When the talk turns to tying down a western saddle, it’s a cinch the participants will split into two camps: the string-cinch crowd and the neoprene proponents. For when it comes to how to hold 40 pounds of leather on a horse’s back, western riders have their preferences — and their prejudices.String cinches are tied to history. In the early days of the West cinches were woven from what was available, usually horsehair. Horsehair was strong, durable — and itchy. In time string became the standard.
But time trots on and technology has touched on tack, too, as it advances. The old saddle blanket has been fluffed into fleece and puffed up with air pockets. Bridles and halters flash in bright neon nylon. String cinches have been challenged by fleece, neoprene and now felt. Everyone is looking for that perfect cinch. We used 30 cinches over the past few months to find that perfect cinch.
One thing we “discovered” is that string cinches aren’t as good today as they were in the late 1800s. They’re better.
The introduction of strong, silky-soft angora mohair and mohair blends have secured the string cinch as the standard to be met by all comers. Classy, cool, lightweight and comfortable, the mohair cinch keeps a firm grip on its place in western riding. And well it should.
We rode with pure mohair as well as mohair blends. Both were easy on the horses’ hides, but our our testers liked the 100 percent mohair better than the blends. Still, there’s a fairly significant cost difference, and the less-expensive blends did the job just as well.
String cinches, however, aren’t quite as easy to clean as the neoprenes and felts. You can’t toss them in the washer. While they don’t pick up much debris, you have to pick out what you can’t shake out. Dunking them up and down in a bucket of warm water with a mild soap seems the best method to get out the sweat and dust. But they take awhile to dry.
We found that string cinches are also the easiest to store on the saddle. Most western saddles have small leather tabs or “keepers” on them where things can be attached. The loose end of a cinch can be secured to one, normally the one in front on the off side. Slip the tongue of the buckle through the slot in the keeper and you can carry your saddle without dragging your cinch in the dirt. Some of the fleece, felt and neoprene cinches we tried had too much material extending beyond the buckle to be able to tuck them up easily. We then had to turn the end of the cinch over and buckle it upside-down.
When shopping for a cinch, note the number of strands. You can find inexpensive string cinches with 16 or 17 strands of cotton, polyester or whatever, but the quality cinches we rode all had around 30 strands.
Look for stainless steel buckles, too. Plated hardware will peel and rust, which can damage the strings. We also like that Cowboy Tack puts a washer on either side of the buckle tongue to keep the adjacent strands from getting pinched.
Look for tight weaving and a smooth connection for the tiedown and flank cinch so nothing can rub the horse. If the cinch has an off-side billet keeper, check how it’s attached.
Weaver Leather and Classic Equine string cinches have keepers attached with a hook-and-loop fastener. They pop off if you get in a bind or can be taken off. Weaver’s mohair Smart Cinch also comes with the company’s unique Roll Snug buckle, which is easy to tighten.
Thick, fuzzy fleece cinches have also been around for many years. They’re easy on the horse and will take some of the resistance out of a cinchy one. But a fleece cinch can be a debris magnet and can become matted and stiff with sweat. It’ll cause chafing or galling if it’s dirty. Of course, none of this has to be a problem if you take care of the cinch.
Plus, Toklat Originals has come up with a user-friendly fleece cinch utilizing its Woolback wool pile. This dense, short-pile fleece grabs little debris and what it does brushes off easily.
Neoprene aficionados like its easy care. Hose it off or dunk it up and down in a creek and in a short time you can slap it right back on and go. Neoprene cinches don’t attract or hold debris and most are lightweight and store on the saddle easily.
Our roping testers liked the neoprene cinches because they could unsaddle after a roping, lay the cinches upside-down over the saddles in the trailer and they’d be dry for the next event.
Some people won’t use a neoprene cinch for fear of galling the horse, but using quality neoprenes with a textured surface helps prevent that. Keep them clean and they shouldn’t cause a problem any more than any other cinch.
Most neoprene cinches are basically nylon cinches with neoprene linings or covers. Care must be taken not to cinch up a horse too tightly, as laminated layers of nylon webbing have no give. Neither do nylon latigos.
