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Mule Saddles: An Impossible Quest

“If it looks like it should hang on the wall at a dive bar, it’ll probably fit.”

A string of mules at Cowboy Trail Rides. Photo by Maria Wachter.

Let me just get this out there: mule saddles RARELY fit mules. If you are like me, and own a mule, you will realize how freaking hard it is to find a saddle to fit your mule. There are people who claim that their mule saddle will fit any mule (lies), no matter what size or shape it is. Do not fall for this malarkey. You cannot possibly believe there is a saddle out there that can fit a 13-hand mule and also a 16-hand mule that is twice as wide. In reality, it probably won’t fit either of them.

I have learned that each mule is built very differently. Currently, I have one that is kind of narrow, 16 hands and has withers on him like a shark fin. My other mule is also 16 hands and built like a white hippopotamus, and my boyfriend’s 15-hand molly mule is built like a furry wine barrel. We have spent a small (actually, large) fortune on saddles trying to get them to fit.

I went through the Tucker Saddle phase and bought a really nice, new, and very expensive mule saddle that took two months to arrive. It fit one mule of about 10 that I had at the time. (Surprisingly, it fit almost every gaited horse we had at the ranch… but none of them were mules — even though some of them acted like asses.)

Then we went through the rest of the Tucker line of horse saddles to find one that fit. My boyfriend finally found an older model Tucker saddle that fits his molly mule surprisingly well. Yay. Only took about five years of shopping. He really likes the Tucker saddles because they’re super comfy and have a padded seat, which helps his bony butt not be so sore.

After trying numerous saddles on my guys, the only saddle that I could find to fit was the Abetta synthetic cheapo saddles. While some people might mock me for riding in one, I’ve got to give Abetta mad props for making a saddle that not only fits ONE of my mules, but BOTH of my mules. Plus, it’s lightweight, super cheap (I found one on jet.com for $300,┬ánew), and if I beat it up, I can just buy another one. The only thing is that because it’s so lightweight, it’s really not conducive to be used for ponying a pack string off of it. I don’t know how well it would hold me in place if an unruly draft mule didn’t want to follow along.

The next saddle I found that fit was a saddle from the 1970s made by Sears — yes, back when music was actually good, Sears used to sell saddles. This saddle fit all three of our mules perfectly. But unfortunately, when the boyfriend went to screw in D-rings for the britchen attachment, the saddle tree was so old that it crumbled apart… back to the drawing board.

A couple of cowboy friends have come over and used their saddles on my mules. They have those 50+ pound older, roping, wade tree saddles and they seem to fit my guys just perfectly… but I’m not going to buy a saddle that weighs 50 pounds. I’m not that much of a masochist.

Then there is this Bighorn saddle that’s one of those half Cordura/half leather concoctions that I bought on Craigslist that fits the mules pretty well. I’ve use that as the saddle for my friends to ride in. It’s not that comfortable, but my friends won’t mind… and if they do… well…

I’ve tried all the no-name saddles that you can find on Craigslist and all the name brand ones like Circle Y, TexTan and Billy Cook, that all somewhat fit… just okay.

Last month, a friend gave me an old Lonestar roping saddle (thanks buddy!!) that only weighs about 25-30 pounds and guess what? It fits the mules! BOTH of my mules! It needed a lot of oil, and some TLC, and it has a saddle horn on it so tall it could double as a telephone pole, but it’s comfortable, it fits them, and it was free.

Of course Lonestar doesn’t make saddles any more, but my quest for finding a saddle has ended (until I break this saddle, or get another mule).

I have found that most saddles that fit the mules the best are older, barn-find saddles, so if you’re looking, I’d say start there. If it looks fancy, it probably won’t fit; if it looks like something that only should be used to hang on a wall in a dive bar, it probably will fit like a glove.

Or, if you’re rich, get a saddle maker to custom make a saddle to fit your mule.

Happy mule saddle hunting!

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