This page is for your interest, and to demonstrate that the use of shims under saddles is a far from new concept
ANIMAL MANAGEMENT 1908
The Animal Management 1908 was prepared in the Veterinary Department for General Staff, War Office. We have found this to be a very valuable resource and have highlighted some sections below which we feel are well worth reading.
The Structure of the Back
Excluding *epizootic diseases, it would be difficult to find any cause of inefficiency among army horses, equal to that produced by saddle injuries. It has always been so, for the reason that insufficient attention has been paid to the question of prevention, and few realize the extraordinary damage which may be inflicted in a very short time by an ill fitting saddle or collar.
(*a rapidly spreading disease)
Its frequency is enormously increased by ignorance, indifference and want of intelligence, singly or combined.
The construction of the back is such that it lends itself to injury, and invites trouble by the very peculiarity and delicacy of its organization.
The basis of a sound scheme for the prevention of injuries from saddles and harness can only be laid down by a knowledge of the structure of the parts. All else is guesswork. There is probably no other branch of animal management where a knowledge of the structure of the body is so essential to a clear conception of the subject.
The spine is composed of a chain of bones, each link moving on the one in front of and behind it. It is true the movement is limited, but small as it is, it is of the utmost importance.
Bony Processes of the Spine
A reference to this figure shows that throughout the whole length of the spine may be seen a bony process which grows from the upper part of each link in the chain. The processes in front are very long, and their summit forms the withers; those behind are short and broad; the front processes look backwards, those behind look forwards.
The Ridge of the Backbone
The upper part of the bony processes form the ridge of the backbone. They do not represent the spine proper [the links of which are more deeply seated], but they represent the only part of the spine which can be examined and felt, and they are the seat of all the bone trouble which may be found in a bad sore back.
The subject will be alluded to again, but the fact cannot be learned too early, that these bony (spineous) processes are not intended to bear weight; they represent, as we have expressed it above, the only part of the spine which can be examined and felt, but the spine proper is deep-seated and covered with flesh. If the bony processes belonging to the spine are exposed to pressure, even be it ever so slight, the parts at once become inflamed.
Attachment of Ribs
The head of each rib is let into a joint formed between every link in the spinal chain, and the object of this joint is to allow the ribs to move. The diagram also shows that the ribs in front are let into the breast bone, while those behind are lashed, as it were, to each other. These latter are called the false ribs. The former let into the breast bone are the true ribs.
The true ribs are stout and straight, the false are thinner and curved. The curving and arching of the ribs increases from front to rear, so that the chest is narrowest between the two front ribs, and widest between the two last. A true rib is stronger than a false one, and has much less movement, we take advantage in saddle fitting of its being fixed into the breast bone.
The Movement of Ribs
The ribs move with each act of breathing, the movement, roughly speaking, being forwards and backwards. The ribs in front move very little, those behind move very freely.
Saddle Rests on the Ribs
When a saddle is placed on the back, it rests on the ribs; it is on the ribs, and not on the spine, that the weight is actually carried. This fundamental fact must early to be committed to memory, it is the basis of all saddle fitting.
Bones of the Loin
Turning now to the loins, we find this part is composed of five bones, which in several respects resemble the links of the backbone, but they are larger, and have growing out from them at right angles a thin long process such as the backbone does not possess, but there are no ribs. On the length of the transverse processes just described depends the width of the loins. A horse which is narrow in the loins cannot carry weight. Yet the loins are not intended to support weight, no saddle should ever rest on them, they have a function to perform which shall be alluded to later; but the point which we here wish to emphasize is that in spite of the fact that the bones of the loins are larger and stouter than the bones of the back, they are not intended to carry weight.
Attachment of the Forelegs to the Body
The forelegs of the horse are not fitted to the body by means of a joint, but are attached to the trunk by means of large masses of muscle. The trunk is therefore slung between the forelegs, and in this respect differs considerably from the hind legs, which are secured to the body by muscles, and a large cup and ball joints. The muscles which fix the forelegs to the body are plastered over the sides of the ribs to which they are firmly attached; the upper bone of the foreleg, the so-called blade bone, is shaped something like a fan in order to lie flat on the surface of the ribs.
Movements of the Blade Bone
When the foreleg moves the shoulder blade moves; its range of motion being greater near the shoulder joint than above; the movement of the blade bone is forwards and backwards, it will be easy to observe that while the handle of the fan is going forward, the fan itself is travelling backwards and vice versa, the movement is on the same principle as a see-saw.
Attention must be paid to this fact, as it is apparent that if the blade bone is travelling to and fro, nothing which is placed on the back in the form of a saddle should ever press upon it or interfere with its movements, otherwise the length and safety of the horses stride will at once be affected. So vital is this question that we shall refer to it in greater detail in dealing with the use and function of the different parts of the back.
The Muscle Pad of the Back
The triangular space which lies between the processes of the vertebrae, and the ribs must in the living animal be filled up with flesh or, as we shall prefer to call it, muscle. A large slab of muscle runs the whole length off the back; beginning at the loins it fills the triangular space formed by these vertebrae, and continuing its way along the back fills up the space between the vertebrae and ribs. It is on this muscle that the saddle rests; from a saddle fitting point of view it is the most important muscle of the body
Use of Muscles
The use of muscles is to bring about movement, and those which lie along the back have for their special function the lifting of the fore part of the body, as for example in jumping. This, of course, is an exaggerated example of the use of the muscles of the back and loins, but conveys the correct idea of the fore part of the body being lifted; this lifting, though only to a slight extent as compared with the above, is constantly occurring during progression, and maintains the proper equilibrium off the body.
Skin of Back
Owing to the hair and the colour of the skin the blood can rarely be seen in a horse’s skin the same as it can in a man’s; but it is there, flushing the parts now more, now less, depending on the temperature and other local conditions. It is only in the pink skin of horses with white heels that the blood vessels can be seen, giving the part, especially under the influence of exercise, the bright, ruddy appearance seen in the active skin of a man at work. The vessels in the skin which carry the blood are hair like in diameter and innumerable. Their structure is so delicate that very little pressure is sufficient to keep the parts empty, as can be easily demonstrated on one’s hand; the white mark which follows temporary pressure on the back of the hand is due to the minute blood vessels being emptied of their blood; as soon as the blood once more enters the white mark disappears.
Friction May Cause Galls
The outer or scaly covering of the skin is mainly for the purpose of protection, it protects the delicate parts beneath, and as it gets worn away by friction is replaced from below. Ordinarily the production of scales is equal to the wear and tear, but when friction causes wear and tear to predominate over production, injury arises and the sensitive parts beneath are then exposed. A rub to a back, a gall to a shoulder, are illustrations of excess of wear and tear over production, and represent the simplest form of gall.
