Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mule Bars

If you stopped by to read about dark, smoky places where longears drink beer and shoot pool, I'm sorry to disappoint. Today I'm going to talk about the kind of mule bars that are found in saddles.

Once I knew that Lucy, the most magnificent saddle donkey in the world, would be coming into my life, I started researching donkey saddles. It was the first time that Google let me down. I found a little bit of information on mule saddles (and we all remember that mules are a cross between a horse and a donkey, right?), but precious little scoop on how to properly fit a saddle on a donkey. I was confused, befuddled, and bewildered, and in dire need of professional help. Shortly thereafter, I learned that donkey trainer and saddlemaker Steve Edwards was coming to town, so I postponed a saddle purchase until I could get his advice. And boy am I glad I waited. Having spent the weekend at his training clinic and the balance of my checking account on a new saddle, I can take comfort in knowing that I've bought my first and last saddle for Lucy ...  because it fits.

There are saddles for horses and saddles for mules, but sadly no saddles made specifically for donkeys ... probably because there are very few donkeys who are ridden. I predict that will change once folks catch on to the fact that donkeys are way more fun, and safer to boot. But that's a subject for another time.

Meanwhile, a mule saddle is the current best fit for a donkey, and here are a few reasons why.

Pictured above on the left is the western saddle I used on my horses. On the right is the mule saddle I bought for Lucy.
1. The seat angle on the mule saddle is a little bit deeper so that the rider's weight is not thrown forward.
2. The skirt on the mule saddle is cut back and away from the mule's shoulder. The shoulder of a mule or donkey moves up and down like a piston; a horse's shoulder moves up and forward. It's critical that the saddle not interfere with the movement of the shoulder.
3. A mule or donkey's back is generally shorter than a horse's back, so the saddle skirt is not as long.
4. The back cinch on a mule/donkey saddle is more important than the front cinch when it comes to keeping the saddle in place. Steve recommends that the back cinch be adjusted tighter than the front cinch for mules and donkeys so that it doesn't rock.

But the most important difference between a horse saddle and a mule/donkey saddle is the contour of the bars. The yellow lines below are my attempt to illustrate the bars of the saddle trees which lay beneath the leather covering.

The backs of horses and mules/donkeys are shaped very differently. A mule/donkey's back is straighter, so the bars of the saddle are curved less than on a horse's saddle. This is the part where I confess to knowing enough to be dangerous. Seriously, if you're in the market for a saddle to fit your donkey or mule, consult a trained professional. Just know that the saddle you've been using on your horse will probably not fit and you owe it to your mule/donkey to get one that does.

And if it has a little bling, all the better.


  1. Good to know. Have you actually ridden Lucy with it yet? Is it comfy for you as well?

  2. Both saddles are beautiful, and wow, I sure learned something already today. It's really got to make for a more pleasant ride for the both of you.

  3. How good of you to get a good fit for your girl. The wrong cut of saddle would be like wearing the wrong size shoes, wouldn't it?

  4. Estella from Co.5/19/11, 6:27 AM

    Good job, Linda, people have a hard time understanding why a mule and donkey need special tack than a horse. You did an excellent job in explaining and giving a visual example. Lucy is all set up now, and I'm SO proud of you for NOT purchasing the bit (I knew you would know better). SOOO how is the fit for you???

  5. A good match made in donkey heaven for Lucy's back and your back end!

  6. Leah and Estella, the new saddle fits me great. It's the same size seat as my horse saddle (16") and doesn't feel any different balance-wise.

  7. A girl gotta have bling eh! ;-) very informative.....

  8. Be sure to wear your bling when you ride! That snazzy hat with the snake skin braid would probably look good....

  9. This was interesting. I'm also thinking how handy this will be for folks who do a Google search for donkey saddles. Very clear visuals. Does it seem to make a difference for Lucy?

  10. Both are beautiful saddles. Very interesting about the differences. Thanks for the lesson! I do love the "bling" on Miss Lucy's saddle!

  11. Carol in Colo5/19/11, 8:27 AM

    Linda, I noticed there is a difference in the cantle also. Your western saddle is lower and angled backward. The other saddle the cantle is angled more to the rear and higher which gives you more back support. Any other reasons for the difference?

    The front cinch is also tucked up under the fender on the new saddle also. My granddaughter did a demonstration for 4 H on saddles. I wished we would have known about donkey/mule saddles.

  12. I knew that different saddles were required, but I was never sure of all of the reasons. I found the shoulder movement info to be fascinating!

    Ouch... the cost! I bet it was a pretty penny, but well worth it!

  13. I learned something new today! Never knew that shoulder movement was different between horses and donkeys. I figured all equines moved basically the same. Love the new saddle! Steve is very well known around here. Lots of happy customers have his saddles. :)
    Just a quick note-have you heard about the HPV-1 outbreak? Our vet recommends we keep our horses home until it all settles down.

  14. Fun post learning about the differences! Excellent job and photos!

    Yes, bling is important. Lucy will sparkle!

  15. I know I've said it before, but I'm so happy for you that you've found a good riding buddy. She sounds like a once in a lifetime friend.

  16. Hi Linda.
    As Lucy is gaited, is there such a thing as a "gaited mule/donkey" saddle?

  17. Carol in Colo5/19/11, 12:20 PM

    The HPV-1 virus has hit Colorado two horses have been put down because of it. Did you know it affects llamas and alpacas? All horse events in the state have been postponed until the end of May.

  18. Suzanne,Lucy seems to be walking out better in her new saddle and isn't tripping as much - I'm sure the horse saddle was throwing my weight forward, which was causing her to trip occasionally.

    Carol, the 5" cantle on the new saddle is a little higher - that's a preference of the saddlemaker and doesn't have anything to do with fitting the mule.

    Rosanne and Carol in CO, I've been following the HPV-1 outbreak very closely. Scary stuff.

    Lisa, I'm not aware of a gaited mule/donkey saddle, but Steve did say that the skirt on his saddles is cut back enough so as not to interfere with Lucy's gait.

  19. Amazing! Thanks for all this information. I enjoyed seeing smooch sneak in the photo session.

    It's a beautiful saddle. I'd heard they have very different backs, and wondered how it manifested.

    Happy riding!

  20. Carol in Colo5/19/11, 3:55 PM

    I just noticed looking through the pictures again that the saddle pad is cut to allow better movement of Lucy's shoulders. Are you using just one saddle pad or is there another one?

    Just full of questions for you!!

  21. This was fascinating, even for a laywoman like me! I don't ride, haven't been on a horse in at least 20 years, and have never even been close to a donkey. But I love learning from you! Are you sure Lucy wouldn't like to come visit me in Iowa? Or George or Alan, for that matter!!!

    Nancy in Iowa

  22. I learned so much from this entry!

  23. I have been shopping for a long time for a good saddle for my donkey and with all of these comments, I am convinced on getting a Steve Edwards saddle. Thank you all, even though these comments are at least 5 years old, it still rings true now.