If you’re reading this article, you are either a proud owner of a mule, you are thinking about becoming an owner, or you work with mules and donkeys and want to know how to best care for these awesome animals. And they are awesome! No equine rides more smoothly than a donkey or mule – they are the “Cadillac” of the equine. Problem is, you don’t have a true mule saddle.
“The only saddle you have is an old horse saddle.”
Is it okay to use a horse saddle on a mule? Is it okay to use a horse saddle on a donkey?
Don’t do it! You may look at a mule and see similarities, but underneath the skin, their skeletal structure is fundamentally different than a horse. Using a horse saddle is going to do all sorts of damage, from causing your mule to walk funny all the way to destroying their muscles and health. A horse saddle will not fit a mule or a donkey “correctly.”
Anybody who says differently doesn’t understand the mule.
- Yes, that person may mean well.
- Yes, that person is trying to be nice in the way they ‘educate you’.
- Yes, that person is trying to be helpful.
- Yes, that person is sharing the same advice that has been passed down from owner to owner.
If we were still living in the old days of “an equine is an equine is an equine” with all the other old knowledge of mules and donkeys, their advice would be all you had to go on.
Thankfully, we’re not living in the old days and we no longer have to go by the old ways of the mule and donkey. We have learned so much about these animals in the last 30 years and simply saying “an equine is an equine is an equine” is no longer valid – and it’s dangerous. One thing I’ve been encouraged to see is that mule and donkey folks take awesome care of their animals these days and as much as they are interested in the nutrition and housing conditions of their animals, they are equally interested in the appropriate training and mule-specific tack.
You want a mule saddle and this article will get you up to speed on everything you need to know in order to purchase a mule saddle that is perfect for you and your mule!
Oh, one final thing as we get into this – we will use the phrase ‘mule saddle’ throughout – however, be aware, that just because someone says, “oh, partner, yes, this is a mule saddle,” doesn’t mean it’s a mule saddle. As you’ll see in the end, you don’t actually want a mule saddle… you want a very specific type of saddle. I’ll get to that throughout the article.
A Quick Word For Donkey Owners and Donkey Saddles
Throughout this article I will refer to mule saddles. So what about the donkey? Good news, donkey owner, everything in this article applies to you, as well. You already know this, but the donkey is growing in popularity and people are finding out what you and I have known for years: donkeys are great!
When reading this article, anytime you see the word mule, you can also read donkey. Everything you see in this article is for you and your awesome donkey. Just as the equine world is finally understanding the differences between a mule and a horse, they are also starting to understand the difference between a horse and a donkey; it’s very exciting.
So don’t pass over mule and think it doesn’t apply to you. It does! It certainly does!
If you have any specific questions that aren’t addressed here, please contact me and I’ll be happy to answer any additional questions.
So without further delay, let’s get into talking all about the mule saddle (and remember, that means the donkey saddle, too).
A Horse Saddle Does Not Fit A Mule
What we’re talking about here is so important, I’m going to say it again: A horse saddle does not fit a mule and I am going to tell you exactly why.
The mule bone structure is different from the horse bone structure. Yes, a mule is part horse. Yes, they look similar. But a mule is also part donkey and the donkey’s bone structure is fundamentally different than a horse’s. The mule gets his bone structure, or skeletal structure, from the donkey. While what you and I see on the outside may look like the same shape and sizing as a horse, underneath the skin, everything is different.
If you want to throw a horse saddle up on a mule, you might as well throw a camel saddle up there. As you situate that saddle, you may ‘feel like’ it fits, but soon you’ll find that you are needing to make all sorts of adjustments to hold the saddle in place, and even then, you will find it moves around.
Why? Because the mule is not a horse. Because the mule does not have a horse skeletal structure. Because the mule is uniquely different from a horse, from the inside all the way to the outside, for instance, in the way the mule walks.
How A Mule Walks vs How A Horse Walks – Mule Shoulder Movement
While you might not be able to see the difference between a mule or horse when they are standing still, as soon as they start moving, you can see that they are not the same. Let’s first look at shoulder movement.
