In the November 2010 issue of Mules and More, Jenn Schmuck (Hennef, Germany) talks about finding the right saddle for her husband's mule, Larry. She got help from Saddle Solutions, who wrote the following article on saddle fitting:
Fitting the Saddle Mule: Conformation Types
by Saddling Solutions (www.SaddlingSolutions.com)
There is as much variation in the shape of mules' backs as there is among horses. As with horses, some mules are very easy to fit while some are much more difficult. There are a few conformation types that are more common in mules that will require special consideration when fitting saddles.
1) The Very Straight Back
Some mules have a back without a lot of dip to it when viewed from the side. Their spine may be almost completely straight from the withers to the hip. Since most saddles are made for the "average" type of horse back, which has a downward curve, saddles will often rock, cause excessive pressure under the center of the saddle, and be unstable both laterally and front to back on this type of
mule back. A treed saddle built specifically for a mule may have less rock to the tree and may work. A treeless saddle, particularly of a less structured type or a type that will break in and mold to the mule's back, may also be a good fit.
2) No Withers At All
Some mules have very flat withers, like a donkey, and this may also be combined with a downhill conformation (withers lower than hips). Lack of withers may result in problems with the saddle shifting laterally. When combined with a downhill build and shoulders that are smaller than the barrel, it can also result in saddles sliding forward. In this case something more flexible often conforms better to the shape of the mule's back, and the better the saddle conforms the less likely it will be to move around.
3) The Very Narrow Back
Some mules are very narrow, and may be narrow and A-framed all the way back into the loins, unlike horses which typically widen out towards the loins. This may be combined with (1) and/or (2) with or without a downhill build. The main consideration here is finding a saddle that offers enough clearance for the withers and spine. Among treeless saddles the best brand for this type is usually the Startrekks. They have ample wither and spine clearance, and while they break in and mold to the horse, they won't collapse and lose clearance as they age.
4) The Very Round Back
Some mules are very wide and round, and this may also be combined with (1) and/or (2) with or without a downhill build, resulting in a tube-shaped body on which it is very difficult to achieve good saddle stabilty in any direction. Again, it is important to ensure that the saddle fits the shape of the back and is wide enough, and a more flexible saddle that can mold to the mule's back may work best.
5) The Stoic, or the "Stubborn Mule"
This isn't a conformational trait, but can come into play when evaluating whether your current setup is working. Mules have a reputation for stubbornness, but this is often only the good sense of self-preservation they inherited from their donkey half. If a mule refuses to do something, don't just assume it's stubbornness, they may be very stoic to pain and may only show that they are uncomfortable by having difficulty or becoming balky when things are asked of them. One of the first things that should be checked when training problems are encountered with any equine is saddle fit.
Saddling Solutions is the US importer for Startrekk treeless saddles, and a distributor of Barefoot treeless saddles and saddle accessories. --- www.SaddlingSolutions.com
Steph Schmuck and Larry in his new saddle. See the November issue of Mules and More for the complete article!