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What is a Sawbuck Saddle?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 23, 2024
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A sawbuck saddle allows a pack horse, such as a mule, donkey, or horse, to carry supplies on its back. Wood or metal prongs extending from pads laid on the animal's withers attach to the animal with taut straps. People have used sawbuck saddles to transport goods over narrow paths when there were no roads, as well as carry extra supplies on nature hiking excursions.

A sawbuck saddle is comprised of a few key parts. The tree, also called the crossbuck, is the uppermost structure with a curved or notched shape that extends up and out from both sides of the animal's body. This skeleton can be made of a metal like aluminum, a strong, dense plastic, or hardwood like oak or cottonwood. A large type of tree, the Tehama, is appropriate for large animals like mules and quarter horses. The smaller humane crossbuck fits smaller horses, llamas, and goats. The symmetrical tree safely holds packs containing your supplies by resting on large, cushioned pads made of canvas, felt, foam, or fleece.

The tree of the sawbuck saddle must be securely attached to the animal so weight is evenly and properly distributed. It's extremely important that the sawbuck saddle doesn't shift during transport, as this could damage both the pack animal and the load. At least six cinch straps hold the tree and pads to the animal through metal rings called latigos. Two cinch straps wrap underneath the animal, as in a riding saddle. Two breech, or rump, straps stretch around the rear of the animal, under the tail. Two more breast, or collar, straps bind the pack to the front of the animal, as would a harness for a draft horse. This rigging structure is usually nylon polyester or leather, and ensures the sawbuck saddle is positioned properly on the animal so it safely carries a load.

Containers, known as panniers, loop over the legs of the crossbuck and hang alongside the animal. Solid panniers are constructed of a fiberglass shell, wooden box, or aluminum drum, but flexible panniers 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 sawbuck saddle and a pack animal to allow them to venture far into wilderness while bringing some of the comforts of home, such as sleeping pads, camera equipment, or heavy food.

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Discussion Comments
By LisaLou — On Aug 13, 2011

When my husband goes hunting in the mountains he takes a sawbuck saddle for his mule. They usually have a high camp and a low camp, and anytime they venture up to the high camp he takes his sawbuck saddle.

The trails are narrow and if they are successful with their hunt, this type of saddle is perfect for bringing down the meat and their supplies.

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