Long backs are a source of weakness, and as a rule they are poorly developed, while their length is in itself a weakness; such backs are frequently associated with long narrow loins, one of the greatest faults a troop horse can possess. The loins can hardly be too short and can never be too wide.
Shape of Backs Classified
Backs vary so much in shape as any other part of the body; if careful measurements are made it is surprising how few have the same shape and size of back, yet a broad classification of backs may be made; here, for example, is a table in which the extremes are shown:
- High withers
- Low withers
- Short backs
- Long backs
- Hollow backs
- Wide backs
- Narrow backs
And between these extremes any degree may be met.
A short back is a sign of strength, it is associated with a short wide loin, and provided the back is long enough for the saddle, the broad general statement may be made that it cannot be too short.
A long back is a weak back, it is associated with long weak loins and flat ribs, and its muscles are usually poorly developed.
When excessively high it is not uncommon to find the back hollow, and such a one is unfit to carry weight under military conditions. High withers are always lean, narrow and razor like; the horse that possesses them is always in danger of injury for, as we have previously mentioned, the ridge of the back, which includes the withers, is perfectly incapable of sustaining pressure.
A wide wither is nearly as troublesome as a high one, not for the reason that it gets pressed upon, but owing to the fact that it is liable to be pinched.
Hollow backs are associated with high withers and high loins. It is a useless back for a military horse, as owing to its curve the saddle is unable to get a level bed on the back, and only the front and rear extremities bear on the back, with the result that injury follows.
Wide backs are those which possess a good arch to the ribs and afford a good bed for the saddle to rest on; it is an essential formation for a soldier’s horse.
There is very little bearing surface for the saddle, and what back there is has a slope like the roof of a house, while the sides are flat. A flat-sided horse, besides carrying his saddle badly, is deficient in stamina and soon succumbs to fatigue.
Muscles of the Back in Relation to Saddle Fitting
A saddle must not rest directly on any of the hard structure of the back, be it spine or ribs; it must only rest on those parts well clothed with muscle, and the only part of the back so clothed is the angular space formed by the ribs and processes of the vertebrae.
Muscles a Buffer to Bones
In saddle fitting the muscles of the back act as a buffer to the bones beneath, and so prevent injury; where a part of the back has no muscle to protect it, there the saddle cannot rest, or if it does, injury results.
The importance of having well-nourished back muscles is very great; where they are large and well developed we may be certain the parts beneath are sufficiently protected, where they are impoverished and weak the animal is in hourly risk of injury.
Back Shows Waste Soon
When horses are working hard and underfed, one of the first places to show muscle waste is the back. The muscles, previously convex, now become concave until well-marked gullies form along either side of the spine, while the ribs previously hidden are now in view and can be distinctly counted.
Changes in Shape of Back
The whole shape of the back is altered; it is as if some new structure had taken place of the old, and all this is explained by the melting of the muscles on the back bringing the skeleton beneath into view.
It is this metamorphosis of the back which has to be so anxiously watched on service. It is this which renders all previous saddle fittings useless, for the impoverished back is as different from the well-nourished one as anything can possibly be; it is as though we compared the skeleton to the living subject.
We dwell upon and emphasise this question of back muscle; it is the foundation of a clear conception of sore backs and their causes, and it is the basis for all preventative measures.
Effect of Pressure on the Skin of the Back
The lay mind does not readily grasp the fact that quite a considerable portion of the blood is circulating in the skin, and that one object of this is to ensure the rapid renewal of the skin, which being exposed to friction, would soon wear away to the sensitive parts unless constantly replaced. There are other functions the blood and skin performs, but these are not germane to our subject and may be neglected.
If the blood supply of any part of the body be cut off, the part dies. Whether it dies rapidly or slowly depends on the thoroughness with which the bloodstream has been cut off; if complete, the death of the part will only be a matter of a few hours, if incomplete it may take a few days. This statement holds good whether it be the question of a limb or a small piece of skin on the back.
Pressure will kill any of the tissues in the body; a leg may be completely amputated, skin, muscles, and bone, without the use of a knife or saw – a simple piece of elastic cord will do in the course of weeks what a knife can do in a minute or two. The pressure of the cord cuts off the blood supply, the part dies, and is gradually cut off.
The limb amputated by an elastic cord is an exaggerated example of the influence of pressure; for the purpose of the subject we are considering we dot have to think of any pressure greater than that produced by a man’s weight, or any structure to die as a result of this pressure other than those found in the back.
The skin of the horse’s back is subjected to pressure when the man mounts, and in consequence less bloods circulates through it than before. The greater the weight imposed the greater the pressure on the skin, and with every increase in pressure less blood is circulating through it.
It is safe to say that the pressure is never the same at any two points over the back; it is greater here and less there, depending upon the fit of the saddletree, so that we never expect to see the whole length of the skin of the back die as a result of pressure, but only those parts where the tree has been particularly ill-fitting and the pressure the greatest.
It is obvious that so long as there is a deep muscle bed beneath the skin the chances of completely cutting off the blood supply are very small; as the muscle becomes reduced in bulk the saddle is brought day by day nearer to the skeleton, and the unyielding saddle on one hand and rigid bone on the other very soon complete the destruction of the skin.
The muscle of the back may be regarded in the light of so much extra stuffing in the saddle, it saves the bones and skin from injury; it takes the jar and concussion, and forms an elastic cushion for the saddle to rest on.
This point having now been made clear it is easy to understand the harm that arises through horses being hour after hour under the saddle with no relief from their burden.
Continuous pressure will kill anything. The weight of a drop of water in course of time wears away a stone, and continuous pressure, quite irrespective and apart from bad saddle fitting will wear holes in a horse’s back.
The most perfectly fitting saddle that it is possible to conceive will cause sore backs if worn for hours and days together with no relief from pressure.
The value of this lesson will again be referred to in speaking of prevention, but the fact that long continued, unrelieved pressure will invariably cause sore backs cannot be too distinctly borne in mind.
Blade Bone Pressure
At every movement of the fore legs the shoulder blade bones working to and fro; when the foreleg and shoulder advances that portion of the blade bone in front of the saddle goes backwards, on the principle of the seesaw movement previously alluded to, and conversely when the blade bone in front of the saddle is travelling forward the fore leg is passing backwards.
(Shoulder) Blade-bone movement is of the utmost importance; if a saddle be so fitted as to interfere with it the stride of the horse is shortened, he becomes tired before his time, and further, being unable to properly get the leg forward, he stumbles.
To ride on a horse’s blade bones throughout a long day’s work is to ask him to perform his work at a mechanical disadvantage, and to imperil the safety of his knees, a fact which must be remembered in considering the correct position further saddle.
It is intended here to consider the saddle as a whole and not refer to any particular type, excepting where such reference is necessary. It is thought that in this way the subject can best be considered, as no matter how, saddles may differ in detail, there is a certain unity of type existing.
