A horse with a good set of withers will typically hold a saddle in place just fine, even on steep downhill sections. But if you ride or pack a horse or a mule with low withers, you will almost certainly want a crupper or a saddle breeching on the trail to help hold that saddle in place and prevent soring your animal.
A crupper is a stuffed piece of leather, neoprene or other soft material that lays under the horse's tail. The crupper is attached to the back of a trail or pack saddle with a single or double attachment crupper strap and will keep the saddle from working forward. Most horses and mules take to this readily, but there could be a break-in period. So saddle up at home, attach the crupper and walk your horse around to let him get used to it before heading into the mountains. We offer both traditional style, flaxseed filled leather crupper and a neoprene crupper. I have used them both with equal success and the choice between the two need only be dictated by your personal preference.
To use a crupper on a pack saddle, choose a double attachment crupper strap and attach it to the rings on the tree connected to the hip pad straps.
To use a crupper on a riding saddle, you must have a single or pair of crupper dee rings on the back of your saddle. These dee rings are approximately an inch in size. Do not confuse a crupper dee with a clip and dee, which is attached underneath the rear conchos and whose only purpose is the attachment of saddle strings. Attach your crupper to the crupper strap and the strap to your crupper dee(s). The strap should be snug enough that you can only get two fingers width between it and your horse's rump. If it is too tight, you animal may get irritated. If it is too loose, it will not engage in time to prevent your saddle from sliding forward.
An alternative to the crupper is the Saddle Breeching. A breeching, sometimes known as a horse britchin, is a strap of leather that lays behind the animal's thighs and attaches to the saddle with two straps to the back of the saddle as well as two straps to the rigging. The breeching will keep the saddle in place on a downhill stretch without hindering the animal's gait.
Breechings are almost always part of a pack saddle rigging. To use a saddle breeching on a riding saddle, you must have two crupper/breeching dee rings of your saddle. A saddle breeeching will not work with a single crupper dee. To properly fit the breeching, attach the breeching to the two dee rings behind the sear of your saddle, adjusting the length so that the hop pad of the breeching lays halfway between the croup and the base of the tail. Adjust the four straps coming off the hip pad so that the breeching is about four inches below the rear-most point of the rump. Now adjust the angle of the breeching to match the natural angle of the animal's haunches to ensure that the breeching is laying flat against the animal's leg and won't rub at the top of the breeching. Finally adjust the straps that attach to your saddle's rigging so that you can slide four fingers between the breeching and your animal's haunches.
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Russ On... Qualities of a Good Trail Horse