MAKING A PACKSADDLE
By Chris Garrett, International Harness Consultant
INDEX Page 3 4 5 6 7 7 10 11 12 13 14 15
Introduction and History Saddle fitting Making the pack saddle Marking out Stitching Stuffing Quilting Girths, Breast Collars and breeching Alternative Designs Dealing with Wounds Durability Sawbuck saddles
Introduction One of the biggest success stories that the we have had in the last few years has been the introduction of a simple, cheap, and easy to make pack saddle into various regions of Ethiopia. It’s not really a pack saddle, it’s more of a back protector, but it can be used either on its own or under a rigid frame. Since we introduced this pattern nearly four years ago it has proved to be very popular with the local donkey owners, many of whom have now been taught how to make it for themselves. It has been mentioned in several publications, and as a result we have received quite a few requests from people all over the world for detailed instructions on how to make it for their own donkeys; this has in turn led to this little booklet which I hope will provide that information.
History We have been making a packsaddle in Debra Zeit, Ethiopia for many years, but we decided 4 years ago to simplify it. The new pattern is actually based upon the frame of the quite complex saddle used in Egypt with one major addition. The Egyptian model is quite a nice saddle, but has no gullet space. This is the gap that sits over the donkey’s spine and which should prevent any part of the load rubbing on this sensitive area. Failure to provide this can lead to the horrendous wounds that are the bane of working equines all over the world. We looked at several materials and decided on jute/sisal sacks stuffed with straw or 3
hay, depending on what was available. The main considerations were that it had to help the donkeys, and that the materials and the tools to make it, as well as the expertise to put it together, were realistically available to the actual donkey owners who we wanted to adopt it. The basic model is now being retailed at about £1.30 by some of the market groups that we have since trained up once the initial trials proved successful. This includes all the materials and their profit. After an initial period of receiving some support from us they are now totally independent; without that important separation, no solution to any problem can ever become sustainable. The vets working in areas where we have introduced the saddles have reported a significant drop in back sores on the donkeys over the last few years. The saddle was adapted in many ways by the donkey owners and us until we found mutually acceptable patterns that suit each area’s particular needs, climate or terrain. The only part that has to remain consistent is the gullet space, and the bars that lie each side of the donkey’s spine and distribute the weight of the cargo evenly over as wide a space as possible; that and the fact that any material actually in contact with the donkey must be a natural material, since synthetic materials don’t breathe, are hot, and will often cause a wound no matter how soft or smooth they may appear.
Saddle Fitting Whatever the equine, and whatever the saddle type, it should rest on the area of muscle (longissimus dorsii) that lies along the animal’s back either side of the spine, and should cover only the area supported by the animal’s rib cage.
Equines have a floating shoulder blade which moves backwards and forwards during movement. Horses should have a minimum of a two finger width space between the shoulder blade and the saddle, donkeys need a little more. Whilst this should be taken into account, our saddle is pretty giving and since it is principally there to protect the donkey from the cargo sometimes we do go closer to the shoulder blades.
Width fitting This is essential in any type of saddle with a rigid frame, but with our packsaddle being non-rigid it will conform to the donkey’s shape no matter what.
Making the pack saddle. Materials needed: Sisal sack Thread Straw or hay (Large sack full at least) Tools needed: Tape measure stuffing rod Marker pen Knife or scissors Large needle, (we use 5” mattress needles, but any large needle will do) Stuffing rod, about 1 metre long. (Broomstick with a flattened ‘V’ shape carved in one end, see picture). Time taken: allow at least ½ a day for the first attempt, our best saddle makers now do about 5 a day but they have made hundreds.
Whip stitch (below) Preparing the sack The sacks are stuffed through what is now the long seam running from the top to the bottom of your sack, so we have to start by closing up the open end. Fold the two sides of the end over a little to form a hem and starting at either end whip stitch across to the other side. In the picture there’s slightly different model showing a nylon sack. The technique is the same and we’ll cover that model as an alternative later. Once the open end has been sealed, open up that long side seam. If you want to be really efficient save the removed string for use later.
By Chris Garrett - International Harness Consultant, Published by Practical Action on 02/17/12
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