how many knocks they are called on to receive and how soon the abrasion of rocks and trees will begin to wear them through. Avoid those made of light material. Avoid also those made in imitation of the rawhide with a stick along the top of one side to take the sling straps. In no time the ends of that stick will punch through. The best sort are constructed of OO canvas. The top is made of a half-inch rope sewn firmly to the hem all around. The sling straps are long, and riveted firmly. The ends are reinforced with leather. Such kyacks will give you good service and last you a long time. When you wish to express them, you pack your saddle and saddle blankets in one, telescope the other over it, and tie up the bundle with the lash rope. The lash rope is important, for you will have to handle it much, and a three months' trip with a poor one would lose you your immortal soul. Most articles on the subject advise thirty-three feet. That is long enough for the diamond hitch and for other hitches with a very small top pack, but it will not do for many valuable hitches on a bulky pack. Forty feet is nearer the ticket. The best is a manila half inch or five-eighth inch. If you boil it before starting out, you will find it soft to handle. The boiling does not impair its strength. Parenthetically: do not become over-enthusiastic and boil your riata, or you will make it aggravatingly kinky. Cotton rope is all right, but apt to be stiff. I once used a linen rope; it proved to be soft, strong, and held well, but I have never been able to find another.



Natural Cinch Hook of Oak.


The cinch hook sold with the outfit is sawn into shape and strengthened with a bolt. If you will go out into the nearest oak grove, however, you can cut yourself a natural hook which will last longer and hold much better. The illustration shows the method of attaching such a hook.

So you have your horses ready for their burdens. Picket ropes should be of half-inch rope and about 50 feet long. The bell for the bell horse should be a loud one, with distinctive note not easily blended with natural sounds, and attached to a broad strap with safety buckle.

Hobbles are of two patterns. Both consist of heavy leather straps to buckle around either front leg and connected by two links and a swivel. In one the strap passes first through the ring to which the links are attached, and then to the buckle. The other buckles first, and then the end is carried through the ring. You will find the first mentioned a decided nuisance, especially on a wet or frosty morning, for the leather tends to atrophy in a certain position from which numbed fingers have more than a little difficulty in dislodging it. The latter, however, are comparatively easy to undo.



Hobbles should be lined. I have experimented with various materials, including the much lauded sheepskin with the wool on. The latter when wet chafes as much as raw leather, and when frozen is about as valuable as a wood rasp. The best lining is a piece of soft wash leather at least two inches wider than the hobble straps.

With most horses it is sufficient to strap a pair of these around the forelegs and above the fetlocks. A gentle animal can be trusted with them fastened below.

But many horses by dint of practice or plain native cussedness can hop along with hobbles nearly as fast as they could foot-free, and a lot too fast for you to catch them single handed. Such an animal is an unmitigated bother. Of course if there is good staking you can picket him out; but quite likely he is unused to the picket rope, or the feed is scant.

In that case it may be that side lines—which are simply hobbles by which a hind foot and a fore foot are shackled—may work. I have had pretty good success by fastening a short heavy chain to one fore leg. As long as the animal fed quietly, he was all right, but an attempt at galloping or trotting swung the chain sufficiently to rap him sharply across the shins.

Very good hobbles can be made from a single strand unraveled from a large rope, doubled once to make a loop for one leg, twisted strongly, the two ends brought around the other leg and then thrust through the fibers. This is the sort used generally by cowboys. They are soft and easily carried, but soon wear out.

Stewart Edward White

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