This month's print feature "Cavalry Horses During the American Indian Wars" detailed the care, conditioning and role of military mounts in battle. Part of the horses' care involved using the right tack.
Horse equipment included everything used to ride, care for and carry things upon a horse. The best-known piece of cavalry tack was the McClellan saddle, developed in 1856 and used by the cavalry into the 20th century. The McClellan remained in service for so long in part because of the large surplus of saddles and trees the military had on hand after the Civil War. The army issued those saddles, variously modified and rebuilt, for the next 30 years.
The blanket, made of gray wool with a yellow border, was 84 by 72 inches and weighed about 4 pounds. The trooper folded his blanket lengthwise, and then folded it again in three equal parts so that six thicknesses rested on the horse's back. Some commanders had their men fold their bed blankets and place them on top of their saddle blankets for extra padding.
The cavalry horse typically wore both a bridle and a halter. Period photographs show a strap running from the halter ring to the saddle. Reins were 5 feet long and stitched together at the end.
The standard bit was a curb, in four sizes and degrees of severity. A trooper used a snaffle, or watering bridle, for riding to water and for training and exercise. The link was a short strap, usually worn on the left side of the bridle with one end buckled to the bit and the other snapped to the cheek-strap buckle. When the cavalry fought afoot, one in every four men held the horses. Each trooper unsnapped the link from his bridle and snapped it into the halter ring of the horse on his left. With this arrangement, the fourth trooper could manage the three unmounted horses, as well as his own. The trooper strapped his picket pin and lariat in front of the saddle on top of his blanket, overcoat and extra clothing. To picket a horse, he drove the 15-inch iron pin into the ground, attached one end of the 25-foot lariat and snapped the other end to the halter. The horse then grazed in a circle around the pin.
Troopers kept their tack repaired and oiled, and presented horse and equipment at regular inspections. Tack could become a liability when horses died during a campaign. Finerty recorded burying 70 saddles during Crook's 1876 march, presumably to keep them from falling into Sioux hands.