The framework of a saddle consists of two arches, one in front and one behind the rider, each arch resting upon and secured to bars placed parallel to each other, through the medium of which the rider’s weight is distributed on the back. This description holds good whether we are speaking of the racing saddle of the 20th century or the saddle hanging over the tomb of Henry V, in Westminster Abbey.
Two arches are used so as to ensure the spine is not pressed upon, and two bars are used by which the arches are kept in their place. Here we have the conception of a saddle tree, the principles of which have never undergone a change; finality was at once reached so far as the general idea of protection of the horses back was concerned.The more weight carried on the saddle, the stronger it has to be, and a stronger saddle is a heavier saddle. The question is often asked:
“Why is not a military saddle like a plain saddle and as light as one?”
The answer is that such a pattern could not carry the impedimenta, nor could a lightly constructed saddle possibly stand the strain to which a military saddle is exposed. It is obvious that the more weight it has to carry and support, the stronger it must be, and that the first step towards a light saddle is a light load.
Materials of Arches
The arches of a saddle are made of wood or metal, or a combination of these. Metal is used in all military saddles constructed within the last 25 years; prior to that two pieces of beech were given appropriate curves and secured together with an arch of steel known as a gullet plate.
The front arch forms the pommel, the rear arch the cantle; both pommel and cantle may be high or low; they are made high, especially the cantle, when bulky material has to be carried on the saddle.
Strain on Arches
The strain on a front is greater than that on a rear arch, for the reason that, owing to the shape of the horses body, the saddle is really resting on a wedge and this with the weight of the rider is constantly exercising an outward strain on the arch. This strain is greatly increased where the fit is defective and excessive weight carried.
Important Points of Arch
The important points to attend to in an arch, apart from its strength, are:-
- Its height.
- Its width.
Nearly the whole of the wither injuries met in the Service are due to one or other of these causes. Either the arch is not high enough or it is too narrow; sometimes there is a combination of these evils, but more frequently they are single and an injury from a narrow arch is more common than that from a low arch.
The subject of injuries has yet to be dealt with in detail, but to prevent misconception it is desirable to state here that most of them are the result of bad fitting, loss of condition or other service conditions rather than errors in manufacture, such as the above remarks might appear to suggest.
Points of Arch
The front arch extends below the sidebars; the extension is known as the points, and these are intended to help the girths and prevent the saddle from heeling over. They appear unnecessary, and are not present in the Modern Universal Pattern Military Saddle.
The rear arch is made of metal in all modern military saddles; in plain saddles and those of the Colonial pattern it is of wood strengthened with steel.
Front Arch Spreads, Rear Arch Sinks
The tendency for a front arch is to spread, but with a rear arch the tendency is to sink under the weight of the rider. Like the front arch, it must be high enough to clear the spine, but the question of width is by no means so important as in the front arch, while the strength of material is equally important.
The Side Bars
The side bars are that portion of the saddle which rests on the back, and to which the front and rear arches are secured.Side bars are generally made of wood, and are given a twist in the making which enables them to be adjusted to the curves of the back.
Materials for Side Bars
Side bars may be made of metal, but these are not in common use; wood, be it either for a military or plain saddle, is the substance generally employed. If the shape of the vertical section of the body beneath the front and rear arches, be looked at, it will be obvious that the shape of bar suitable for one is unsuitable for the other, and speaking broadly we may say that while the side bar in front tends to be upright, behind it tends to be flat. This difference in shape is accomplished by giving the bar a twist in the process of manufacture.
We have dwelt on the fact that all horses do not have the same shape of back, yet most side bars are so alike that one cannot be distinguished from another.
Use of Side Bar
The function of a side bar is to afford a firm support for the arches of the saddle and to distribute the weight over the back.
Bearing in mind the weight bearing region, viz., from the play of the shoulder to the rib, it is clear that over this surface the side bars should rest evenly, squarely, and without undue pressure at any one point. Such is the theory; the practice, however, is very different, arising from difficulties which are not always capable of control, especially the exigencies of military life.
Alterations of Fit of Side Bar due to Muscles Altering
The saddle fitted to distribute the pressure evenly all over the surface of the side bars, will only do so as long as the back remains in the same condition as it was at the time of moulding. Should muscle waste occur the bars no longer fit; should the muscles of the back become larger and fuller, the same result follows; hence, unless the same condition is maintained, the care and time spent moulding the bars to the curves of the back are thrown away.
In practice we have to be satisfied with something which falls far short of the ideal, but is the nearest approach which is practicable.
This is just as marked in fitting a plain saddle, where, in fact, little or no attention is paid to the curves of the side bars, the fit of the saddle and distribution of weight being assured through the medium of a panel stuffed with horsehair and flock.
If the side bars for military saddles were no longer than those used in plain saddles, their management would be greatly simplified, but it is considered necessary that they should project beyond the front arch and behind the rear arch, in order to assist in carrying the man’s impedimenta.
That part of the side by projecting beyond the front arch is termed the burr, and little reflection will show what a serious obstacle it may prove to the fitting of the saddle, and to the locomotion of the horse.
Pressure of the Burr
Taking the latter is being the most serious objection it is evident from our account of the movements of the blade bone, that a burr to the side bars is calculated, unless great care in fitting be adopted, to press upon the shoulder blade and prevent the free extension of the limbs.
If a horse cannot get his forelegs carried to the front with freedom, he becomes tired earlier than he should. His shoulder blades are encased in a veritable straitjacket, if a pair of side bars are pressed into them by a tight girth and the weight of the rider.
It can be no matter for wonder that under these conditions he may even fall when tired, and under any circumstances may constantly stumble and trip.
No weight should be imposed on the blade bones; free and uncontrolled backward and forward movement is essential. The movement of the human ankle is a very fair comparison to the movements of the horses blade bones, and we can have no difficulty in realising what the result of interfering with the free play of the ankle would be if we caused a wooden splint to project over it.
The play of the shoulder blade and the hollow behind the blade bone are important landmarks in saddle fitting, and the side bar should lie in the latter and extend from there to the last rib. In spite of burrs, a saddle may be so fitted as to occupy the position indicated without pressing on the blade bones.
The projecting portion of the side bars behind is known as the fan; it is given an upward sweep in the manufacture of the side bar, but with many backs this is insufficient to carry it clear of the loins.
It is the loins and not the back proper which get injured by the fans, the injury being produced by friction.
Certain Backs Very Liable to Injury from Burr & Fan
There are certain classes of back which especially lend themselves to injury by both burr and fan. For instance, a hollow back is certain to be injured by both ends of the side by and the reason of this is evident.
A horse with thick low withers, with blade bones comparatively wide apart, is peculiarly liable to injury from the burr.
When muscle waste becomes established, the edge of the blade bone at the play of shoulder becomes more and more evident, as the long muscles of the back melt away, until it stands up like a new growth.
Under these conditions, the burr will press on it and do injury, as the muscles of the back having wasted, there is nothing to keep the saddle off the blade bone.
