Page:The City of the Saints.djvu/43

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CHAP. I.
25
THE PRAIRIE SADDLE.

banished to the limbo of things that were, will be used as mounted " beef-eaters," only for show, demand a saddle with as little weight as is consistent with strength, and one equally easy to the horse and the rider. In no branch of improvement, except in hat-making for the army, has so little been done as in saddles. The English military or hunting implement still endures without other merit than facility to the beast, and, in the man's case, faculty of falling uninjured with his horse. Unless the rider be copper-lined and iron-limbed, it is little better in long marches than a rail for riding. As far as convenience is concerned, an Arab pad is preferable to Peat's best. But the Californian saddle can not supply the deficiency, as will, I think, appear in the course of description.

The native Indian saddle is probably the degenerate offspring of the European pack-saddle: two short forks, composing the pommel and cantle, are nailed or lashed to a pair of narrow sideboards, and the rude tree is kept in shape by a green skin or hide allowed to shrink on. It remarkably resembles the Abyssinian, the Somal, and the Circassian saddle, which, like the " dug-out" canoe, is probably the primitive form instinctively invented by mankind. It is the sire of the civilized saddle, which in these lands varies with every region. The Texan is known by its circular seat; a string passed round the tree forms a ring: provided with flaps after the European style, it is considered easy and comfortable. The Californian is rather oval than circular; borrowed and improved from the Mexican, it has spread from the Pacific to the Atlantic slope of the Rocky Mountains, and the hardy and experienced mountaineer prefers it to all others: it much resembles the Hungarian, and in some points recalls to mind the old French cavalry demipique. It is composed of a single tree of light strong wood, admitting. a freer circulation of air to the horse's spine an immense advantage and, being without iron, it can readily be taken to pieces, cleaned or mended, and refitted. The tree is strengthened by a covering of raw-hide carefully sewed on; it rests upon a " sweat-leather," a padded sheet covering the back, and it is finished off behind with an " anchero" of the same material protecting the loins. The pommel is high, like the crutch of a woman's saddle, rendering impossible, under pain of barking the knuckles, that rule of good riding which directs the cavalier to keep his hands low. It prevents the inexperienced horseman being thrown forward, and enables him to " hold on" when likely to be dismounted ; in the case of a good rider^its only use is to attach the lariat, riata, or lasso. The great merit of this "unicorn" saddle is its girthing : with the English system, the strain of a wild bull or of a mustang "bucker" would soon dislodge the riding gear. The "sincho" is an elastic horsehair cingle, five to six inches wide, connected with "lariat straps," strong thongs passing round the pommel and cantle; it is girthed well back