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Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

Fittin’ a Britchen  

By Steve Edwards, Queen Valley Mule Ranch

 

February 2008 Issue

 

Editor’s Note: Breeching, britching, britchen, britchin and brichen — in the delightful way of the English language, we have found several popular spellings of the word. We use the author’s choice in this article.

     Steve also notes that HORSES and their riders will benefit from the use of a britchen in the backcountry.

 

     When I first started riding mules, I saddled my mule like I saddled my horse — high on the withers with my cinch close to the front legs. Down the trail we went. I always rode with a loose cinch because I wanted my horse to have all the breathing power possible. I know how heavy I breathe when I go up those mountains on foot.

     Guess what happened on the first hill I rode down? Yep, you guessed it. The saddle slid over the shoulders and onto the neck. I went over the mule’s head, but managed to land in front of him, on my feet.

     I decided to tighten up the cinch and down the next hill I went. This time I turned sideways on the trail to keep from going over the neck.

     One of my old cowboy buddies suggested I center-fire the saddle, and move the cinch back using the latigos. That worked better, but was not great. I even made a crupper, put the saddle on and put the crupper under the tail. That mule went nuts! He was determined to buck me off. He didn’t like that thing rubbing on the softest part of his body. I fought that saddle the whole trip. It was miserable.

 

     That night I talked to an old friend who was a saddlemaker. He suggested I try using a britchen off of an old harness.

     That was the start of my quest for what makes Mr. Mule comfortable. I know what it’s like to have a sore back and a belt that’s too tight. I decided that’s how a mule feels when he is saddled up poorly. Horse saddles are not made to fit mules, and it does make a difference.

     When I first started out I was using a horse saddle. The mule protested but I thought it was the mule’s fault. You know the mule has a bad reputation so everything he does is his fault right? Nope, it’s our fault.

     Now first you can do for your mule is to have a good-fitting saddle tree! Notice I did not say a good-fitting saddle. You CANNOT tell if a saddle fits until you see the bare tree fit, because the tree is the skeleton.

    Once you are sure your saddle fits well, consider the britchen. First let’s discuss what a britchen DOES NOT DO. Do not use it to keep your saddle or cinch back ALL THE TIME you are in the saddle.

     The britchen is designed for stopping and for going down hills, because this is when the saddle moves forward the most. This is what the britchen is designed to help with.

    If the britchen is tight all the time, it will rub hair off in a short time. I have seen mules scalded in as little as half an hour.

     Do not adjust your britchen strap level. This may look good but will pull hair quick because it does not fit flat across the buttocks.

 

 

This picture shows how I see a lot of britchens fit. See the area at the top of the britchen strap? The hair is pushed up. This will start cutting hair just like a razor. Notice the gap under the bottom of the britchen strap. This further confirms that the top of britchen tipped in and is pushing up the hair you see in the picture.

 

What should a good fit look like?

 

This photo shows the angle I prefer. Notice the angle of the britchen strap. The entire strap lies flat against the buttocks. This is done by adjusting the carrier straps or by shortening the front carrier strap.

 

 

 

Here I am pointing out the area where you can position the britchen. Where to place the britchen depends on your mule’s conformation. You may have anywhere from three to ten inches of adjustment up and down where the britchen strap may be set.

 

The wide strap that all the adjusting straps attach to at the top of the britchen is called the “hip safe” or hip pad. Set the “hip safe” on the rump just behind the peak of the croup. Placing it there will help the “hip safe” to stay in place and not slide forward with the saddle.

 

 

Adjustments – I may move my britchen strap up and down the buttocks, sometimes twice in a three-hour time frame. This will help prevent wearing off of hair. Do consider the temperature. If your mule is hot and sweaty, hair will rub off much easier.

As you can see in this picture, you should be able to place both of your hands between the britchen and the hip. The hair of the hip should just touch the back of your hand.

 

 

Reasons to use a britchen rather than a crupper

     A crupper was designed to hold only six to eight pounds of harness in place. It will allow a saddle to move too far forward, probably to the point where the saddle is over the mule’s shoulder blades. A properly fitted britchen will keep the saddle in place.

     You can adjust a britchen up and down the hip several inches where you can’t adjust a crupper at all. A crupper will wear the soft skin under the tail and sore it. (You would never use a crupper along with a packsaddle.)

     I prefer to ride with a looser front cinch and a snug rear cinch. This will help the mule to have better lung capacity and to be a whole lot more comfortable.

     Each strap on the britchen will do its job to help keep the saddle in place. The britchen will help keep your saddle from going forward. When adjusted properly, it will also help limit side-to-side movement. This is an extra bonus when getting on and off.

 

Steve Edwards of the Queen Valley Mule Ranch presents mule clinics throughout the U.S. If you’ve got questions, give Steve a call at 602-999-6853 (MULE). For more information about Steve’s clinic schedule, and his saddles, tack and videos, visit www.muleranch.com.

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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