What’s a Sawbuck saddle?

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A sawbuck saddle is used to carry supplies on the back of pack animals like mules or horses. It consists of a crossbuck, cushioned pads, and straps to securely attach it to the animal. Panniers hang beside the animal to hold the cargo. It was used to transport trade goods in Mongolia and is still used for nature hikes.

A sawbuck saddle allows a pack horse, such as a mule, donkey, or horse, to carry supplies on its back. Wooden or metal prongs extending from pads placed on the animal’s withers attach to the animal with taut straps. People used saw saddles to haul goods up narrow trails when there were no roads, as well as carry extra supplies on nature hikes.

A sawbuck saddle is made up of a few key parts. The shaft, also called a crossbuck, is the tallest structure with a curved or serrated shape that extends up and out from either side of the animal’s body. This skeleton can be made of a metal such as aluminum, a strong, dense plastic, or a hard wood such as oak or poplar. A large type of tree, the Tehama, is appropriate for large animals such as mules and quarter horses. The smaller human crossbuck fits smaller horses, llamas, and goats. The symmetrical shaft securely holds packages containing your supplies resting on large cushioned pads made from canvas, felt, foam or fleece.

The sawbuck’s saddle tree must be securely attached to the animal so that the weight is evenly and correctly distributed. It is extremely important that the saddle of the sawbuck not shift during transport, as this could damage both the pack animal and the cargo. At least six straps hold the shaft and bearings to the animal through metal rings called latigos. Two attachment straps loop under the animal, like in a riding saddle. Two breech straps, or rumps, extend around the back of the animal, under the tail. Two more chest straps, or collars, tie the pack to the front of the animal, as a harness would for a draft horse. This rigging structure is usually made of polyester nylon or leather and ensures that the saddle is positioned correctly on the animal so that it can carry a load safely.

The containers, known as panniers, wrap around the crossbuck’s legs and hang beside the animal. Solid bags are constructed with a fiberglass shell, wooden box or aluminum drum, but flexible bags could be canvas bags or baskets. This method was started in the steep mountains of Mongolia to transport trade goods over narrow paths from village to village. Travelers often rent a saw saddle and pack animal to allow them to venture far into the wilderness while carrying some of the comforts of home, such as sleeping mats, camera gear, or heavy food.

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