The mule’s shoulder moves up and down. When you watch a mule walk, you can actually see the shoulder moving up and down – why? Because they get their bone structure from a donkey and when the donkey walks, his shoulders go up and down. When you watch a horse walk, you’ll see that they don’t move up and down. The horse shoulders actually move backward and forward.
So a mule walks differently than a horse… big deal!
Yes, it is a big deal! When you throw a horse saddle up on a horse, that saddle is going to sit on the shoulder. You don’t want to block that shoulder from moving forwards and backwards. You want the horse to move freely. Take the same horse saddle, meant to accommodate a forward-backward shoulder movement and place it on a mule. Can you tell me what you’ll see? Think about it. Instead of a saddle that sits safely away from the animal’s movement, you now have a saddle that sits right on top of the mule’s shoulder and every time he takes a step, his shoulder is hitting that saddle.
There is a name for the part of the shoulder that horse saddles hit on a mule. It’s known as the scapula. When the mule walks with a horse saddle, that scapula goes up and down, continually hitting the saddle with every step. Mr Mule will not be happy with the constant impact on his shoulders. In fact, he’ll be in pain.
The Shape Of A Mule’s Shoulders And Why Your Saddle Continues To Move Forward On Your Mule
So now we know about the mule’s scapula hitting the saddle. Can’t you just move your saddle back so it’s out of the way of the scapula. Sure, but you already know that this won’t fix it. Why? Because you’ve already experienced your saddle sliding forward.
Not only does the mule shoulder move differently than a horse’s shoulder, the shape of the shoulder is fundamentally different. When we look at a mule we see that they are V-shaped in the shoulders, they have an hourglass belly and they carry the bulk of their weight down low. Horses, on the other hand, are A-shaped in their shoulders and they carry their weight up high.
Mule owners around the world call me saying, “my saddle keeps riding up on my mule and I can’t do anything to get it to stay still”; I immediately know that they are trying to use a horse saddle which is causing problems. Oh, maybe they bought a ‘mule saddle,’ but when I ask them about the skirting, it’s not a mule saddle. When I ask about the D-ring placement for the cinches, it’s not a mule saddle. They were told one thing, though they were doing the right thing, and by golly, didn’t get what they really needed to help the mule.
Understanding The Mule’s Back And Why Separated Saddle Skirting Matters
Now that we understand the shape of the shoulders in a mule, let’s talk about the back of a mule. When looking at a horse saddle, you’ll see that the skirting on a horse saddle is square in the front, sitting right on top of the mule’s shoulder (hitting the scapula every time he takes a step). When it goes to hitting the scapula, the reverse momentum pushes it backwards so it hits the mule’s hip. Double whammy!
Look at the rear of a horse saddle as it sits on the horse’s back. You’ll see the skirting is leather-bound – binding the two sides of the saddle together in the middle. That’s fine for a horse. Guess what, not good for a mule. If your saddle skirting is sewn together in the rear, that skirting will sit right on top of the spine and put hundreds of pounds of pressure on it.
Mule moves forward.
Shoulder moves up.
Hits the saddle.
Propels it backwards.
Rear of the saddle comes down on the hip and spine.
Mule saddles need the skirting separated in the rear to make room for the unique shape of the mule’s spine. You might believe me, but I want you to see it for yourself. Look at the mule’s back near the rear of the spine and you’ll see three bones sticking up… right above where your saddle will sit. Skirting on a horse can be bound together. Skirting on a mule needs to be separated. It’s really simple. The leather is hard; when the spine rubs against the leather, it’s going to cause something called a fistula on a mule. Now, we are using horse saddles on mules that are stitched in the back with leather binding and that leather binding creates a rasping situation – causing a fistula on the spine.
Horse Saddle vs Mule Saddle: Mule Saddle Wins On Account Of Bone Structure
It is my hope that you can already see how a horse saddle can inflict large amounts of pain on your mule. Obviously, that’s not your intent. You want the best for your animal – that’s why you’re reading this article (and have made it this far). Don’t beat yourself up over it. Believe it or not, I didn’t always see things this way. In my early days of cowboying, I didn’t know a darn thing about mules. I thought “an equine is an equine is an equine” and I treated mules like horses.
