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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Cinches
by Dusty Johnson

Cincha, meaning “girth,” is the Spanish word for cinch.  A cinch is the wide band that goes under the horse’s chest to hold the saddle in position.  The purpose of the cinch is to anchor the saddle to the horse as comfortably as possible.  The cinch should not interfere with the horse’s action.  Cinches are made of webbing, cords, canvas, leather, and nylon. 

The cinch is one of the most “taken for granted” items of the saddle.  The important elements of the cinch are: the size, the rings and the materials.

saddled horseThe size refers to both length and width.  The general rule for length is that the rings should be approximately 12" below the rigging plates or rings.  Cinches can be ordered any length, with the common sizes being 30", 32" and 34".  They are measured from the outside of the ring on one end to the outside of the ring on the other end. 

The other measurement of size is the of the cinch.  The width should vary according to the position of the rigging plates as follows;
            full position — 17 strand cinch
            7/8  position — 19 strand cinch
            3/4  position — 21 strand cinch

Using a cinch that is wider than necessary in any position would extend too far forward and the foreleg of the horse would be constantly rubbing on it, which would result in chafing and sores in that area.

Check out Dusty's other articles

Super-wide cinches have become popular in recent years.  Wide cinches have their place when roping heavy cattle and should not be pulled very tight except while roping.  They have no place on the pleasure or trail horse.  Most riders think that this cinch is more humane and doesn’t cut into “Old Paint”, but the truth is that the wider cinch must be pulled tighter to hold the saddle as well and this tightness creates a corset effect across the horse’s chest.  Restricted breathing is not a desirable trait! It is much better to have the right size cinch and not have to tighten it so much!

At each end of the cinch is the .  This is used to run the latigos through when tying to the saddle.  There are three styles of rings: round ring, ring with-buckle-tongue, and ring with-crossbar and tongue.  The round ring is found on the cheapest of cinches and can only be used by tying the latigo.  The round ring with-buckle-tongue is an improvement because it eliminates the bulk of a cinch knot, however, when the tongue is attached at the bottom of the ring it is also considered cheap.  This arrangement can become ineffective if the pressures on the ring should make it oval.  When the ring becomes oval the tongue goes through the ring and doesn’t work to lock the latigo in place.  I see many riders using this type of ring with a knot and allowing the tongue to hang loose.  This is a potential hazard to man and horse!

The best cinch ring is the ring with-crossbar.  The crossbar prevents the ring from being pulled into an oval and the tongue is much shorter and less hazardous.  The ideal ring with-crossbar is made with a flat profile (more surface area distributes pressure wider), a flat top surface (prevents unnecessary distortion of the latigo) and a small tab on the inside bottom prevents the cords from bunching to either side of the ring.  This ideal ring is made of stainless steel.  Another very acceptable material is bronze.  Any cinch ring constructed of plain iron or iron chrome plated should be avoided because of rust problems.

horsebackThe material in a cinch are very important. Horses get sores because of heat and moisture!  The ideal cinch promotes transference of sweat away from the body and allows evaporation to cool and dry the heated area.  In bygone days the cinches were made of horsehair. The best were from mane hair and the poor grades were from tail hair.  These were very durable and seemed to work quite well, but didn’t do much to absorb moisture.  Other old time cinches were made of canvas or burlap.

The best material to transfer moisture is cotton, but cotton looses much of its strength when wet.  The next best is .  Mohair is a blend of Angora goat hair and wool.  It transfers moisture (sweat) rapidly and becomes stronger with the addition of this same moisture.  Mohair is also the best cinch material because it cleans easily and is best washed with mild soap (Ivory, dish soap, etc.) and water.  [Be sure to rinse out all soap before putting back on the horse]  Mohair cinches are expensive, but not excessively so and will last a very long time.  Some are created with 20% nylon added to reduce the price.  Many cinches are made of 100% nylon or synthetic cord.  While these are strong they will not absorb or transfer moisture and will create a certain amount of heat.  Another popular style is the These are widely seen in arena situations (ie. rodeos, horseshow, cutting contests) but are not practical for general riding due to their tendency to collect burrs, stickers and other foreign matter.  Also, the fleece creates a lot of heat and moisture.

In my opinion, the worst possible cinch is the neoprene rubber cinch.  This type is usually made of nylon and is either covered with a rubber sleeve or has the neoprene rubber stitched to the horse side.  They cannot breathe, create great heat and moisture and cause chafing very quickly.  I believe they have become popular because they are easy to clean, look “hi-tech” and feel soft to the rider’s hands.  Softness is not that important.  The horse needs ventilation!

A primary part of your cinch system are the latigos and billets that connect the cinch to the saddle. Latigo is the name of a specific type of oil-tanned leather (usually, but not always, burgundy color).  In the case of a saddle the word Latigo refers to the tie straps that connect the saddle and the cinch.  It is cut from top grade latigo leather and should be 1 1/2" to 2" wide and about 6' long.  It is then laced to the near (left) side rigging ring and laced through the cinch ring to be tied or buckled.  The excess length is then hung in the , which is a tab of leather with a slot that is fastened near the front jockey.  Sometimes this “latigo” is made of nylon or other synthetic materials.

roping horseOn the off (right) side of the saddle another latigo may be used, however, it is more common to see a It will be the same width and about 3 feet in length with holes for buckling the cinch tongue.  Sometimes these tie straps are made of nylon which causes some heat and slips quite a bit.  The advantage to nylon is strength and ease of maintainence.  They are still referred to as Latigos.

From the back of the rigging hang the back or.  These are 1 1/2" to 2" wide and about 3' long with holes for buckling to the rear cinch.  They are laced in place through slots or metal D’s.  They are made of a single layer of leather or doubled (lined) with a second piece.  The doubling is only for show. Additional strength is not required here.

The rear cinch, or flank cinch, is seen on most western saddles and is useless in most cases!  It has nothing to do with how well a saddle stays in place for most riding situations.  Its purpose is to prevent the back of the saddle from tilting upward when roping.  Because they come with most saddles riders feel they must use them.  This is not so!

Consider, if you will  ... most riders leave the flank cinch hang down about 3".  In the position where they will contact the horse the belly is soft and will compress about 6" when pushed upward.  Added together this means that the saddle will tilt up 9 to 10" before stopping.  Will that really help a rider maintain his seat?? The other problem with rear cinches is many people allow them to hang even lower where a horse can catch a hoof in it or a big weed can become lodged between it and the soft belly.  Either event will make things get a little more “western” than most  riders desire.  If the cinch is pulled up as tight as should be it, effectively, makes the saddle become a brace across the horse’s back and stops much of the flexibility that is needed for smooth action.

I have heard riders proclaim that the flank cinch is used to keep the saddle in place when riding downhill.  If the angle of the cinch is proper there is no way that it can contribute to holding back the forward slide.  The only proper attachment for this purpose is a .  A crupper goes around the base of the tail and is buckled to the back of the saddle.

Now that you know about cinches and latigos go to your tack room and check every saddle.  Your horse will be glad you did and you will ride safer.


Author Bio: Dusty Johnson has been a leatherworker and saddlemaker for more than 50 years.  He operates the Pleasant Valley Saddle Shop and School in Loveland, Colorado.  He is also the President of Pleasant Valley, Inc and Saddleman Press.  Saddleman Press currently publishes books and videos of saddlemaking instruction, holster making instruction and details of how to make chaps.  Contact Dusty at:  Pleasant Valley Saddle Shop, 1220 So. County Road 21, Loveland, CO, 80537, USA.  Telephone (970)669-1588 or email to DustyJohn@aol.com



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