Distance Between Side Bars
It is almost impossible to have the channel between the bars too wide.
One great reason for this is that circumstances necessitate a blanket should be carried under the saddle; and if the distance between side bars is insufficient, the thickness of these blankets will cause the side bar to rest on the side of the withers, for it is obvious that the tendency of a saddle blanket and numnah is to fill up the interval between the side bars.
The Seat & Flaps
We have so far considered the framework of the saddle,viz., the two arches and side bars. These comprise the essentials of a saddle, and if they fit – or to put it perhaps more accurately – if these are big enough, and in any way resemble the surface on which they are to rest, the other parts of the saddle become mere accessories, for example, the seat, flaps, panels, etc.
The seat is a convenience to the rider; a blanket laid over the tree of the saddle would do as well, provided there was very little back waste. The seat is a part of the saddle which, so far as it relates to the man, does not here concern us, but it may be a source of injury to the horse, if through the leatherwork stretching or stitches giving way, it comes down onto the spine; it is obvious that this is only likely to occur through loss of condition or its equivalent, so far as saddle fitting is concerned,viz., thin blanket or panels. The strain on a seat is considerable, and in order to support this bridge of leather, there is introduced under it a sling of webbing which runs from arch to arch, and so takes off very largely the strain on the leather.
Seats are strained by other methods when riding: a tight over-girth is one of the chief causes of seats sinking.
Flaps to the saddle, like seats, are not a necessity, but a convenience – a blanket would do as well. The saddle flap is rarely the cause of injury, and we may therefore dismiss any further consideration of it.
Pad Between Saddle & Back
The material which goes between the saddle and the back consists of blanket and numnah, or numnah and panels or numnah, blanket and panels. The ordinary service method consists of a numnah and blanket on which the bare side bars rest, or the latter may be further protected by panels made of numnah.
These three structures must be separately.
Those on a plain saddle consist of a bag made of leather and serge, stuffed with flock and horsehair, but in military saddles they have been long discarded. In face of the fact, however, that all types saddle are used in war, including those with hair panels, it is necessary the subject should receive some consideration at our hands.
Panels stuffed with hair have one very great advantage,viz., that in course of time they get moulded to the shape of the horses back, and adjust themselves to all irregularities. This is the explanation why so little attention is paid to the fit of the plain saddle; so long as the front arch is wide enough, the saddler does not trouble his head any further, but depends upon the hair in the panels completing the fit, which it most certainly does. This adjustment of panels to the shape of the back is very noticeable; the stuffing in a new pair of panels will with very little work settle down, so that the panel becomes reduced in thickness; and while the settling down is taking place the two bags of hair are being moulded to the peculiarities of the back, and the saddle made to fit through its panels instead of through its tree.
Theoretically this is wrong in principle, though it certainly works out in practice, and may, therefore, be defended; but for the panel, the civil saddle would be a constant cause of a sore back.
Weak Points of Panels
Panels have their weak points, they may be too bulky or too thin, the stuffing may have become hard, lumpy, or even caked if sweat has passed in. Until every soldier knows something of saddlery, it is fair to urge that the panel requires a saddler to deal with it, whereas there are other means much simpler, such as a blanket, which a soldier may adjust for himself. No doubt it is owing to this the panels have disappeared from the regular service of the Army, as their alterations can only be affected by a trained man.
Panels have been made of felt (numnah) and fitted to the side bars; by themselves they are insufficient protection to the back. They must be used with a blanket, and are then useful. Strips of numnah of varying lengths may be usefully employed in making a saddle fit; two, three, or more layers may be cut out, kept together by a stitch or two and bound to the side bar. This will again be referred to in dealing with sore backs, for which purpose strips of Numnah are of the greatest value.
A blanket beneath the saddle is a most admirable method of protection. It does not lend itself like a panel to graduated variations of thickness, but on the other hand, it can be dealt with by a person without any instruction in the trade of a saddler, and the changes he can effect by altering the method of folding may be brought about in a few minutes.
Thick & Thin Blankets
A good thick blanket is economy, a thin blanket an abomination; a good blanket folds, a thin blanket wrinkles; a good blanket saves a back from bruising, and lasts some time; a thin blanket has a short life, and is never satisfactory when horses are losing condition.
Uses of a Blanket
The great recommendation of a blanket is that so many useful adjustments may be made by alterations in its folding when a back becomes worn or injured, and this will even be the chief recommendation of a blanket under a military saddle. In fact, a blanket is the only means of immediately replacing artificially the amount of flesh a horse loses, and so enables us not only to prevent the ribs from becoming bruised through the whole weight of the rider being brought closer to the body, but also to keep the arches of the saddle clear of the spine. We must not forget that every ounce of flesh lost on the back brings the saddle nearer to the delicate parts below, and increases enormously the liability to injury.
Folding the Blanket
No more folds should be placed in the saddle blanket than are necessary.
What thickness of material shall be placed beneath the saddle? This is governed by two conditions, (a) the amount of flesh on the back, (b) the amount of work a horse is performing. Assuming that the conditions are service conditions, viz.: a moderate amount of flesh on the back and an immoderate amount of work to be performed, then the golden rule is to have ample material beneath the saddle in order to prevent the parts becoming bruised through heavy weight and long hours. Weight transmitted through a thick blanket and good numnah is distributed; that which is transmitted through a thin protection is concentrated.
It is well to draw attention once more to the fact that the blanket must lie level and unwrinkled.
Nine layers of blanket under the side bar can only be required for horses losing muscle, and where the back waste is great, there may not be sufficient to keep the saddle at its proper height above the spine. In such cases twelve layers may be employed, but it is better to use hay, grass, straw, rushes, and suchlike, placed between the folds of blankets under the side bar, rather than twelve layers of blankets.
The disadvantage of having too many folds under the side bar, apart from the risk of the ribs being bruised, is the difficulty of keeping them in position, unless the blanket is stitched at one or two points.
One-man can fold a blanket, but it is better done by two; the folds are then made with greater regularity, and there is less chance of a blanket being placed on the back with wrinkles in it.
Numnah’s are generally made of felt, though leather has been tried. The use of a numnah is not to make the saddle fit or render it soft to the back (incidentally it does both), but its function is to absorb the sweat and prevent it passing into the blanket or panels. This is where the leather numnah failed; it was not absorbent, and in addition presented the disadvantage of becoming dry and hard under the influence of sweat.
Various considerations cause the service girth to be made of leather, rather than webbing, cord, or raw hide. The last three, however, may have to be used and are excellent as long as they last.
A soldier’s saddle has to be kept more firmly girthed up than a civilian, owing to the greater weight, much of it top heavy. To avoid undue oscillation this weight has to be steadied, and a girth too tight for a hunter may be absolutely necessary for a troop horse.
