Monday, February 23, 2015

McClellan Saddles

Jim wrote: "Hi Brad, I do get a lot of good info on your site. We talked before about the McClellan saddles and I was hoping you could maybe explain the pros and cons about them. I'm still very interested in getting one for my horse. I hear a lot of people say how uncomfortable they are but I tend not to listen to most people. Any info you can share would be much obliged. Thanks and stay sharp Rider."

Hey Jim, good to hear from you again. As you know the McClellan saddle was in use by the U.S. Military since just before the Civil War until shortly after World War II. It was named after it's designer, Army General George McClellan, reportedly after he came back from Europe where he visited foreign cavalry and horse drawn artillery units and likely formed an idea on what he thought was a good Calvary saddle.

The McClellan saddle underwent different modifications in the 90+ years of use. In fact, there are several modern military units who continue to use the McClellan or a variation thereof, not including many civilian endurance riders who started in a McClellan only to give way to modern endurance saddle designs, sometimes these modern designs originated with the McClellan.  The 1904 McClellan, above right, was made by Shawns Custom Saddles and Tack.

The success of McClellan saddle was due to it's simplicity and light weight.  While I have only sat in McClellan saddles, and have never ridden one, I think I read somewhere that for many of the cavalrymen from the 1800's, and likely U.S. soldiers after the turn of the century, their first exposure to horseback was in a McClellan saddle.  My Grandpa probably rode in a McClellan from 1878-1880 and my Uncle as well, 1915-1917.  All my saddles have hard seats so I'm pretty sure I could get used to a McClellan pretty quickly.   I would probably have to change the stirrups, as I like wide Monel type stirrups.    

The McClellan saddles will have several attachments points, usually three on the swell in the front and three on the cantle in the back. These are oval holes through the saddle tree that straps with buckles are fed through to attach items. Calvary soldiers would use these to tie coats, slickers, blankets, and bedrolls to. They can also be attachment points for carbine scabbards. The Cavalry mostly used what they call carbine buckets, like a donut for the barrel of the carbine to rest in, as opposed to full up carbine scabbards. You've heard of saddle ring carbines?  The issue carbine had a ring on the side that was used to attach a tie it to the saddle. Many lever guns, usually the shorter Trapper models, have this same saddle ring.  Another way for carrying a carbine was a socket, like a loop, that the carbine sat in.  The 1928 McClellan saddles at top right, were built by American Military Saddle Co.  

It is common to have a year associated with a McClellan saddle to note the modifications.  Some of the models had English saddle type fenders.  It's probably accurate to say that the newer McClellans were built on a wider tree to accommodate bigger and wider horses. In the early 1900's adjustable riggings was incorporated on McClellans.  The saddle at left was made by Evolutionary Saddles

One of these days I'll likely own a McClellan, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be main saddle, or if I didn't have a saddle, it wouldn't be the first one I'd buy as I don't think I could get by without a horn.      A quick google search shows that there are several saddle shops making McClellans. I did not contact any of these saddle shops to even see if they are still in business.  More research will likely yield additional saddle shops making McClellans. Good luck to you, and send me a picture if you get a McClellan.

Border States Leatherworks

Shawns Custom Saddles and Tack

Evolutionary Saddles

American Military Saddle Co.

1 comment: