I was wondering what people know regarding the McClellan saddle. Mostly, I am wanting to know about the various versions of the saddle and what McClellan users think of them in regards to performance, usability, comfort, durability, ETC,...
"Saddles" by Russel H. Beatie (University of Oklahoma Press)(1981) gives a pretty good discription of the US military saddle evolution, and concludeds the McCellan "was and is a remarkable saddle."
As a side note, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the development of the saddle. I purchased it while attending saddle making school back in the mid-80's and use it often in my research of the old west.
I'll offer up a few comments from practical experience...
Unfortunately, the McClellan saddle is one of those saddles that has very little leeway in terms of fitting- the horse either has the correct conformation in the topline for it or not. With some other saddles, you can get away with adding some padding to get a good fit (i.e. not going to cause galls or sores) but with the McClellan, it's a lot harder.
With my horse, I have to be careful and have the saddle set in just the right position or it will cause some swelling with prolonged riding. I have a reproduction 1904 (originals are too narrow) that I use mostly for show/reenactment use- this wouldn't be my first choice for trail riding. My backside can handle it but my horse's back is another matter.
Also, one of the other problems with the McClellan is that with all the rigging (especially the 1904), there's just WAY too much leather between my leg and the barrel and this has a tendency to make dull my leg aids- not something I'd choose for arena work.
That said, they do make mounting and dismounting in a hurry a pretty easy task.
I made the mistake of using a reproduction 1859 model that was too wide at the gullet and it really did a number on my horse's withers- learned the hard way about good fit.
As for myself, I don't have issues with comfort but that's just me. The standard military issue McClellan is probably going to be a bit hard for most people after a long period of time since there's no padding (the 1859 model is plain rawhide-covered tree).
I found a good (I think) information source for the McClellan saddle, but since my first hand knowledge of the McClellan is sparse at best, I though that some of you may want to add your 2 cents... http://www.militaryhorse.org/studies/mcclellan/
Anyway, if it is so "conformation picky", I can see a definite problem with the McClellan saddle. While it probably wouldn't be an issue for the individual horse and saddle owner, I can see where three would be definite disadvantages for military application, where a rider may need to change horses on a long patrol.
Geroge B. McClellan, as a COL, US Cav, was assigned as military liaison to the US Embassy in Austria. He observed the saddles of a number of cavalry units out of Hungary. Using those saddles as a basis, he designed a saddle for the US Cav that was used, with variaions, from the late 1850s thru 1943, when the horse cav was officially abandoned in favor of mechanization.
Not all troops used the McClellan. Officers often used a variation on the 'English' or 'postage stamp' saddle. Other officers used variations on the plantation saddle, some equipped with metal horns like on cowboy saddles. A number of these were on display at the now-defunct Museum of the Cavalry in El Paso, Texas, back in the 1970s.
The McClellan was specifically designed to fit the more common horses of the day, most of which were somewhat slim in the barrel. Animals like the American Saddle Horse, the Arab, the thoroughbred, or later the Tennessee Walker wear the saddle comfortably. The thicker barrel of the modern quarter horse is totally unable to accept a McClellan without galling.
Even when they were being used, many Officers had issues with them and constantly lobbied for a new design. Unfortunately, while the one attempt with the 1912 saddle was a decent design, it didn't fare well in the field during the Punitive Expedition. America's entry into WWI precluded any further work on the 1912 so the McClellan stayed in service up until the elimination of the horse cavalry in 1948.
In any event, this is a saddle that should be used with care- unlike the Government, we don't afford new horses.
If a horse of the proper conformation is ridden, the McClellan fits both horse & rider comfortably. The split down the middle of the McClellan prevents pressure on a rider's crotch, particularly the most sensitive part of his crotch, which can be a problem in Cavalry-type maneuvers. The McClellan does not fit thick-barrel horses like modern quarter horses (which didn't exist as a breed when the saddle was invented) and should never be used with such horses.
It's less comfortable for the rider than the Jennifer, which preceded it, true--but the Jennifer was much harder on the horse.
Keep in mind the Mac is still being used by many "endurance" riders. Since most of them ride Arabs, with their shorter back, the saddle fits better than it would on a quarter horse. It is used because it is strong and yet light. I even know of some endurance riders that strip the Mac of some parts to make it even lighter. I have rebuilt a couple of Macs.
The Macs being used by the endurance riders (at least the ones I know) is a far different creature than the standard military issue ones with lighter trees and overall better support on the back. I really don't classify those as true MacClellans.
The guy I got my Macs from, Doug Kidd/Border States Leatherworks, uses a variety of trees and he's made ones with Quarterhorse bars. The originals, are a different matter though. As for length, they do work better on a shorter-backed horse such as an Arab.
If I had to choose a military saddle, the German 25 model is far superior. :-)