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The Long Riders' Guild

Pack Saddles

How it used to be in the old days of Diamond Hitches and sawbuck pack saddles!

Humans residing in the Orient and the Occident developed different ways to accomplish a simple task. Forks, for example, were used in England instead of the chop sticks preferred in China. Likewise there were equestrian differences as well, the most common being the long stirrup favoured by Westerners, as opposed to the shortened stirrup leather adapted by Central Asian nomadic horsemen. While short stirrups and chop sticks are well known, what is seldom remembered is that a remarkably different pack saddle system developed in the Far East.

Click here to read about The Long Riders' Guild's historic ten-year pack-saddle test!

Long Riders Comments

Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

"I have found that the adjustable pack-saddles made by Custom Pack Rigging are the best for most horses.  I have been using this equipment for quite a while now, and in the last four years have had fewer problems with my string of packhorses than I ever did while using the traditional sawbuck.  I prefer the number 9 steel adjustable pack-saddle.  I find it works nicely together with the pack-boxes, which are indented to fit the sides of the horse. There is so much more to learn about horse travel than just which pack-saddle to use, but it helps to have the best equipment if you are going to make a successful pack trip.  
Stan Walchuk

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"I used the Custom Pack Rigging adjustable pack-saddle on my trip in Argentina, and was very pleased with it.  None of my horses had any back injuries or even signs of them."  Saskia Machaczek

Please click here to read Tim Cope's Central Asian packing secrets.

Personally, I think a long packing trip requires a well planned and organized outfit where everything has to be concealed so that rain, dust, rodents… don’t spoil, in more than one way, the joy of been out of doors. For me, panniers and sawbuck trees are a must for a long trip.

Like a saddle, a packing tree must fit the pack animal’s back. When I started my journey across the States I hade the old “human” tree. They were fitted on my animals’ backs (horses) and their rigging adjusted. This is not a small task: you can get away with murder on a short few days trip (especially with horses that are not as “sensitive” as mules). But for a day after day, week after week or even month adventure you better keep you pack animals’ back healthy or you won’t move.

When I got my equipment from Wyoming Outdoor Industries Steve Richards mentioned a new type of trees. They were more expensive and I didn’t see the need, as I never had problem in the past with the “old timer style” even on some long and fast trips.

We started slow and heavy to put the horses in the right frame of mind and to give them a chance to settle in a nice routine before starting to move. 

The first three weeks went well and once the animals were conditioned I started pushing further and faster. From 12 to 15 miles a day we went to 20 to 30 miles a day The pace was a succession of walk and slow jog and we would stop for a few days rest every 6 to 8 days of travel.

It was at this time that all the horses got sore back at once. It started with a very light inflammation at the withers and got progressively worse even with extra padding and a lot of pampering.  Within a week of arriving in Alpine they all busted in open ugly wounds.

We doctored them and I worked again on the trees (rasp, glue and leather) to get a better fit. The problem was the clearance between the cross and their backbone associated with the jogging. I changed the padding and we restarted well rested and with the sores almost gone. At the end of the first day the packhorses were in agony. We reached Fort Davis after stopping a truck to carry our gears. I phoned Steve and after a long discussion ordered the new adjustable pack trees for all the packhorses.

We went on for a few days with our gears send from camp to camp (ranch to ranch!!!) for the next 10 days giving the horses a chance to heal while running. We did cover a lot of ground at very good speed and when we received the new packsaddles all the animals were looking good but still very sore.

I went to the process of fitting every one again with its new attire and we went on… And while traveling and covering ground the packhorses were able to finish healing under the packs!!! We reached the Four Corner Area where we rested over a month waiting for the snow to melt further north and I didn’t have to fiddle again with the horses’ back for the rest of the trip. When we reached Cody (WY), Steve couldn’t believe how good the horses looked and there was no trace of their early injuries.

François Varigas

Note from The Long Riders' Guild:  These adjustable pack saddles are available from the manufacturer, Custom Pack Riggingas well as from Wyoming Outdoor Industries mentioned above.

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