In order to give further assistance in steadying the weight, the girth, instead of being secured to a central attachment, is buckled into straps which come from either end of the saddle. This V attachment is an immense advantage where great weight is concerned.
Fitting the Saddle
It has not been found possible in speaking of the structure of the saddle to avoid making some reference to its fit, but this section is specially devoted to a consideration of the fundamental principles of saddle fitting.
There are six axioms in saddle fitting never to be forgotten. They constitute the essence of the whole subject, and when they are applied intelligently, saddle fitting becomes almost an exact science.
Essential Points of Saddle Fitting
- 1st. The withers must neither be pinched nor pressed upon.
- 2nd. The central line of the back must have no pressure imposed upon it.
- 3rd. The blade bones must have free and uncontrolled movement.
- 4th. The loins are not intended to carry weight.
- 5th. The weight must be imposed upon the ribs through the medium of the muscles covering them.
- 6th. The weight must be evenly distributed over a surface extending from the play of the shoulders to the last rib.
In rule 1st the word pressed is placed in italics; there are many who know the withers must not be pinched, but there are many who do not realise that something far short of pinching is sufficient to set up disease if long continued.
Method of Fitting: Putting on a Bare Tree
In fitting a saddle, that size which is nearest to the horses requirements is selected. There are several sizes to choose from, and in making the choice that bare tree is tried on the back.
Having been placed on the back, the front arch resting in the pit of the shoulder, the following points are looked to.
The arch and seat should, if possible, be clear of the spine. This is not always possible with horses possessing high withers, but it is desirable in order to ascertain the fit of the side bars. The front arch must be wide enough to admit the hand on either side of the wither.
The side bars must bear evenly on the back, or as nearly so as can be obtained. The points of the tree must be wide enough apart to clear the ribs.
The side bars must not be too long. At this stage it is no use looking to blade bone and loin pressure; these can only hope to be avoided when the blanket and numnah are placed under the saddle. All we can do at this stage is to make sure the edge of the side bar is not pressing into the withers or ribs, and that the arches are wide enough.
A numnah is now placed on the back, and the tree on the numnah, but without a blanket. This manoeuvre considerably raises the saddle tree. The amount by which it is raised gives an index to the required thickness of the blanket.
It cannot be too often insisted on that a numnah or a blanket reduces the width of a front arch, and narrows the saddle across the top of the side bars.
Add Numnah & Blanket
The blanket is now folded, and placed on the Numnah and the tree on the blanket. The blanket and numnah are pressed up well into the front arch, and before girthing up it should be noticed whether the burrs are off the shoulders and the fans off the loins; if they are not the thickness of the blanket beneath the side bars must be increased by turning it up on either side. The girths are now pulled up and a man placed in the saddle.
The fit of a saddle can never be determined without seeing a man in it; parts may appear out of harm’s way when no weight is in the saddle, which are brought dangerously close under the pressure of a man’s weight.
Test for Wither Pressure
The first thing to ascertain is the freedom from wither pressure; the hand must readily find admission beneath the Numnah over the top and along both sides of the withers. to increase the severity of the test, the man should lean forward, and the examiner must not be satisfied with anything less than the introduction of the entire hand.
Test for Blade Bone Pressure
The next thing is to ascertain freedom from blade bone pressure. This is done by passing the hand beneath the Numnah to the play of the shoulder; if there is pressure it is only with difficulty it can be introduced. Assuming the hand can find its way in, the foreleg is advanced by an assistant (Figure 34) to its full extent, and this should be possible without pinching fingers of the examiner behind the blade bone side bar, even with the man leaning forward. If the fingers are pinched the blade bone will also be pinched, and the saddle must be raised by placing either a pair of numnah panels on the side bar or an extra fold of blanket. Both blade bones are, of course, tested.
Assuming we have remedied all the above defects, the saddle should be ridden in, say, for half an hour, and the next step is to ascertain whether the pressure of the side bars is evenly distributed; this can be learned in the following way:
The saddle is carefully ungirthed, the numnah straps unbuckled, and the tree lifted from the blanket without in the least disturbing it. The blanket will be found to bear the imprint of the side bars, and an examination of this depression shows at a glance whether they are pressing evenly from top to bottom and from front to rear. The examination has to be rapidly made, as the blanket through its elasticity soon loses the impression of the side bars and the mark of the latter becomes obliterated.
The most usual places to find excessive pressure are at the top edge of the side bar behind the rear arch, and if there is a deeper impression on the blanket in these situations than any other portion of the bar, we may accordingly say with certainty that the pressure is not evenly distributed and that the parts of the back corresponding with the more marked impressions are receiving an undue amount of the weight. This with a horse in condition, or with a good blanket and numnah, may not necessarily mean a sore back; it is certainly means a sore back should the horse lose condition or the blanket or panel be thin and the tree be thus brought nearer to the bony framework.
To Remedy Irregularity of Fit
This irregularity in the fit of the side bars may be remedied by the introduction of pieces of numnah to fill up the space between the side bars and blanket. With very little practice these pieces of felt may be cut to the required shape and thickness; some edges will need to be almost as thin as a knife blade, and other parts will require adding to.
Once the pieces of felt have been cut they must be secured in position. In peace this can be at once done with glue, but in the field they may have to be tied on, or tacks put through them, or, what is best, bound in position by means of a piece of thin leather (basil) which envelops the side bar at the required part and can be tacked to his edge or laced with string across the top. These strips of felt are capable of effecting the most radical alterations in the fit of a side bar; the method has the value of simplicity and requires no trained workmen to carry out; finally it can be carried out in a very few minutes.
Regular Inspection of Saddles
It must never be forgotten that no matter what care we take in the fitting and alteration of saddles, such fitting is only applicable to the condition the horse is in at the time. On active service the saddles require looking to everyday. They should be inspected just as regularly as the feet are. Every weak point in the fit of a saddle in a squadron should be known and the remedy already arranged for should trouble arise. In no other way is it possible to bring horses through severe work with whole backs.
Sore Backs: How They Are Caused, Prevented & Remedied
Under the term sore backs is included all injuries inflicted on horses by the saddle, whether such injury affects the back proper or the withers; we must, however, for the purpose of description, draw a clear line between these, as the causes operating in producing injuries to the withers are not causes which injure the back, and vice versa.
A Sore Back has a Definite Cause
The first thing to learn is that the position of a sore back is not an accidental occurrence, but is the outcome of a definite cause. If we appreciate the value of this axiom, and know the causes operating in producing the various injuries, we are able to recognise almost by glancing at a sore back the actual cause operating in its production
The knowledge that in nearly every case or injury, the cause can be clearly determined, is valuable information, for if we remove the cause, the effect ceases. If we know the cause of a sore back and can remove it, that sore back will not recur. Every sore, every injury, every abrasion on a horses back is due to a certain definite cause, which if removed produces no further effect. Let this be taught to non-commissioned officers and men, and encourage all- ranks to bring at once to notice every rub, no matter how slight.
