Properly Fitting a Cinch

Posted in: Ask A Pro, Featured, Horse Care, Horse Supplies, Ranch Life

I took some time over the past couple of weeks to interview Dana Eklund from Big Sky Mohair Cinches about properly fitting a cinch. There have been countless articles written on this subject, but I think many of them miss the boat. Hopefully this one will help those muddy waters get clear, right quick!

  • What is the best way to measure for a cinch?

The most accurate way we have found to measure is to set the saddle on the horse, with whatever pad you’ll be using, and run a piece of twine (or soft tape measure if you have one) from the bottom of the saddle rigging on one side under the horse and over to the other. The twine should be sitting where the cinch will be sitting- make sure it hasn’t slipped further back on the barrel, which can give you an inaccurate reading. In general, we want the top of the cinch buckle to sit about 8” below (or 5-6” below if it’s a dropped rig saddle) the rigging on either side. So, with the measurement you just took, subtract 16” (or 10”-12”, depending on your rigging type) this should give a pretty accurate reading.  Keep in mind the overall shape of the horse. On a smaller horse or pony, 8” below the rigging may be too far down, and put the buckle way too close to the elbow. In these cases, you may need to round up 2” or so. Based on observations on our own tack (dropped rigged wade style saddles), our cinches sit about 4-5” below our saddle pads.

To double check, once you have your measurement, look where the ring will be sitting according to what you calculated.

  • It is free and clear (above) of the elbow area?
  • Will it be sitting on the flat part of the horses side, and not so high that it is sitting on the curve of the horse’s ribs?

If the answer is “yes” to both these questions, then the size will most likely work! If you answered “no”, you may need to adjust a couple inches up (or down) depending on what you’re seeing with the horse, saddle, and pad combo. Your own observations of what is sitting right in front of you should absolutely be a factor in your decision.

  • Is a longer or shorter cinch better?

This is a great question. When people ask us that, we tell them “a cinch that fits!” That said, there was a photo circulating a while back highlighting the dangers of a cinch buckle putting pressure on the exterior abdominal vein (*Rod Nikkel wrote an excellent article debunking this myth.  I would encourage anyone to go to his website to peruse it further.) *Rod Nikkel is a very well-known saddle-tree maker among cowboys/buckaroos.

The aforementioned photo caused quite a few folks to choose a cinch that was much too short. When the buckle sits too low in the elbow area, it can rub and cause a lot of friction, because of the extra skin in there that stretches as the horse’s leg extends forward with each stride. Anyone that has dealt with saddle sores at one time of another has most likely noticed the sores in one area- right behind the elbow!  Again, a cinch that is too short can cause rubbing and pressure in this area, even if the material is otherwise clean and fully functional.

On the contrary, a cinch that is too long (sitting right below the rigging) causes a saddle to be unstable. Because the cinch buckle doesn’t have flat and even contact with the horse’s side, the reduced surface area leads directly to less stability.

  • How do you take into account the saddle rigging when measuring for a cinch, or do you?

The rigging of a saddle, both where (position) and how (Double Dee-ring, O-ring, plate, etc.) it is rigged, definitely create other factors to consider when fitting your cinch, no matter the material.

Let’s compare a dropped rigging saddle to a regular Dee-ring rigged saddle. With a dropped rigging (whether it be plate, O-ring, or in-skirt) saddle, the ring extends further down the horse’s barrel than a regular “Dee-ring” rigged saddle (which is sitting up on the skirt.) The lower the ring sits, the less distance the cinch will need to travel around the horse. Assuming these two types of saddles fit the same horse, a 32” cinch may fit properly with the dropped rigging saddle, but the horse may need a 34” or 36” with the regular Dee-ring rigged saddle, because the cinch needs to travel further around the horse for the buckle to sit in the right spot.


how to measure cinch length

Too Short — The cinch on this drop-rigged saddle is too short – as it’s almost to the elbow…


Properly fitting a cinch

Almost perfect…


A properly fitting cinch.

This cinch is almost too long but it’s better to have it be too long, than too short. The increased surface area of the cinch helps hold the saddle in place.


Properly Fitting A Cinch

This is a regular “D” Saddle – no drop rig. This is an excellent fit.

The last thing to consider when choosing a cinch, of any type, is the width of the cinch relative to where the saddle is rigged, or the rigging position.  The descriptions below are a general guide- some saddle makers have their own specific placement that they like to set the rigging, which may not fall exactly under one of these categories.  If you are not sure what your rigging is, that’s ok. Observe where the ring sits, and try it with different cinches- look for bunching or pinching behind the elbow, if it sits flat, etc. Just taking the time to look at all of these on your horse will teach you a lot!

  • A full rigged saddle sits the cinch directly under the pommel
  • A 7/8 rigged saddle sits the cinch slightly further back, or 7/8 of the distance between the pommel and cantle
  • A ¾ rigged saddle is further back still- the cinch will sit ¾ the distance between the pommel and cantle
  • A center fire rigged saddle sits the front of the cinch (approximately) centered between the pommel and cantle

The further forward the cinch sits, the more aware you need to be of how the cinch fits in the horse’s elbow area, no matter the cinch type.  An 8” wide roper cinch may pinch and bind a horse that has very springy ribs if the horse is ridden in a full-rigged saddle. To avoid this, some cinches begin to “flare” in different areas, which can accommodate a horse’s unique shape. The same cinch as described above on a 7/8 or ¾ rigged saddle might work fine for that same horse, because it is sitting further back. A slab-sided horse however might do fine with a wide roper cinch on a full rigged saddle.

Another example of a poor cinch/horse/saddle combination would be a narrow straight cinch on a center fire saddle- it because it won’t distribute the pressure properly or comfortably for the horse.  A center fire saddle would require a much wider cinch, and because of where it would sit, there would not be as much of a risk with the cinch rubbing behind the elbow.

One thing is for sure: there are lots of variables for each individual case- examine your tack (where sweat and dirt is built up, this can indicate an area where there is too much friction, especially on the materials that are right next to the elbow). There is not a one-size-fits all cinch chart that will work for every horse and every saddle combo. Listen to your horse- if they are not performing as they normally do, or are acting uncomfortable even though the saddle fits well, observe where and how the cinch fits. It is often one of the most overlooked pieces of tack we use!

Whatever type of cinch you choose, make sure it fits properly. This is the biggest factor in making sure your equine partner stays comfortable and able to function at his best!

We got started making cinches when one of the draft horses at the therapeutic riding program we work at required a 42” cinch. That was a pretty tough size to find in anything other than a “made in China” special.  I ran across a kit online, ordered the supplies, and off we went. Being able to test and examine fit and wear on the 15 therapy horses under our care proved how important not only the material was, but how important the fit was. With sizes ranging from 12 hand ponies to over 17 hand drafts, being able to customize both the length and width of each fit to maximize comfort has made a tremendous difference to our herd. When the tack they are asked to perform in fits well, they are better prepared to execute whatever we ask of them.

Dana and Tracy Eklund

Big Sky Mohair Cinches


I hope this helped you sort through the world of cinches! 

Happy Trails! 


Posted in: Ask A Pro, Featured, Horse Care, Horse Supplies, Ranch Life

About Jenn Zeller

Jenn Zeller is the creative mind and boss lady behind The South Dakota Cowgirl. She is an aspiring horsewoman, photographer, brilliant social media strategist and lover of all things western. After a brief career in the investment world to support her horse habit (and satisfy her...

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