How to Fit Your Mule and Donkey Saddle

By Steve Edwards | July 22, 2013

Over the past 35 years I have been riding, driving, and packing mules. We have been packing freight back in the mountains; the freight was anything from fence posts to concrete, and other equipment of various needs. So 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, ringing his tail when I try to saddle him, and I could go on and on with a lot of other signs of problems.

Going back to the pack saddle, 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 to start with on the bars and then we would go try it out. We did this over a course of 3 years. Over those years I began riding more mules. I would say to my saddle maker, “put the rigging plates here...cut the skirt rounded...” In addition to those, I’m sure there were 100 other changes I made to the saddle. Every time I would ride a quarter mule, gated mule, or draft mule, I would learn something different about the stride. One day I asked my saddle maker, “What tree are we putting in my saddles?" His answer was, “Semi-Quarter horse bars." 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 upon the fat pocket which would put pressure on the 6th and 7th ribs of the mules. I also found that the front of the bar of the horse was not tipped up, in other words the scapula on a mule goes up and down. The scapula on a horse runs horizontal. 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.

Now I can spend a lot of time talking about the details from what I have 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 saddle maker 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 $3500.00. The mule it was made for died about 5 months later. Since she had the saddle made only for that mule, she tried it on several other mules, but there were many problems she encountered.

I want mule and donkey people to understand that saddle fit is not the only problem 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 confirm the mental and physical needs of your mule. There are a lot of great saddle makers that are certainly craftsmen and some people don’t mind spending a lot of money for a piece of art work. 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 to the fire, and so-on. The 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 so that everyone can have the right saddle for their mule or donkey. I encourage you to call and write with your questions. Here is my website. www.MuleRanch.com or email me at Steve@MuleRanch.com

Our saddles are designed for the mule and donkey by the mule and donkey. We are not a saddle-making company; we are a working cow- and mule ranch. We know by hard work that our saddles will fit every mule and every donkey. We have hundreds of saddles over the United States and through-out the world.

Happy Trails to all you mule and donkey folk!

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