Folks, all we can do now is say, “The past is the past, I’m free at last.” If Jesus can set us free from sin, we can certainly be set free from past “mule saddle mistakes.”
Because the mule has a completely different bone structure from a horse, we need to begin looking at what that means for a saddle.
The most natural question to ask at this point is, “What do I need to look for in a good mule saddle?”
A good mule saddle is made to fit the mule’s basic conformation. And let’s be clear saying a saddle is a ‘mule saddle’ doesn’t make it a mule saddle. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
How A Mule Saddle Is Different From A Horse Saddle
Looking at a mule saddle and horse saddle is very much like looking at a mule and a horse. At first glance they look the same, but when you start to examine them more closely, at what’s underneath the surface, the differences are clear as day.
The most fundamental thing to understand about the difference between a mule saddle and a horse saddle are the saddle bars. Now that you understand a horse saddle won’t fit a mule, you’ll start shopping for a mule saddle; you’ll notice there are a lot of saddles out there labeled mule saddles. Many folks who don’t understand mules are selling products and throwing the word mule in front of the saddle name. Why? Because they see a marketing opportunity, they made a few modifications to get something in their catalog.
Trouble is, these mule saddles – in my experience – are not mule saddles. Why? Because they are made with horse saddle bars, not mule saddle bars. That makes all the difference in the world.
Back in 1982, I took a liking to mules. I bought my first mule, Casper, when I didn’t know anything. I wanted to buy a mule. I found Casper, went to ride him, and he threw me off. I thought, “dog gone it, I’m going to buy this mule so I can get even with him.” That was where my journey with mules began; after listening to Casper – and every mule I’ve owned since then – I discovered that no saddle out there was made to fit my mule. The only way I could be certain that my saddle was going to be comfortable for my mule, was to make my own.
Folks, the only way you can really know if a saddle is using true mule saddle bars – shy of tearing it apart and ruining it – is to know and trust who is selling it to you. For that reason, I tell folks who want to buy a mule saddle that they don’t want a saddle with mule bars – you want a saddle with Steve’s mule bars because that’s the only way you will know.
There is no other saddle in the world that makes the mule saddle with mule bars designed like my mule bars.
And just to make sure we’re all on the same page, the bars of the saddle are the two pieces of the saddle tree that go down on the mule’s back on each side of the spine. The bars protect the spine while distributing the pressure of the rider’s weight across the entirety of the animal’s back.
A horse saddle has horse saddle bars and rather than distributing the weight of the rider across the entirety of the back, the saddle actually creates a bridge across the back, placing the rider’s weight squarely on the shoulder and the hip.
On my mule saddles, the mule saddle bars come up in the front by the shoulder to relieve pressure from the scapula, so it doesn’t hit the scapula as it moves up and down. The saddle rises up in the front to accommodate that bone structure and movement.
The bars are level with the back all the way from the front to the rear of my mule. There’s a little bit of elevation in the back to allow the kidneys to remain safe and protected. My mule bars accommodate the kidneys in the back, the shoulders in the front and place the bulk of the rider’s weight in the seat. All of this together allows the mule to have fluid, full-motion. Whereas a horse saddle is going to restrict movement while causing the mule pain, which can lead to all sorts of other problems.
Understanding The Parts Of A Proper Mule Saddle
We now know that a proper mule saddle requires true mule bars, “Steve’s mule bars” and saddle skirting that is separated in the rear. These are the two most fundamental elements of a mule saddle as they allow the saddle to fit to the mule’s natural conformation.
There is a lot more to a proper mule saddle than these two elements. I have sold thousands of saddles and the vast majority of those saddle owners will send me pictures of their mule all rigged up – they want to make sure that everything is in its proper place to best accommodate the mule. I love looking at these photos and hopping on the phone with my clients to help them optimize every part of their saddle tack because every part of my saddle has been made specifically to fit the mule and donkey.
Understanding the mule saddle means understanding all the parts of a mule saddle. I want to start by introducing you to the specific features of a true mule saddle, “Steve’s mule saddle,” and why each part matters.
