Cinches and girths have traditional roots in the skilled trades of horsemanship dating back for centuries as an essential component when using the saddle, yet it is one of the least documented pieces of gear. Though often overlooked because of an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ placement, recent years have realized a renewed interest in the significance of the cinch and how it directly contributes to equine comfort and performance. When we consider how irritating a bunched up sock under our foot can be, we do well to remember that in the “cinch groove,” the skin is thinner as well as the site of more movement than elsewhere on the body of both horses and mules.

Though the use of natural fibers twisted into cordage have long been valued as the preferred materials for cinches, we find that they have limited written reference in history, with the primary documentation for “fine animal hair” cinches of twisted cords being those offered commercially in early 1900’s saddle catalogs. The highest value cinches were often made with the fibers of horses, cows, and angora goats. Commercially produced cord cinches of synthetic fibers largely
replaced the natural fiber cords in recent decades, bringing about a resurgence of independent makers committed to reviving the use of natural fibers and techniques nearly lost to commercialism. This movement back to the traditional materials and techniques has largely been a result of folks setting out to further understand the considerations of comfort while determining and successfully implementing a variety of improvements in the process. The results
have produced an added refinement and value to cinches by selecting the softer, yet stronger hairs of carefully bred white angora goats and an increasing number of colored angora goats, the very popular alpaca (Lama pacos), and Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus), all three of which offer amazing ranges of natural color.

While a limited amount of completely natural fiber cordage is occasionally factory twisted and largely unavailable due to the limitations of today’s commercial spinning equipment, a number of cinch makers have found it quite satisfying to take several steps back into the process by making their own cordage. Those who are choosing to twist cords up from small yarns of mohair (angora goat hair), churro sheep, alpacas, and various other natural fibers have discovered the ability to provide a superior level of artistic design with greater control over quality; more accurately meeting specific demands of end-use. To further preserve hand-crafting skills for future generations, a precious few makers are even going so far as to
spin the yarns by hand from their own animals prior to going through the additional steps of cord-twisting before fashioning truly one-of-a-kind cinches. A growing number of makers are also rediscovering the benefits of determining the cinch cord measurement near the cinch buckles, in number of inches wide, for optimal cinch/saddle alignment while minimizing “saddle slip” through improved comfort and support.

Cinch-making continues to grow by offering a greater opportunity for customization as makers develop an advanced aptitude for the science and art. Skilled craftsmanship is a prerequisite to create such functional works of beauty; each expressly designed for the comfort of horse or mule and a more enjoyable ride for those who climb into the saddle.

written by Darin Alexander

Darrin Alexander

ArtCords, LLC
PO Box 1026
Gentry, Arkansas  72734
Toll free in USA: 866-872-2673

History of the Cinch

By Jane Lambert Stevensville, MT

From earliest times, after man domesticated the horse, and wanted to ride other than bareback, cinches in some form were used.  The original ones were probably more like surcingles—a belly band used to hold a hide in place as a seat for a rider.  These were probably made from a hair rope, piece of leather, or a woven strip of cloth.

As riding progressed, and saddles of sorts developed, surcingles were still employed.  (A surcingle being a strap which completely circumvented the animal, going over, and holding down the pad on which the rider sat.)  As weaving developed, flat cloth straps woven of flax and then linen served this purpose.

As saddles developed, they began to use a girth arrangement to hold them in place.  Girths could be made of linen, leather, and other natural fibers like hair, or cotton, and differed from surcingles, in that they buckled, or strapped onto the saddle, holding it in place.

Today’s cinch further evolved with the westward movement in this country, and the cattle industry.  As saddles became specialized for working cattle, the manner in which the saddle was held onto the horse developed into a three part apparatus.  There were two latigoes—straps of leather about 1 ½ “ wide by five or six feet in length which were attached to rings on each side of the saddle.  These latigoes strung through the rings at each end of a woven cord cinch, and were tightened up as needed to hold the saddle in place.

Originally, these cinches were made of twisted horsehair, or linen cording, and were constructed in a flat manner, acting as a wide belt under the belly of the horse.  As other materials became available, they were used—mohair, mohair blends, nylon, and neoprene, and each have their place in riding specialties.

At the height of the cowboy era, bunkhouse craftsmen could create their own cinches during the winter months out of natural cording which was available—usually 8 ply mohair or twisted horsehair, which they made themselves.  The original style of cinch had a half diamond twined under each cinch ring, a full diamond twined in the center, and a couple of bars placed between the two.  The cinch was warped on a board, with two nails, one at each end, over which 3” rings were placed.  The cords were warped between the rings, and the diamonds then twined into the warp cords.  Colors were basic.

Today’s bunkhouse artisan/craftsmen usually prefer to work with natural fibers, and have a choice of horsehair, mohair, alpaca and yak hair.  There are multiple color choices.  In addition to basic cinch rings, there are ones with buckle tongues, rollers at the tops, flat tops, round and flat shapes, in nickel plated, solid brass, or stainless steel.

There are new ways of stringing looms, which make tying much faster.  Today’s cinch makers not only twine cinches in newly designed ways, the design possibilities and color schemes keep getting better.  The cinch still has the same function—hold the saddle to the horse’s back in a comfortable fashion—but modern cinches are also fashion statements, and can be constructed and designed to coordinate with show outfits, saddle blankets and beaded bridles—combining both art and function for the cowboy maker.