Army Surplus in the Tack Room

I just love the way old horse magazines can help solve some of history’s mysteries.

The ad above is from a magazine dated June 1951. (Circumstantially, that’s two years before I was born into a very horsey family with many horse-owning friends.) I spotted the ad the other day while researching something else.

What struck me: first, that this was just a few years after World War II, when horse interest was in resurgence and sales of military surplus goods made up part of the retail economy; and second, that a saddle, any saddle, could be had for less than $10.

I thought back to the tack rooms and dude-string saddle sheds of my childhood, and ‘got it’ as to why so many of them had at least one McClellan-type surplus military saddle: The saddles were widely available, and they didn’t cost very much, even in 1951 dollars. They were an alternative to riding bareback at a time when Western saddlemakers had not yet geared up to meet rising demand by the new post-war recreational horse culture.

Funny thing about those ubiquitous cavalry saddles. Due to the unforgiving nature of their seat and the lack of features that ‘looked cowboy,’ they were almost always the last to be chosen by the young riders of my generation. We didn’t relate to the mounted soldiers who’d fought two world wars; we related to the cowboys we saw on the TVs in our living rooms.

Yet once you rode an Army saddle regularly enough for your bottom to toughen in, like a trooper’s would’ve been forced to do, you could ride in it all day and then some. Which of course is what they were intended for in the first place.

Today’s saddle horses tend to be wider-made than the cavalry mounts of yore, so the old McClellans, with their narrow gullet, won’t fit them. Such saddles are largely curiosity pieces now.

Did you ever ride in one? If you still use one, how did you come to have it?

Tagged , , | 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Army Surplus in the Tack Room”

  1. GaitedGlory says:

    These saddles DO fit today’s horses quite well, especially narrow front end TWHs. The reproductions however are horrible. I only ride in original 1904 McClellans and they do fit everything in my barn versus today’s modern saddles which do not fit anyone I own. They are comfortable enough for long rides, training, jumping, you name it. Mine have all come from Ebay. I appreciate the rigging which wraps over the saddle versus a D ring held on by rivets. They’re durable and priceless even if they aren’t for everybody.

  2. Mary Jerrell says:

    I was given a McClellan by a friend of my parents back around 1967. He found it in an old barn on the property he had purchased. I rode in it a few times, but my gelding was too round and it would slide to the side, so decided that riding bareback was safer. It was a great piece of history and a treasure. Mary

  3. Gerry Boris says:

    My first saddle was a McClellan that was at our farm. My first horse was a Steer that I broke to ride when I was around 9 or so. because my parents would not buy me a horse. I rode him daily in that saddle until he was 2 years old. We went all over the farm and the neighborhood. He even loped after a fashion with a lot of encouragement.
    I lost interest in riding him for the winter and he was not to be found in the spring. My parents bought me my first horse that spring. When the horse arrived I started riding western. The rest is history.
    I always wondered where the saddle came from. The add explains that.

Leave a Reply