Mule Saddle Shape And Saddletree
The overall frame of the saddle is called the saddletree. The saddle tree can be made from a variety of materials from wood to composite materials such as polypropylene, with wood being the most common. The saddletree is covered with leather and is made up of two bars connected by two forks for the pommel and cantle.
The pommel is the forward, arched portion of the saddletree. On many saddles, the pommel is nailed into the saddletree. This is an opportunity for me to note a big difference between my saddles and other mule saddles. My saddles are made from a polypropylene-like material and they contain the pommel in the one-piece shape. The reason for this is that it gives the saddle a lot more strength.
The horn is an extension of the pommel, often tilted forward and used for holding rope. Different regions of the world will have different style horns, each being used for different things such as cutting and roping.
Looking at the pommel, the space just underneath is called a saddle gullet and is located over the mule’s withers. It’s important that the gullet have the right amount of clearance over the withers. If the height is too short, the saddle will rub on the mule’s withers. If the gullet is too wide, the saddle will sit too low on the shoulders, and also rub on the mule’s withers and the fat pocket right underneath the D-rings of the saddle. When you go too wide, you end up being on the fat pockets which can lead to the possibility of kicking out the ribs. Both of these equal an unhappy mule – we do not want that!
The part of the saddle that supports the rider is called the seat. Every seat is attached to the tree of the saddle. The seat is both curved and a bit sloped, to match the pelvic tilt of the rider. If you’ve never sat on a poorly constructed seat on a long trail, let’s keep it that way. Just like a poorly made saddle tree will make Mr. Mule unhappy, a poorly constructed seat makes for an unhappy rider.
The cantle is the arched, rear portion of the saddle tree, the back of the seat. I created a nice, protective cantle that is buckaroo in style and will give extra support after hours in the saddle.
Skirts are the large leather panels attached to the saddletree, to protect the rigging and give form to the saddle. While horse skirting is often squared, a mule saddle should have front skirting that is rounded to accommodate the scapula. The rear skirting should also be rounded to allow the saddle to fit around the animal and leave room for attaching D-rings to the skirting and the tree. When looking at your skirting, it can be leather or Cordura. Whichever you use, it needs to be rounded, not squared.
Mule Saddle Rigging Plates
Rigging is just as important to riding as the mule bars are to the shape of the mule. You’re going to need to connect all the appropriate tack such as a breast collar, cinches, britchen, reins, and more. The placement of the D-rings and rigging hardware is vital to having all the parts of the saddle work correctly.
The D-rings are used to connect the ties to the saddle and it’s important that they be in the correct place for the mule and in the exact same place on each side of the saddle.
Tie straps hang from a D-ring which secure the cinch. On a double-rigged saddle there is also a second cinch. The cinch is a leather or fabric band that holds the saddle on the mule’s back by tightening it under the body. Usually it is fastened to leather straps or nylon straps that hang from the rigging on each side of the saddle. If you ask me, I prefer the nylon because it’s stronger, needs less maintenance, and it’s smoother when you cinch up the mule so Mr. Mule doesn’t learn to hold air in his lungs to protect against an over-tightened cinch.
Saddle strings, or ties, are narrow strips of tanned leather, usually in pairs, that lace through the saddletree or coverings, and are held on the surface by rosettes; the long ends can be decorative as well as tie on ropes, water bottles, and other pieces of equipment. Typically, you’ll have to visit a saddle maker if you would like to replace your ties. All of my saddles have completely removable ties so you can replace them on your own.
Mule Saddle Fenders, Stirrups, And Saddle Pads
The fenders hang from the saddle and are connected to the stirrups. Fenders need to be treated and shaped to fit the individual rider’s legs. This is one problem you encounter when purchasing a used saddle. When the fenders are shaped for a different rider, especially over a long period of time, any new rider opens up the possibility of developing knee problems. Not to say you should never buy used, but it is definitely something to consider. My fenders rotate forward and backward to accommodate riding on a variety of inclines, taking pressure off the rider’s legs while allowing the rider to move more fluidly with the animal.
Underneath the saddle, you have the saddle pad. In the early days, soldiers would use a thick blanket underneath the saddle to serve as a pad – but it was also the same blanket they would sleep with. We’ve come a long way from soldiers riding into battle on equines. Now, we ride with saddle pads. Saddle pads serve a variety of purposes, not the least of which is keeping the saddle in place.