The term bad saddling is also used far too loosely, and it is well that some definition of it should be given, always bearing in mind that there is a marked distinction between bad saddling and defective fitting; the soldier is responsible for the former, the officer for the latter.
Here is an example which may help to define responsibility. A horse meets with an injury to the withers, due to the arch of the saddle resting on the spine; this is defective fitting, for which the officer is responsible. A horse meets with an injury to the withers, due to the numnah resting on the spine, and not being pressed up into the front arch and fixed there by the strap. Such an injury is bad saddling, for which the rider is responsible.
It may be convenient to classify bad saddling:-
- The numnah not strapped up in front and rear.
- The loose end of any strap getting in between the numnah and skin.
- Any portion of the rear pack resting on the spine, or even the only touching it.
- The sweat flap of the girth – or in panelled saddles, the panel flap – getting turned in when putting the saddle on
in a hurry, thus forming a thick ridge which gets pressed into the side and produces injury.
- A horse is badly saddled which has either a loose girth or a tight surcingle.
Apart from actual vice, the above comprises all the bad saddling which is possible.
Advantage of Occasionally Walking when Tired
This wearing out of a tired horse by a tired man is effectually met by at once dismounting the man, and letting him lead the horse. After he has done some distance, his tired riding muscles will have regained their tone, and he can then remount.
In long marches, men get tired or cramped through being hours in one position, they twist and turn in the saddle leaned forward, or quit their stirrups, and let their bodies sway about. The wholesome corrective for this is dismounting the men. In a long march every man should walk and lead his horse for a portion of every hour, which prevents rolling, and secures the important advantage of allowing the blood to circulate freely through the skin.
Irregularities occurring on the line of march should be detected by the officer. If men injure and wear out their horses by rolling about in the saddle, he is to blame, for he should have at once detected it, and applied the remedy.
These things can never be seen unless looked for, and if all the officers of the squadron ride at the head of it, their backs are turned towards what is occurring. Where horses are concerned nothing can take the place of the eye of the master.
The troop officer should ride in no fixed position on the march; first on one side of the column, then on the other, now halting and letting his horses pass him, now riding behind and looking at them from the rear. Such supervision repays itself a hundred fold, while the moral effect cannot be overestimated.
General Causes of Injury
Every injury to back, shoulders or other part of the body due to saddles, harness or collars, is brought about by one of two means, or a combination of the two:
- By friction.
- By pressure.
Whether the injury consists of a few hairs rubbed off, or a swelling on the withers the size of a child’s head, the cause is as above.
From what has been said in dealing with the structure of the back, no difficulty will be experienced in understanding how friction or pressure acts: the one wears away the part by rubbing, the other by partly or entirely cutting off the blood supply.
We have shown that no living tissue can stand continuous pressure, not even when a relatively soft and light body is inflicting it, let alone a mechanism of steel and wood like a saddle tree.
That a certain power of resistance to both friction and pressure exists is undoubted; a horse in hard conditions can stand much more of either than one in soft condition.
Bearing of Condition on Injuries
The evil of soft condition is more readily shown by friction than by pressure. It is remarkable how little friction the soft horse can tolerate.
The tolerance of both friction and pressure is characteristic of the horse in hard condition, and we see the same in the well-trained man, who is very difficult to bruise.
Condition enormously influences the production of sore backs, and condition that may be of three kinds:
- Hard condition, such as we meet with in the full-fed, hard-worked horse.
- Poor condition such as is met with in the horse under-fed and over-worked.
- Soft condition, well seen in the fat horse who has done no work.
No. 1 takes a lot of friction and much pressure, but Nos.2 and 3, though at opposite poles, behave as if identical. In No.2 the vitality and resisting power lowered through hard work and insufficient food; in No.3 there is a good deal of vitality, but of a fluid kind, it soon evaporates, while of resisting power there is none.
In every function of a horse’s life the question of condition presents itself. It influences lameness and sore backs; it is the basis of staying power and resistance to disease.
It may be said that there is no part of the saddle which is not capable of producing an injury, though it is certain that some parts produce it more frequently than others.
The withers are the most frequent seat of injury at the present day, and there are several causes in operation to account for this.
An injury to the withers may be on top or on the sides; the class of wither most commonly affected is the high lean one or the short thick.
Wither injuries are caused by the following:-
- The numnah resting on the spine either through the strap not being buckled or through it having broken.
- The front arch of the saddle being narrowed and filled up by too many folds of the blanket, aggravated, perhaps, by a saddle to narrow in the arch. This is especially evident in a horse with thick withers.
- Loss of back muscle, by which the entire saddle is brought nearer to the bony framework. This is especially evident in a horse with high withers.
All the above are aggravated by the weight carried; the heavier the man –perhaps we should say the heavier the load – the greater the damage inflicted. The more unequal the balance of weight carried the greater the risk of injury; where the balance of weight is disturbed, the saddle heels over towards the heaviest side; but for the withers it might completely heel over, as the withers act as a break and in consequence suffer.
For this reason, if for no other, men should be made to sit in a firm and erect manner in their saddle. Every turn or twist of the body causes the saddle to heel over, and if either 2or 3 in the above table are in operation it aggravates matters.
And so with the balance of the kit carried; if more is being carried on the near than the off side the saddle naturally heels, and if there is a tendency to 2 or 3 it is increased. This matter of the balance of weight is so important that it will be referred to again.
Remedies for Wither Injuries
What are the remedies for the above sore backs?
No.1 is obvious: the numnah merely requires to be well strapped in the arch.
No.2: Here we must reduce the number of folds in the blanket under the arch and increase them under the side bar. This can be readily done by folding the blanket in three in the usual way, laying it over the numnah so that the ends hang down, and then folding up the blanket from each side so as to bring several folds under the side bar but no more under the arch, and if the saddle is still not high enough, to put on numnah panels. If in the field, straw or long coarse grass may be tied onto the side bars, and straw panels thus made. The most perfect straw panel can be made from a bottle protector after dividing the string which ties up the narrow end. These are quite readily kept in position on the side bars by string.
The methods adopted in dealing with No. 2 are also suitable for No. 3. Loss of back muscle is replaced by panels of numnah, strips of numnah, extra folds in the blanket under the side bar, but not under the arch, straw panels, or even straw placed in the folds of the blanket.
Anything which will raise the saddle to its proper height above the spine, make a soft bed for it to rest on, and so take the place of the natural muscle bed which has wasted away, will prevent further injury to the withers.
In effecting these alterations they must be seen and inspected. No opinion can be given without seeing the man in the saddle; he should be made to place both hands on the front arch, and bring his entire weight to bear on it before he can be perfectly assured that no further injury is possible.
