Rethink what you thought you knew.
In my limited leisure time that’s not devoted towards catering to Red the Cow Pony’s every whim and desire, I enjoy outdoor recreation — backpack camping is one of my favorite if slightly masochistic weekend activities. Few things are more enjoyable to me than packing everything I need to survive for a few days onto my back and vanishing without a trace into the forest.
I recall my first backpacking adventure with an ancient yet rugged pack: the frame itself fit my torso and shoulders well, but the straps were a little less sophisticated. They just lay flat right over my shoulders which complicated the process of lugging the load up and down hills, preventing me from using my body to its advantage to get me down the trail.
I was reminded of this early dabble in backpacking when I first tried the Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief Cinch with my Red the Cow Pony. After a winter of experimenting with different saddles to find the best fit for his obnoxiously short back — he is, quite literally, a cow pony — I had found a good match in a short-skirted barrel saddle that finally didn’t ride out over his hips or sit over his shoulders and prevent him from working to the best of his ability.
Or so I thought, anyway. The Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief Cinch soon showed me the error of my ways.
The average western cinch — whether it’s a conventional straight cinch of leather, neoprene or rope, or one of the newer anatomical cinches with small cutouts and a touch of shaping to go around the horse’s elbow — is basically a belt. Its job it to keep the saddle in place so you can ride off down the trail and most likely never really think about it again save for perhaps a cinch check after the first mile.
The issue is that this “belt” and the saddle don’t necessarily work in concert with each other: the horse has a natural girth groove, also called the heart girth, where the cinch should ideally lie. For some horses, the saddle might fit just fine, clear of the horse’s shoulders with the cinch attached straight down to the heart girth and back up the other side. For many horses, however, placing the cinch in the heart girth and keeping the saddle off of his shoulders are mutually exclusive.
As an example, take a peek at our saddle and girth fit with our previous fuzzy cinch — this is a generic cinch off the rack at a tack shop.
See how the short latigo is angled forward, rather than hanging straight down? Over the course of the ride, where do you think the saddle is going to go? If you guessed slightly forward and right onto Red’s shoulders, you’d be correct. If I moved the saddle forward to prevent the latigos from pulling the saddle forward, it would be sitting right on Red’s shoulders in the first place. (Remember that backpack I told you about?)
The Shoulder Relief Cinch, on the other hand, is designed to keep the angle of latigos correct, effectively preventing the saddle from interfering with the natural action of the horse’s shoulder. The center of the cinch still lies over the girth groove, but the deep offset in the shape of the cinch actually keeps the latigos from pulling the whole saddle forward over the course of the ride. The swept-back shape also frees up elbow room, giving the horse a more comfortable fit. Here’s Red’s saddle, placed in the same location for good shoulder fit, with the Shoulder Relief Cinch:
I was already impressed and I hadn’t even left the barn yet — but when I swung a leg over Red and headed out to the trail, I was floored. As much as I don’t honestly expect you to believe this as you’re reading, he truly felt like a different horse — his stride was open and his walk flowed over the ground. To borrow a literary phrase, he moved as though a great weight had been lifted off of his shoulders (technically, I suppose it had).
To quantify this experience, Red was able to keep up with his stablemate, estimated to be a Walking horse cross with a fluid, long stride. He typically far outpaces my little cow pony at the walk, but on this day (and every day since) Red has been able to easily keep up as we stroll the pastures and trails. At faster gaits, he’s more naturally elevated in his front end and has more than once showed me that he’s quite willing to move forward and faster at a moment’s notice.
As one last visual indicator of how this girth works, take a look at this side-by-side comparison of Red’s old fleece cinch and the Shoulder Relief Cinch. Note the wear pattern in the fleece cinch — you can see where he’s been trying to tell me for months that he needs more room for his elbows!
Red and I ride purely for recreation with the occasional cattle-moving job, but I can imagine how this cinch would positively affect performance horses, including reiners, competitive cow horses and barrel racers. Given the price point of $139.95, it’s well worth the investment, no matter what western discipline you ride. The Shoulder Relief Cinch comes standard with a neoprene cover, but white or black fleece covers are also available for additional order.
To learn more about the Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief Cinch, please visit TotalSaddleFit.com!
Dressage riders, check out Morgane Schmidt Gabriel’s review of the Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief Dressage Girth! Jumper and all-purpose models are also available on TotalSaddleFit.com.