Additional Tack Connected To Your Mule Saddle
Even though the saddle pad is not connected to the saddle, it is just as important. This is also the case with your britchen and breast collar.
You must always ride with a britchen. The britchen is a strap arrangement that fits over your mule’s hind quarters and back around the rump to keep the saddle from sliding forward, particularly when riding downhill. The britchen needs to be adjusted to accommodate the incline of the terrain you’re riding on. Even when riding on flat terrain, you must ride with a britchen.
As an aside, some may say to ride with a crupper. A crupper is a leather strap that goes around the mule’s tail to keep the saddle from slipping forward. DO NOT USE A CRUPPER. The amount of weight that the crupper will place on the mule’s tail is too much for the tail to absorb. You’re looking at a strong possibility of breaking the mule’s tail, if not their entire back. I’ve seen riders have to put their mule down because of riding with a crupper. Remember, the tail is all bone and no muscle mass. When the crupper pulls against the tail, when the crupper starts overheating the tail and we loosen it up to take the pressure off, now the crupper comes up and can break the tailbone. Once the tail bone breaks, the donkey has to be put down.
A breast collar is the strap that passes around the mule’s chest on either side of the neck and is “connected” to the saddle. I use quotes because many get the breast collar wrong on the mule. When the breast collar is attached to the saddle, meaning it is fixed, as the mule walks forward his shoulders will bump the breast collar and slowly, but surely, the saddle will inch forward. I have designed a breast collar that is “connected” to the saddle through a pommel strap and allows the breast collar to slide left and right.
5 Signs You Need To Buy A Mule Saddle
If you’re going to ride Ole Fluffy, he’s going to need a saddle. So, what would actually happen if you decide to use your horse saddle instead of buying a mule saddle? Your mule is going to start communicating with you, telling you that he doesn’t like the saddle. The trouble is, you might not understand what he’s trying to say. He isn’t going to turn around like Balaam’s Ass, look at you and say, “hey buddy, I don’t like this saddle!” He is going to speak “mule,” and unless you understand “mule,” you’ll miss the signs.
So let’s go through how your mule will tell you he is uncomfortable.
- Your mule will start shaking his head when you’re riding down hill.
- Your mule will start to move away from you when you’re trying to saddle him.
- Your mule will start to move away from you when you are trying to get in the saddle.
- Your mule will show sores and hair removal behind the front leg.
- Your mule will start to elevate his head when you go to get in the saddle.
There are far more signs to look for, however, these are the five most visible signs that you need to ditch the horse saddle, invest in a mule saddle – remember, “Steve’s saddle” – and preserve the health of your mule.
How To Find the Best Mule Saddle For You
In addition to educating you about why you need to buy a mule saddle, we’ve also talked about what makes a mule saddle a mule saddle – the bars. Should you have a custom saddle made so it fits perfectly? Should you go to your local tack shop and pick up a saddle and hope it’s got mule bars? Should you purchase one from my website?
Buy A Custom Made Mule Saddle
The most obvious solution for having a saddle that fits your mule, is to order a custom saddle made specifically to fit the measurements of your mule. But as you and I both know, sometimes the most obvious solution is not the best solution.
The benefit is clear, the saddle will fit your mule perfectly… well, it will fit your mule perfectly as long as she stays the same size. And therein lies the first problem. Your mule isn’t going to stay the same size. As the mule ages, her size is going to change. As the mule’s nutrition goes, so will her shape go.
More important than either age or nutrition, is the season of the year. When you measure your mule in the winter for a custom saddle so it’s ready to use in the spring, your mule will be fat and underworked. So what happens when spring rolls around? Perhaps it fits for a while, but as you ride Ole Fluffy more and more, she’ll start to lose weight and that perfect fit, well, it’s starts to not fit so perfectly.
When you build a custom saddle, what you’re actually building for is the muscle mass of the animal; as the muscle mass changes, so will the saddle fit. As far as fit, a custom saddle is great as long as your girl’s muscle mass doesn’t fluctuate.
