Hunter and jumper riders have appreciated the functional workmanship of the Balding-type girth for years. Its unique woven style combines strength while allowing the extra elbow room needed for athletic horses and for those who might otherwise get rubbed. The Balding style has been slow to non-existent with Western riders.
As we saw in our June and July 1998 stories on Western cinches, most are straight or roper (wider in the center). A few are contoured in a design along the lines of the Balding to help reduce chafing, which we like. The Balding cinch we tried combines good craftsmanship, good leather, and stainless hardware in a non-chafing leather design.
Any cinch may rub in certain situations. Likely rub candidates include thin-skinned or fat horses and horses soft from lack of condition. Loose skin behind the elbow — particularly extra loose skin — is vulnerable. Conformation that puts the withers lower than the haunches, particularly if the withers lack definition, predisposes the saddle to ride forward and thus the cinch comes up behind the elbows.
Horses built with the base of the withers (where the saddle will settle) forward or their front legs placed more rearward — and, particularly, those with both conditions — are prime candidates. A bulging and/or fat barrel coupled with too little cinch room places the cinch too close to the horse’s elbow.
Placing the saddle too far forward can also cause cinch rubs. Riders who wish to take advantage of the lateral stability afforded by the withers may place the saddle far enough forward that the cinch sits right behind the elbows. This placement makes the cinch more likely to interfere with the skin behind the elbows.
Additionally, a saddle placed too far forward will cover the upper, rear-most part of the scapula — this restricts shoulder movement and can make the horse sore in the shoulders. This saddle placement is more common than one would think, and stepping away to look or feeling for the shoulder motion as the horse is led forward can help in comfortable placement. If the saddle tends to move laterally, a breast collar (like an English breastplate) can be helpful.
Once a horse has gotten rubbed, he may develop thickened scar tissue, which is more likely to get in the way and to be rubbed again. Rubs can often be prevented, and since they are likely to re-occur, this is wise. Thin-skinned horses may need a padded or fleece-covered cinch.
Cleanliness is vital since dirt and salt from previous rides can be abrasive. Fat and out-of-condition horses may be ponied, longed, or worked in the round pen until they have lost some of their fat and gained muscle. Their muscles, tendons, and bones will also be out of condition, so any conditioning program should begin slowly and progress in a systematic fashion as condition is gained. Then, by gradually increasing the length and athletic challenge of the rides, the skin can be conditioned to be tougher and resist rubs.
In extreme cases, or when the terrain includes long downhill stretches, a crupper may be used. Cruppers must be kept clean where they fit under the tail, and the tail hairs must be kept smoothed back away from the crupper to avoid rubs under the tail. Any time a crupper is introduced, it’s wise to do so without a rider at first.
Working the horse on a long lead or a longe line at first will allow him to become comfortable with the unaccustomed pressure and let the handler encourage him to move forward rather than buck if that’s his reaction. Early handling that includes a soft rope under the tail is helpful.
If a horse is remotely likely to rub, the loose skin behind the elbows can easily be pulled forward out of the way. After cinching and before mounting, pick up each front foot in turn as if to clean the hoof.
Move the inside hand behind the horse’s knee and step backward toward his head, taking the foreleg with you until the forearm is gently stretched to near horizontal. This allows the loose skin (some horses have more than others) to move with the elbows without getting rubbed by the cinch.
These Western Balding cinches are custom made and can be ordered to any finished length. The cinch pictured was ordered with one dee instead of a buckle so one latigo could be tied rather than buckled. Most riders will prefer to eliminate the knot under their leg and use double cinch buckles; these may be specified. Price varies with length, $21.50 and up, plus shipping.
Contact: Bontrager’s Leather Shop, 2882 Audrain Rd. 175, Clark, MO 65243 (no telephone).