It must not be supposed that every injury on the top or sides of the wither is necessarily due to the cause we have named, but they represent probably 98%; the remainder is made up of such causes as the seat sinking and touching the spines of the back, or even resting on them through an insufficient amount of material being beneath the side bar; the loose end of a strap getting under the arch, a badly fitting horse rug, and similar rare conditions.
Injury Under Rear Arch
Injuries in connection with the rear arch and the portion of blanket and numnah which it covers are not very common. From the rear arch itself no injury is inflicted, but the numnah may cause very considerable inflammation if allowed to come down on the back and get tightly stretched over the spine. Even without getting tightly stretched it may cause considerable trouble due to the stitches which hold the leather patch and strap in position. The remedy to apply in the above case is very obvious.
Injuries due to not strapping the rear pack high enough is a fault which is quite unpardonable. It can be seen at a glance whether the spine is free from pressure, and if not, this should be brought under ‘careless saddling’, and made the subject of punishment. In those cases where the pack comes down as the result of loss of condition, no further strapping up is possible. Such cases should be dealt with by placing more folds of blanket under the side bar or by putting on strips of numnah or numnah panels.
The loose end of a baggage strap will do nearly as much harm as the kit resting on the spine.
If saddles be used for military purposes without a cantle, or with a very low one, a rear pack can only be carried so long as the horses are in good condition; after that the it must be cast aside, for no pack can be carried behind with a low cantle and impoverished condition.
Injury from Burrs
Injuries from the burrs or fans are met by folding the blanket shorter, and putting more folds under the side bar. The most careful examination must subsequently be made with the man in the saddle, to ascertain that these parts are free from pressure. (Figure 36).
Injuries From Curve of Side Bar
Injuries due to side bars being too curved occur about the middle of the back, and the curve cannot be reduced, so the only thing is, to fill up both ends of the side bar with strips of numnah, shaving them off to nothing as they approach the centre. More than one strip may be required at the extremities; in this, as in all other building-up operations with numnah, the personal equation of the operator, his capacity for grasping requirements, and his resourcefulness, make all the difference between success and failure.
Alterations for Side Bar Injury
With panelled saddles it is comparatively simple to deal with alterations; they generally consist of more stuffing, which only a trained saddler can do, or at least no one else attempts, though it is quite simple.
Balance of Weight
There are few things which require more attention than the question of the balance of weight, pound for pound, ounce for ounce. There should be the same weight on the off side as on the near.in fact, to secure this adjustment it would even be better to add weight to the light side to bring matters into equilibrium, so important is it that the weight on a horses back should be equal on either side of the spine.
Injuries from Fan
The fans of the side bar are capable of inflicting injury on the loins, the result of friction. The rolling action of the loins, previously described causes friction between them and the side bar. Very little contact suffices; the hair, as the result of friction, is shaved off as closely as if done by a razor, and over a patch the size of the palm of the hand. Occasionally the matter ends there; the oval-shorn patch remains, but undergoes no further change; if, however, the rear fans press on the loins with more force than is sufficient to shave the hair off, the next stage is a crop of pimples, heat and swelling, and the loins become extremely tender.
The remedy for the above-described state of affairs is very simple, the principle being that the fans to be kept off the loins, either by extra folds in the blanket, or a numnah panel. The thickness of either of these must be such that the fans are raised off the loins to such a height that the hand may find ready admission beneath them when the man is in the saddle and leaning back.
This is also a case where the blanket should be folded shorter.
Horses will also gall that are in soft condition; it is one first affecting a remount on beginning its military training, but ceases as soon as he improves in condition. This should be borne in mind, and girths not structurally altered under the impression that these are to blame; all that is necessary is to put a piece of sheepskin around the girth until improvement in condition sets in.
They should have their girths tightened after the man mounts, and all, as a rule, require the girths tightening after they have been out a little time.
Especially is this the case on the line of march, for under these circumstances the horses are carrying a greater weight, and it is of the utmost importance it should rock as little as possible. A loose girth for a soldier’s horse is on this account a great mistake.
We must always remember that a saddle is never girthed to a back as tightly as it seems; when a man’s weight is in the saddle the girths at once become slacker.
V Girth Attachment
The use of a V-shaped girth is a considerable gain to the troop horse, but the point of junction of the V is always a source of trouble; a metal union appears to be necessary for strength, but a metal plate, ring, or studs at this point are possible sources of trouble, especially if a blanket be so folded as not to afford sufficient protection to the side. Nor must it be forgotten that the cause of trouble is aggravated by a tight surcingle or over-girth. The action of this is to press the metal connection deeper into the side, and in some cases a tight over-girth is the sole cause of trouble.
Injury from the Rear Pack
Injuries from the rear pack are among some of the most severe inflicted; the part affected is the ridge of the spine where there is nothing covering the bone but skin, and in a very short time an injury may be inflicted of sufficient severity to lay the horse up for weeks. No matter what is carried behind the saddle the golden rule is that it should be concave towards the spine in order that nothing may touch it. The nature of the material carried must determine what degree of bend can be given to it to make it concave towards the spine. For instance, when one sees a picket peg laid across the rear fans and carried next to the horses back we know that a golden rule for carrying a rear pack is either unknown or forgotten.
Bearing in mind what we have said about muscle waste, it must be evident that a rear pack which is clear of the spine when the horse is full of muscle may rest on the backbone when he loses a flesh. A horse with a roach back is at all times more liable to this class of injury than one with a back of ordinary shape.
It is obvious that the danger of carrying material behind the saddle is enormously increased by using a saddle with a low cantle; in fact, it may at once be said that low cantle saddles, such as find their way into military service under the stress of war, should never be used for carrying a rear pack when the animals have lost muscle. No matter what may constitute the rear pack, it should be so fitted that when the man is in the saddle and leaning back the closed hand should find easy admission between the pack and the spine, and on the march and on service this point should be looked to every day. A single glance riding behind the men will at once tell the trained eye whether everything is satisfactory.
A rear pack must not be slack in its attachment to the cantle, but firm and immovable; all buckles must be on top and in sight, for a buckle resting on the spine is a real source of trouble, while the loose end of a strap is productive of considerable injury if it finds its way under the numnah. All buckles and free ends of straps must be in view.
Removal of Saddlery from Hot Backs
There is a time-honoured custom in the service not to remove saddles while the backs are hot, but to loosen the girth and let the back dry with the saddle on. Sometimes the saddle is taken off and merely the numnah left on, and this is the right method. Every endeavour should be made to dry backs as soon as possible. If wet backs are exposed to the air it is not uncommon for many small swellings to form, which, as a rule, go down in a few hours, but occasionally become fairly permanent and get rubbed.
Atmospheric Conditions Affect Backs
In some parts of the world, like South Africa, no care is taken to prevent hot and wet backs being exposed, and no harm results; but the conditions of atmosphere are very different from what is found in Europe, the air being dry and evaporation rapid. In Europe we think it is a good precautionary measure not to expose the backs until the men already to dry them.
