UPDATE: As of November 2020, all Steve Edwards saddles are built on a wood tree and come with a state of the art fiberglass coating to protect the wood and prevent the drying and cracking that comes with rawhide coverings.
Over the past 35 years, I have been riding, driving, and packing mules. We packed freight back in the mountains; the freight was anything from fence posts to concrete and other kinds of equipment. To make a long story short, I have worked mules for a living and have had fun with them as well.
I find that if my mule is uncomfortable, he will show me in a variety of ways. Shaking his head going down a hill, running down hills, swinging his tail when I try to saddle him, I could go on and on with other signs of problems.
Learning To Make Mules Comfortable
Packing is where I learned a lot about mules being comfortable. I would look at sweat patterns, I would try different blankets, I would carve on the old wood saw buck… as you can see, I have tried a lot of different things.
In 1981, I had a Canadian by the name of Abe Hewart come down and spend the winter with me. His goal was to design a pack saddle with adjustable arches and floating bars. We used wood bars to start with and then we would try it out. We did this over the course of three years.
Over those years I began riding more mules. I would say to my saddlemaker, “put the rigging plates here… cut the skirt rounded…” In addition to those, I’m sure there were a hundred other changes I made to the saddle.
Every time I would ride a quarter mule, gaited mule, or draft mule, I would learn something different about the stride. One day I asked my saddlemaker, “What tree are we putting in my saddles?” His answer was, “Semi-Quarter horse bars.”
NOTE: As of November 2020, all Steve Edwards signature saddles are built using a wood tree and utilize a state of the art fiberglass coating. While the design material has changed, the fit demonstrated in the video above is still accurate.
After looking at that bar setting on several mules backs, it was a fair fit. Except for the twist that the horse bars needed to go around the wither. That twist put pressure on the fat pocket which would put pressure on the sixth and seventh ribs of the mules.
I also found that the front of the bar of the horse saddle was not tipped up, causing a problem because the scapula on a mule goes up and down. The scapula on a horse runs horizontally, so the reason for the shaking head was that the bar was digging into the scapula.
Considering the situation, I thought of the well-designed bar we had made for my pack saddle. I took that bar to a tree maker and said, “Make my trees with this bar.” That was back in 1983.
Why Wire Measurements Don’t Work
Now I can spend a lot of time talking about the details of what I learned from the mules from working and playing on this ranch. One thing I did learn was that taking a wire measurement and taking a form and fitting it to my mule and then sending it to my saddlemaker did not work.
Let’s look at it like this: If I measure my mule in January while he is sitting around, not being used and getting fat, when I measure him again in July, we are surely going to have a different measurement.
There was a lady that had a custom saddle made for $3,500. The mule it was made for died about five months later. Since she had the saddle made only for that mule, she tried it on several other mules, but there were many problems because it was fitted for one mule.
Other Problems Causing Mule Discomfort
I want mule and donkey people to understand that saddle fit is not the only issue that will create mental and physical problems with your donkey. Something as simple as floating the teeth every year and a check-up with a chiropractor will improve the mental and physical needs of your mule.
There are a lot of great saddle makers that are certainly craftsmen – some people don’t mind spending a lot of money for a piece of artwork. I want you to know that my saddle makers can do art work as well. But my saddles are designed for hard work: dragging calves to the fire, flipping an elk over, dragging firewood, and so-on.
Designed By Mules to Give Mules a Great Saddle Fit
My saddles are designed for the mule and donkey by the mule and donkey. Through hard work we know that our saddles will fit every mule and every donkey. We have sold hundreds of saddles across the United States and throughout the world.
These saddles are also very comfortable for long hours on the trail. I have designed saddles that weigh from 18 pounds up to 48 pounds. I try to keep my prices for my American made saddles low so that everyone can have the right saddle for their mule or donkey. I encourage you to call or email me with your questions.