Something else to consider regarding a custom saddle is cost. A custom saddle is going to run $2,000 to $3,000 more than a retail saddle. Why? Because it’s custom, haha! Don’t get me wrong, there are times for a custom saddle and there are reasons to justify the cost. Perhaps you have some discretionary income and you have a particular design in mind for your saddle. Maybe at that point, you can’t find the ‘look’ you want and a custom saddle is the only way. Okay, that makes sense. However, it will only work as well as the measurements are accurate. And speaking of measurements, that leads me to the final thing you need to consider regarding a custom saddle: the life of your animal.
In 2014, my wife’s mule of 28 years, Stacy, passed away. She was a great mule and had provided hundreds of rides to family members, friends, vacationers, other mule owners, equine enthusiasts, apprentices, children, and many others. When Stacy passed away, it was a sad day for our family. It was during the Arizona monsoon season and I wound up burying her during a storm. Burying an animal is very difficult and comes with all sorts of emotions. I’ll save all that for a different article.
The reason I share my story about Stacy is that the loss of an animal, whether through death or other circumstances, is something we must consider when we purchase a custom made saddle. When that animal dies, the saddle can no longer be used. When you sell that animal, the saddle has to go with it because it’s made for the muscle mass of that animal. A custom saddle means it will only fit one mule during that mule’s lifetime.
For these reasons, I choose not to invest in custom saddles. Sure, I’ll do custom work on my saddles (stamping, materials, etc) but as far as the tree itself, I use my own saddle trees that are made to fit the skeletal structure of all mules and donkeys. Stacy’s saddle is one that I still have in my tack room today and continue to use. It’s a bittersweet reality that a bit of Stacy is always with us, but it’s also a heck of a lot cheaper to keep using a saddle on my new mules than having to buy a new one each time.
Find And Buy A Used Mule Saddle
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is if I sell any of my saddles used. Used markets are amazing places to find value. Used trucks, used mules, used RVs, used trailers, and just about anything else you could think of. So is buying a used saddle a good option when in the market for a mule saddle?
Personally, I don’t believe there is much of a downside to purchasing a used saddle other than this: that saddle has been fitted to it’s first rider, particularly in the fenders and seat size. Finding a used mule saddle (remember, with REAL MULE BARS) is difficult enough. Finding a used mule saddle with the right seat size and fenders that have been shaped to fit your legs and height is nearly impossible.
When you ride with a saddle that is not sized and shaped for you, you open yourself up, unnecessarily, to injury. Now don’t hear me wrong, there is always going to be danger when working with these animals. If you think there is a safe mule, a safe donkey, a safe way to ride, you have got to change your thinking right away. These animals are dangerous. They are big and if they decide to do something, there is little you can do in the moment to change their minds (which is why ground foundation training is so important). Now, getting back to the saddle. If everything goes great on your ride, but you’re riding in a saddle that’s too big, you’re going to be sitting way back on the spine, pushing the spine outward. Sit directly on the spine and you’re pushing the saddle backward rather than forward. You want to sit squared and centered in the saddle. That makes the animal most comfortable.
Looking back at the question that I am asked so often, “Steve, do you have any used saddles for sale?” the answer is no. Now, I call used saddles experienced saddles and the reason why I don’t sell experienced saddles is because my saddles hold their resale value really well and when folks go to buy a used saddle they’re looking for a deal, say, 50% off. However, my saddles sell used typically for between 75% to 80% their original cost so it just doesn’t make much sense for me to stock used saddles, especially when considering the details mentioned above. Just to illustrate, at the time of this writing, I had seen one of my Cowboy Saddles, six years old, for sale on eBay. At the time of that auction, the Cowboy was selling new on my site for just over $1,000. The current auction price, keep in mind – not the final price, was over $800.
So if you’re looking for a used saddle, there are deals to be had out there, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time looking and then make sure it’s the right size for the rider.
Buying A Steve Edwards’ Mule Saddle
I never got into the mule life to be a mule tack manufacturer. No, sir. I got into it because I was a cowboy and heard other cowboys, men whom I greatly respected, talk about how awesome mules were. As I learned more about the mule, I realized that the word-of-mouth training that had been passed along to me just didn’t make sense. I started to listen to the mule rather than listen to men and that’s when things changed for me.
