If you’re straddling a saddle, you’ve gotta have a cincha to keep it on the horse. And, you’d better have that cincha pulled snug. Join us for this history of cinches and cinch making written by my friend and tack historian, Phil Livingston.
Like many of the terms associated with western saddles, “cincha” is Spanish. It applies to all the straps around the horse’s barrel to keep the saddle in place. Some disciplines call it a “girth” and it’s commonly now shortened to “cinch”.
The first cinch was probably a rawhide cord used to keep an animal skin in place. One end had a tied loop through which the other end was passed, pulled tight and tied off. As riding pads became more functional and comfortable the cinch was attached directly to them. The single cord became a collection of cords: twisted strands of horsehair, cotton or wool, layers of stitched cloth, tanned leather or even silk in the Orient. A means of adjusting the tightness of the cinch with heavy pads, and later wooden saddle frames, came into use. The cinches were shortened to about 36 inches and loops were braided or attached to each end. Tie straps attached to either the pad or the saddle passed through these loops and could be tightened as needed.
When man learned to cast metal implements and weapons, cinch rings came into existence. The first were made from bronze, then brass, and finally iron. Shaped stainless steel rod is now used on the majority of cinches. A tongue has been added for holding the tie strap (latigo) in place, eliminating the bulky knot.
Over the years cinch rings have come in several styles: circular, round with a flared and flattened bottom, Dee-shaped and flat topped (1*). Round and Dee-shaped rings allow the tie straps to move with the horse and eliminate pinching. Flat topped rings-sometimes called “straight pull”-do not and can sore a horse.
Western cinches have been woven from a variety of materials. Horsehair was probably the first. Early Mexican vaqueros thinned the manes and tails of broodmares for hair (a stallion’s mane and tail were never trimmed), twisted the hair into cords and wove their own cinches to rings. Since they were riding single rigged saddles (2) those cinches were probably four to five inches wide. The Californio vaqueros of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries continued the practice of riding Centerfire rigged saddles and, what was at the time, a wide horsehair cinch.
An addition to cinches which is seldom seen today was the ring chafe (3*). It was a shaped piece of leather, usually lined with woolskin, which was slipped over each cinch ring. The purpose was to prevent galling the horse. Most cowboys used them, and, during the 150-year history of the U.S. Cavalry, all military riding saddles were issued them (2). The chafes came in several styles, but all served the same purpose.
Following the Civil War, the South Texas brushpoppers were gathering Longhorns to drive up the trail to the northern markets. Those rugged cowboys rode a double rigged saddle with two cinches which were narrower than those used by the Pacific Coast vaqueros (4). Since Texas was a cotton state the principal cinch material was home-grown and twisted hard cotton fish cord. It served well but became hard when caked with dried horse sweat. The majority of the hands made their own, reusing the same set of metal rings. It was a common site to see a cowboy stringing up a new cinch after supper.
Cinches have basically followed the same pattern, regardless of the material used. The rings are locked in jigs set a predetermined distance apart (5). Stringing is done by looping the cord back and forth, ring to ring, until the desired number of strands is obtained. Then, to hold the strands together, bars are braided in below the rings and across the center.
Over the years, cinch material has changed and improved. In the early 1900’s the Texas Angora goat industry arrived and began producing mohair. That natural fiber, when twisted into cord, was softer, stronger and lasted longer than its predecessors. The mohair blend cinch is still the most popular.
Modern technology has contributed the nylon and neoprene models that are also popular. Strong, easily cleaned, they can be backed with fleece or flex form to provide comfort for the horse and reduce slipping.
Western cinchas come in two styles-the traditional straight (6) and the roper (7). The latter widens to eight inches at the center to spread the pressure. Roper-style cinches began to appear in the 1950’s as timed event contestants wanted more security against the jerks from a rope. Numerous horsemen of other disciplines have adapted the roper-style. Regardless of style, today’s cinchas have a small metal dee on each side at the center for the connecting strap to the flank girth and for the breast collar hold down strap. Many cinches also come with a keeper for the off billet.
Dennis Moreland Tack hand-ties all cinches with 31 strands of mohair blend cord to feel good to your horse. The mohair blend maximizes air circulation and wicks away sweat. Because these cinches are naturally breathable, stay cool and don’t slip they won’t gall or rub sores on your horse. Both straight and roper cinches are available with your choice of Dee-shaped or round buckles.
We’re a full line manufacturer of hand made tack and we’re here to help you!
*1 & 3 Visalia Stock Saddle Co., Catalog No. 33, Copyright 1947 by Sheldon E. Potter
*5 San Angelo Standard Times, November 12, 1978