Actually, the one thing you never want to do is attach a nylon cinch with a nylon latigo. This unholy union produces no give, provides no breathing room, much like a vise grip around your horse’s heart and lungs. If you use a nylon cinch, use a leather latigo, as it provides some “give” for your horse.
To improve the horse’s comfort, Professional’s Choice worked a little stretch into the design of its neoprene cinches, while Classic Equine uses a thicker pad of neoprene.
Flint Saddlery has taken the standard neoprene lining a couple inches further and rolled it back over the front of the nylon to pad the horse’s elbow area. We also tried a clever Flint neoprene cinch that was cut out around the horse’s elbows, but we preferred the rolled front.
Jack’s has a unique little cinch with the neoprene perforated so air can circulate through it. We liked that design a lot.
If you prefer a nylon cinch in a tube of neoprene, don’t buy a cheap one. You want to be sure it is a good-quality rubber that resists ultraviolet light, or it will start cracking and splitting in short order. The inexpensive tube-type cinch from Jack’s showed cracking early on in our testing. The tube-type cinches from Fabri-Tech and from Action Company didn’t.
The new kid on the saddle rack is the the felt-lined cinch. Every one we tried was basically a nylon cinch with a thick or thin, detachable or non-detachable, felt lining. Some were as thin as neoprene; others were thick, a half-inch or more. Some have a core of rubber, foam or some type of specially woven fabric that allows heat and sweat to escape.
The big thing we found with felt cinches is they don’t make the horse sweaty under them. They wick away moisture, and when they do get wet — or washed — they dry quickly. And they don’t slip. All the felt cinches we tried kept the horse much drier under the cinch. If you don’t want neoprene, and you can’t deal with fleece’s debris magnet, felt could be a good choi ce.
But we recommend choosing one with thin felt, like Flint’s, or if you want a thick one, get one that has the ends rounded, like Action Company’s Abetta laminated girth. The thicker felts with square ends tended to frizz at the corners.
Which material is best for you depends on how and where you ride. Neoprene or string might be best for trail riding. Sensitive horses might prefer fleece or felt. The show ring brings us back to string and neoprene.
Fit, of course, is paramount for both horse and rider. Too short is uncomfortable for the horse and too long is uncomfortable for you. The buckles should be above the horse’s elbows and back away from the shoulder muscles, and be sure the tiedown and flank cinch D rings are centered under your horse.
Now for our favorites: In strings, Cowboy Tack’s 100 percent mohair cincha, Classic Equine’s Classic Roper and Weaver Leather’s Smart Cinch were head-to-head, but Weaver’s Roll Snug buckle and breakway billet put it a nose in front. Action Company’s Supreme Roper Girth earns best-buy string cinch.
In fleece, Toklat has perfected the art of making fleece products, easily the choice fleece cinch. Fabri-Tech’s The Cinch is best buy.
Neoprene was a tough category with the most contenders, but we like Professional’s Choice SMx’s more elasticity over the thicker Classic Equine Neoprene Straight Cinch for the horse’s comfort, and it narrowly earns our top cinch choice overall. Jack’s $19.95 Breathable Neoprene cinch easily comes in as best buy in neoprene cinches and the overall cinch best buy.
With felt, we can easily recommend Flint Saddlery’s Hospital Felt with the Comfort Edge design, which was a very popular cinch choice among our testers. For a best buy, Weaver Leather’s felt cinch comes in strong at $26.50.
Also With this Article
Click here to view “Cinch Do’s.”
Click here to view “String and Fleece Cinches.”
Click here to view “Neoprene Cinches.”
Click here to view “Felt Cinches.”
Click here to view “Cashel Breathe Easy.”
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Action Company 877/937-3700 or www.actioncompany.com; EquiBrand/Classic Equine 800/654-7864 or www.classicequine.com; Cowboy Tack 800/523-0970 or www.cowboytack.com; Fabri-Tech 800/332-4797; Flint Saddlery 604/469-6974; Jack’s 740/335-5121 or www.jacksmfg.com; Professional’s Choice 800/331-9421 or www.profchoice.com; Toklat Originals 888/486-5528 or www.toklat.com; Weaver Leather 800/932-8371 or www.weaverleather.com.