Often, I get questions on using billets versus latigos with my saddles. Which is better for holding a saddle in place? And what material should you use – nylon or leather? In this article, I will answer those questions and explain why you should use nylon latigos instead of billets.
Why Use Latigos?
My saddles have D-rings placed in the correct locations to balance the saddle. This makes it more comfortable for the mule. You add a latigo (pronounced lat-i-goe) to each D-ring, two on the front and two on the rear. This helps the saddle stay in place. The latigos are for adjusting your front cinch and rear cinch so they keep the correct tightness on the saddle. This helps when you are getting on and off the saddle and to adjust as you are going down the trail.
With many other saddle brands, you use the front D-ring in full position, ¾ position, or center-fire position. My front D-rings are placed different from that because the front cinch is in a different area on a mule. This area is very sensitive for the mule because of the donkey side of its breeding. In order to place the cinch right to not bother the mule, the latigo strap must come off the D-ring down to the cinch.
That is the purpose of the latigo, it helps make the cinch tight enough and allows for adjustment.
This adjustment ability is important when you go down the trail. Most people tighten the cinches as tight as possible while the mule or donkey is standing still. Then as they go down the trail, the mule or donkey starts shrinking, releasing air from the lungs and stomach, and the cinches become too loose. So, you need to have long enough latigos to keep adjusting the cinches as your mule releases that air. This is like keeping the right amount of air in your tires, so your vehicle rides on the road correctly.
Should You Use Nylon or Leather Latigos?
There is a whole new world of products out there. That’s why it is imperative to look at overall safety and comfort – safety for us and comfort for the animal – when considering what material to use. The leather latigo is what I had used for years, but it is not as strong as nylon. That’s why our car’s seat belts are made from nylon instead of leather.
The strength of the nylon latigos is phenomenal compared to leather. When you fold the leather you stress it, making light cracks in the leather. This happens every time you fold or bend the leather. Eventually, the leather will break. Nylon doesn’t break from repeated bending and folding.
The leather also binds up when wet. So, when it’s wet, we pull harder and the leather binds up and makes the mule uncomfortable. That’s when they blow air in their lungs to keep you from pulling anymore. They use the air in their lungs to keep the cinches a little more comfortable for them. Then as they release that air, the cinches become loose.
The important thing to remember is that this poor behavior is our fault, not the mule or donkey’s fault.
The mule and donkey will blow air into their lungs to keep you from doing them harm by over tightening the cinches. People tend to overtighten the cinch because the saddle is not made correctly, or they use wool pads which are slick causing the saddle to slide off easily. That is why I developed my own latigos and pad that keeps the saddle in place.
I use nylon for the strength at 650 psi per square inch compared to leather at 250 psi per square inch. But I don’t use nylon just for the strength. When nylon gets wet it is very smooth. When you tighten the nylon up it becomes like a pulley on the top D-ring and another pulley on the bottom D-ring. It is very smooth and easy to tighten it up.
I also like how easy nylon latigos are to clean. After you remove them from the D-rings, you just throw them in the washer with your jeans and they clean right up. No oil to mess with like when cleaning leather.
Should You Use Billets with Cinches?
No. My saddles do not come with billets. The billet goes on the rear D-ring and is typically 2 inches wide and 21 inches long. It’s a strap with six holes in it. Many people will hook the tongue of the rear cinch into a hole on the billet before going down the trail.
The downside of most horsemen is they tend to not tighten the back cinch at all. They have it hang loose. Then they notice lots of white hairs in the scapula area. This is caused by wool pads and over tightening the front cinch while not using the back cinch at all.
As they ride down the trail like this, the rear of the saddle bobs up and down with their body because of the way mules walk. The mule becomes uncomfortable because the saddle continues moving forward and banging onto the scapula. The scapula goes up and down, much like the pistons in a car. So, when you tighten the front cinch, you are restricting the muscle mass and the tendons used to walk.
On a mule and donkey, it is imperative that the back cinch be the tightest and the front be snug to accommodate the A-shaped shoulders. This is the opposite of a horse because of the way a horse’s shoulder is V-shaped. That is why the saddle moves forward on the mule or donkey making it necessary to keep the rear cinch the tightest. When you keep the rear cinch tight as it should be, you don’t need a billet.
The Problem with Other Saddles
You’ll find that most saddles only have one latigo because people don’t want to go to the other side and adjust it. The problem is, if your cinch is not even on each side then your saddle will move towards the side that is pulling on it the most. This makes the saddle rest unevenly and causes your mule stress.
My saddle uses four latigos to evenly balance your saddle and keep your cinches in place. Most folks are too lazy to help the mule out and they wonder why their saddle moves so much. A lot of it has to do with billets on a saddle. Latigos are almost four feet long and work properly to hold the cinches in place. They adjust evenly and smoothly. Billets are only 21 inches long and cannot evenly balance the cinch since there are only six-hole sizes to choose.
Steve Edwards Mule Saddles
I spent years with mules and have learned what they need. It is mighty important to know you do not put billets on my saddles. Your saddle won’t work right, and your animal will be uncomfortable. My saddle design is completely different from everyone else’s. My mule tree is mine, no one else uses it. It is the Steve Edwards Tree and Saddle.
I have designed the saddle with the four D-rings in the proper location to be used with my latigos. They come in brown or black nylon.
If you have any questions on latigos or anything about mules and donkeys, give me a call. I am here to help you and your animal work together in comfort and safety.