As horses get in hard condition the sweating under the saddle becomes less until finally hardly any moisture can be seen. This is a useful guide to the hard condition of troop horses.
How to Examine a Sore Back
Sore Backs Classified
Sore backs may be classified into those affecting the ridge of the back-bone, viz., the withers and spine, and those occurring on the skin covering the muscles which lie on the top of the ribs. To put it in another way, there are sore backs affecting primarily the bony structures, and others which only affect the soft parts; the former are incomparably the most severe.
A very little experience will show that sore backs appear to group themselves in certain definite positions, and these positions are not accidental but the outcome of certain definite causes. So marked is this, that with experience it is possible to tell the cause of an injury by its position on the back, and to forecast the part of the saddle which produced it.
Injuries to Ridge of Spine
Dealing first with injuries on the ridge of the spine:
- A low arch or numnah resting on the Withers, Figure 36, No.1.
- A narrow arch compressing the withers, Figure 36, No.2.
- A seat resting on the spine, Figure 36, No. 3.
- An injury through men riding thin horses bare-back, No.4.
- Rear pack touching the spine, or the loose end of a baggage strap or buckle. In plain or Colonial saddle it means a rear arch resting on the spine, Figure 36.No.5.
Injuries on the Back Below the Spine
Injuries on the back below the spine may be due:-
- To the burr of the side bar resting on the blade-bone, Figure 36, No.6.
- The upper edge of the side bars pressing into the back, through the front arch being too narrow.
- Through the lower edge of the bar pressing into the back, Figure 36, No.7.
- Through dead continuous pressure and thin panels or blankets.
- Through the fans resting upon the loins, Figure 36, No.8.
- Through the sweat flap of the girth, or if panels are worn the panel flap, getting accidentally bent upwards when saddling up in a hurry or in the dark, Figure 36, No.9.
- In the same region an injury also occurs due to the pressure of the girth attachment with its studs; this is caused by tight girthing, but especially tight over-girthing. It may be produced by any pattern of V-shaped girth, or by the buckles on ordinary girths, though, as a rule, when the latter occurs, it is due to thin panel flaps.
To Determine Position of Sore Back
From what has been said, it is obvious that the cause of a sore back can only be determined by seeing the saddle on. It is most desirable that the saddling should be done by the man who rides the horse, for in that way we are more likely to see matters as they occurred
Principles of Fitting Pack Saddles
The general principles of fitting a pack saddle differ very slightly from that of the horse; the spine must be entirely free from pressure, the saddle must bear on top of the ribs, the side bars should not rest on the loins or the blade-bones, though for obvious reasons more of this is permissible in the mule than in the horse and pony. The load should be kept as steady as possible, for which reason two girths at a little distance apart keep the saddle firmly in its place.
The thick wither of the mule is frequently a difficulty, the arch of the saddle in many cases not being sufficiently wide to admit the panels without the withers getting squeezed. In fitting packsaddles this is one of the essential features to attend to, and the one which most frequently is found defective.
Of equal importance with a good wide front arch is a pair of well-stuffed panels. The amount of stuffing depends on the amount of muscle on the back, but assuming the back is well and liberally clothed with flesh the panels still need well stuffing, as their function is not only to prevent the back from getting bruised but to endeavour to convert a dead weight into an elastic one.
The length of the back from the pit of the shoulder to a hand’s breadth in the front of the point of the hip should be the length of the bearing surface of the panel. More than this is harmful.
If a pack saddle is (1) wide in the front arch and sufficiently high, (2) with panels stuffed to correspond with the length of the back, and (3) thick enough to form an elastic bed, then this is all the fitting required.
Injuries from Pack Saddles
The injuries resulting from pack saddles are of the same type as those caused by riding saddles and brought about in the same way, viz., dead continuous pressure or friction. In this way are produced inflamed withers from narrow arches, injuries under the side bar the result of thin panels and too many hours under heavy loads; injuries to the shoulder-blades and hips due to the panels being too long, all of which are remedied by removing the cause. But the load itself may be a source of injury, oscillation of the load will bruise the back through actual concussion, while a want of equilibrium will cause the saddle to heel over and cause injury to the withers and ridge of the back. These causes are all capable of control.
Balance of Weight
A want of equilibrium in a load is a most serious source of trouble, and one which a few moments attention would rectify. If an animal has a pack of 100 pounds to carry it is certain he will carry it with more ease, less expenditure of energy, and with less risk of injury if it is so disposed that 50 pounds hand on either side of the body than if one load weighs 52 pounds and the other 48 pounds. When the difference in weight is 10 or even 20 pounds the risk of injury is enormously increased. Badly arranged loads, or what is more common, the thoughtlessness of soldiers, largely account for this want of equilibrium; when all the odds and ends left on a camping ground are hung indiscriminately on the nearest mules, and the baggage guard hang their rifles on any available projection in the load, the disturbance of balance can be readily understood. Of such supreme importance is the matter of load equilibrium that it would be far better to add a stone or a packet of sand to the light side rather than permit unequal loads to exist; but as a rule this is unnecessary, the picketing gear, nosebag, etc, of the mule is always available for small adjustments. The transport animals of an army shall be regarded as worth their weight in gold, no care or supervision can be too great or too strict. The eye of the transport officer cannot be everywhere in a column extending for miles, but arrangements should be made for dividing it into sections for the purpose of supervision, which latter must be constant and unremitting, taking cognisance of badly fitting harness, saddles, badly adjusted loads, overdriving, unauthorised loads, ungreased wheels, flogging and other irregularities which go to swell the unenviable lot of a transport animal.
Essential Points in Loading Pack Transport
At this point it may be convenient to briefly enumerate the conditions which are essential in loading pack transport.
The load should be carried as far as possible over the tops of the ribs and as little as possible over the sides of them. Every endeavour should be made to avoid compressing the sides, for not only is the load carried at a disadvantage if placed low down, but it interferes with the breathing.
A very high load is disadvantageous as it sways backwards and forwards during progression.
No load should touch an animal’s body; if it extends in front of or behind the pack saddle it should be quite clear of the shoulders and hips.
Loads cannot be too flat; the flatter they are the closer they lie to the saddle and the less oscillation.
Loose girths are a serious evil, so also is a slack surcingle; the former allows the saddle to oscillate the latter permits the load to sway about.
Injuries to the withers can only be from the arch being too low or too narrow; the former is rare, the latter common. A low arch damages top of the withers, a narrow arch pinches the sides. There is no other remedy for the latter but to change the saddle for one or wider in the arch.
A chamber is a depression in the panel intended to take all bearing off a tender or injured place. It is a method of the highest value, but requires intelligence to direct its utility. A chamber can be made in a few minutes by anyone with sufficient intelligence to push a needle through leather; as a rule it is left to the saddler.