Fast forward through decades to today, I have a full line of saddles, tack, instructional videos, and resources to pass along to you, today’s mule owner, everything I’ve learned. I can say, confidently, that my saddles are the best fit for mules and donkeys. Yes, I want you to buy one of my saddles; the reason is because I want the best for you and your mule. I care about your safety and I care about the mule’s comfort. That’s why I am still training, traveling, and innovating long after many of my peers have retired and moved to a more tropical climate.
The saddles available on my website fit the bone structure of your mule. These saddles are made to fit any mule with average conformation and for those with conformation conditions, such as downhill hip, I work with owners to help them get the best fit possible. One example of how I’ve helped owners with mules having a downhill hip is by developing a downhill hip saddle pad that compensates for the condition.
As long as your mule has been raised right, does not have significant bone issues, we’re talking major issues here, and has average conformation, my saddle with fit your mule. Why? Because my mule saddle fits the mule’s bone structure.
I never thought I would be in the saddle business, but the truth is that I could not find anything out there that actually met the needs of these animals. I couldn’t find anything that didn’t cause these animals pain. I couldn’t find anything that was actually made to fit my animal. I started doing what nobody else was willing to do: listen to the mule, learn from the mule, create a saddle, create tack that is meant to get the best out of the mule.
You have all four saddle options. I make sure people know they have four options. I’m just presenting the evidence to you and letting you make the decision yourself.
How To Choose The Right Saddle Size For You, The Rider
By now, it is my hope that you’re on board with the idea of putting your horse-saddle-on-a-mule’s-back way behind you and can say, “The past is the past, I’m free at last.” It is my hope that you’re able to see that you will find much greater joy in riding and your mule will find much greater comfort in serving you when using a mule saddle with mule bars – Steve’s saddle.
It is my hope you’re committed to purchasing a true mule saddle with mule saddle bars. So the next question you need to consider is what size mule saddle you need to purchase.
My saddles come in four seat sizes: 14”, 15”, 16”, and 17”.
There is a myth that you have to be able to sit in the saddle to find the right saddle size. The reason this is a myth is because all saddles are essentially the same for the rider. There might be a bit of extra padding or the size of the cantle might be different on a saddle here or there. The truth is that these modifications are not for the size of the rider, they are for the work being done in the saddle. I’ve sold thousands of saddles through my website to people who have never sat in my saddle. If they don’t know what size they need, they contact me with their height and weight so I can tell them exactly which size they need. If they see me at an expo or clinic, I’ll usually have a few saddles and will measure them right then and there. So how do you measure for the rider? How am I able to tell from height and weight? Well, it’s all in what you’re measuring for.
Most often people believe that the size of the seat is determined by the rump size of the rider. It makes sense to think that way and unless you’ve been told differently, it’s all you have to go by. The truth is, you pick the size of your seat based on the size of your thigh. Your thigh size determines the size of seat you will want for your mule saddle.
How To Measure A Saddle Seat In 10 Steps
- Sit in the saddle
- Put your heels down and your toes up
- Move your shoulders back and push your chest out
- Place your rump against the cantle
- Do not put your feet in the stirrups*
- Let your legs hang down
- Take your first two fingers and place your fingers against the saddle between your thigh and the pommel
- If you have just enough room for those two fingers in the small space, you have the right size mule saddle
- If you have more than enough space for your first two fingers, you need a smaller saddle
- If you do not have enough space for your first two fingers, you need a larger saddle
*If you put your feet in the stirrups first, it’s going to kick your leg back almost three inches and you can’t get an accurate measurement when your legs are kicked back.
It’s difficult to find the right saddle for you by just sitting in a bunch of saddles. Folks think they need to sit in the saddle to find the right fit and it’s not true. You need to actually look for something. There’s one core measurement that will determine whether or not that saddle is the right fit for you. And that is your thigh measurement.
Mule Saddle Function And Features
Choosing a saddle ultimately comes down to function and features. What do you want to do with your saddle and what do you want it to look like? With that in mind, I have to make something very clear: Looks have absolutely nothing to do with the functionality of a saddle. The look is 100% for you. Now, if you’re showing your mule, then looks are a little bit more important and I understand the need to give them more consideration. For the other 98% of us, when it comes to just riding, looks play no importance in the functionality of your saddle.
