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The Saddle Rigging

The saddle rigging is a key element in a saddle's safety. It's the arrangement of rings and plates, the rigging hardware, for connecting the straps that hold the saddle in place on a horse's back. Sounds simple enough, but saddle rigging is one of the most misunderstood parts of a western saddle.

You might have heard terms thrown out such as "full double rigged" or "seven eighths single rigged" and been too embarrassed to admit that you didn't know what the heck they were talking about. Well, it's not as complicated as you may think. Let's walk you through it.



First off, saddle rigging is categorized as either single or double. A saddle with only a front rigging position is called "single rigged." A saddle with both a front and a rear rigging position is called "double rigged." The rear position is for adding a flank cinch that will further stabilize a saddle.

saddle rigging Rigging Position
The position of the saddle rigging determines where the cinches will go around the horse's body and, therefore, the amount of pull on the front and rear of the tree. The position of the rear rig is always directly below the cantle. The position of the front rig is variable. The names of the different front rig positions are derived from their distance from the cantle to the fork.

"Full" position is directly under the center of the fork. Full position was the original single rig style used by the Spanish settlers of North America. It was replaced by the "Center Fire" position. Center Fire is located halfway between the cantle and the fork and is always single rig. It's seldom used today. Once roping became a major horseback activity in the west, a flank cinch was added to prevent the back of the saddle from tipping up when dallying cattle to the horn. To accommodate a flank cinch, new front rigging positions were developed. Three quarters position is three quarters of the way from the cantle to the fork (halfway between Center Fire and Full). Seven-Eighths is seven eighths of the way from the cantle to the fork (halfway between Three Quarters and Full).

Today you can order custom saddles with any of these saddle rigging positions. Seven-Eighths single or double rigs are the most popular rigging positions and you will find them on most manufactured saddles. Some saddles are built with a three-way rigging plate that allows a saddle to be used in Full, Seven-Eighths, and Three-Quarters positions.

saddle rigging Rigging Styles
There are three basic rigging styles which determine how the rigging is attached to the saddle:

  • Ring The rigging rings are secured directly to the saddle tree. The advantage is strength, but quite a bit of bulk is created under the rider's legs and it also interferes with the free swing of the stirrups.

  • In-Skirt The rigging rings or plates are attached directly to the skirts. There are two types: "built-in" and "built on." Built-on rigging is an inexpensive and low quality rigging that simply attaches the plate to the surface of the skirt. Built-in rigging is covered with layers of leather and then sewn and riveted to the skirt. In-skirt rigging's advantages are its lighter weight and the least amount of bulk under the rider's legs of all the rigging styles. Poorly built in-skirt rigging doesn't wear well, but well-built in-skirt rigging is extremely strong. In-skirt rigging is growing in popularity.

  • Flat Plate Leather layers riveted around a metal plate are attached directly to the tree. This style has the superior strength of the Ring style but doesn't interfere with the swing of the stirrups and doesn't create as much bulk. This is a nice compromise between Ring and In-Skirt styles and is growing in popularity.

Illustrations courtesy of "Saddle Savvy" by Dusty Johnson


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