Even though looks have nothing to do with the functionality, they are still important! After all, you need to like the saddle you’re riding. If you’re building a custom saddle (we’ve already talked about the pros and cons of that) you will have a lot of flexibility in determining what you want. You’ll spend at least $2,000 more than a retail saddle and you could probably go all the way up to $20,000 more if you wanted to.
At Queen Valley Mule Ranch, our saddles are built in the US using top shelf materials and manufactured by experienced suppliers. Our saddles are made to be stylish and each one has a unique look. The only customization we provide on our saddles is custom stamping on the fenders, the seat, the pommel, and the skirting.
Though the only custom feature we offer is stamping, that’s not to say that my saddles aren’t designed to turn heads! Every one of my saddles is built on my tree, using real mule bars, and each one has a unique look, giving you multiple options in regards to finding the one that works best for you.
8 Design Features To Customize The Look of Your Saddle
- Color: You will often have a choice of single, 2-tone, or 3-tone color.
- Seat: Choose a padded seat or an unpadded seat.
- Cheyenne roll: This is behind the seat so you can reach behind and grab a hold when you’re going downhill.
- Horn: Nearly all saddles will have a horn, though you can find saddles that are made without a horn.
- Cantle: You can have a 4” cantle, like my saddles, or you can go up as high as a 6” cantle. It all depends on how you want to use it. I’ve found a 4” cantle is easiest to get in without sacrificing much height.
- Ties: You’re going to want to tie down your slickers, water bottles, saddle bags, and other travel gear. Your ties will either be built into the saddle (you’ll have to have them repaired or replaced by a saddle maker) or they will be like the ties on my saddle, removable and replaceable on your own.
- Conchos: Stylized conchos are mainly for looks and boy, do they look awesome! Our conchos are custom made for my Steve Edwards’ Signature Series Saddles and has the QVMR brand on them.
- Stamping: Though we already talked about this, you can use custom stamping to really have a saddle that turns heads.
When it’s all said and done, you want a saddle that suits your needs. Looks are important, but comfort for you and comfort for your mule is the ultimate concern.
Final Thoughts On Buying A Mule Saddle
First, I want to say thank you for taking the time to educate yourself about the mule. In the old days, I was ignorant and there are a lot of things I wish I could go back and do differently. Knowing what I know now has completely changed the way I communicate with my mules and has made being a mule owner and an equine lover much more rewarding.
Disposition and confirmation are two things that are just in a mule. You can’t train disposition and you can’t do much to change their conformation. The two things you and I are in control of is training the animal, and the equipment we choose to use with our animal. That makes your saddle and tack extremely important.
I realize that not everyone is ready to buy a new saddle. Give me a holler, I’d love to talk to you about what you can do now to take steps so that when you buy your mule saddle, that’s the last piece of the puzzle. The truth is, as much as it is important to buy a mule saddle made with mule bars – remember, Steve’s saddle – the saddle will only be as good as the saddle fitting, and that’s for another article.
If you’re ready to make that investment for you and your mule, great! You can buy your first or next saddle here!
If you’re not quite ready to buy that saddle, but you do want to keep taking steps forward, please feel free to contact me. I implore you to ask any questions you have. Become more educated about your mule, your tack, and your saddle. Don’t think learning about the mule is something you can finish, think of it as something that is part of your daily routine – like brushing your teeth, hopefully! Work on your ground foundation, learn how to communicate with the mule and gain her trust. Let’s even take a look at your nutrition program and see how we can get that mule’s health at top level from the inside out.
These animals are truly wonderful. You and I are fortunate to have discovered what a blessing they can provide to us as riders and owners. More and more people are starting to discover what you and I already know – mules and donkeys are the hardest working equine out there and now that you know the importance of treating them like a mule or donkey – and not a horse – it’s up to you to tell everyone else. Together, we can ensure each one has a fulfilling life – you and I have a productive investment – not to mention, a great friend!
Happy trails, partner!