The search for pack saddles small enough to fit our burro’s backs is a tough one, well it used to be. With pack burro racing growing over the last few years, tack company’s seem to be keeping more donkey items in stock. Whereas a few years ago only one or two outfits regularly had them.
I will do additional blog posts on pack gear (panniers, cinches, highlines, etc) but I will stick to pack saddles for this one.
There are two types of pack saddles- decker or sawbuck. Without getting too much into the history, deckers normally carry mantied loads (canvas wrapped packages) and sawbucks carry panniers (pack saddle bags).
Sawbucks are just that, two wooden crosses with a two planks of wood connecting the Xs. A decker is a hoop style pack saddle that spreads the weight out differently on the animal. You can also find modified deckers that have bent hoops to easily accommodate panniers.
Most burro packers have a sawbuck style unless you have a mammoth which would allow you to get into the larger sized deckers. A majority of pack burro racers use sawbucks, I have only seen a couple modified deckers at the races.
Most burro sawbucks have a 16-18inch bar length, the bar being the plank of wood between the Xs. For a Mammoth donkey you could use a 18in+ bar and up to normal mule/horse size (21in+). For a standard donkeys, up to about 50in at the withers/shoulder, you would want the 16-18in bar size. For minis- less than 14in bar. There are some llama and goat outfitters that do offer smaller bar sizes from 10-12in which may work well for a mini donkey.
Options for purchasing a burro or donkey pack saddle online:
Bantaam Saddle and Tack
They make a variety of pack gear for llamas, goats, ponies, and donkeys. They have three different pack saddles for mini donkeys from $109-$250. The leather $250 mini donkey sawtooth leather saddle actually looks exceptionally nice with attractive stitching.
The cheaper pack saddles do have a few plastic buckles and nylon components that I would be nervous taking into the wilderness but it maybe a cheap easy option for a burro race. However, I have yet to see a pack string of mini donkeys, so maybe they are good enough to pack the limited weight they can carry?
Mountain Ridge Gear
Now this is the only official company I have done business with (the rest of my packsaddles are namless hamie-downs). Their gear is very high quality and for people who think they may actually carry some significant weight. It might be the most reliable or best quality investment that I have found. They fall in the mid-range price at about $450. The owner of this company packs with this gear as well.
They offer two sizes, one mule with a 21inch bar and a donkey with a 18in bar. These packs have roller buckles instead of Conway buckles which make adjusting the pack saddle a breeze if you are switching this saddle from one donk to the other. The rigging (breast strap and breeching) are made of biothane as well which means less maintenance than leather.
So Mo Mule
I originally looked at going with this setup until I found mountain ridge gear. They offer what looks like a great quality saddle and tack with a 16in or 18in bar for $540. My 18in bar fits my 48in donkey (at the shoulder/withers) well but if I had a small standard size donkey this might be a better option with the 16in bar.
They are the most expensive option, but it does come with two cinches, which are normally purchased separately. Looks like it could take a load down the trail too and there are pictures of them packing with it.
The original. The book Packing with Burros by Dave Daney mentions this outfit by name. I believe they were one of the first and their donkey pack saddles were out of stock for quite sometime. This is a basic saddle with a very minimalist breechin and over all design. It is the cheapest at $380 for what looks like a 16in bar (no specs) and I see them, or this design, fairly frequently at pack burro races.
The problem with a breast collar designed like this though is that it tends to fall down once the burro gets moving. There is no diagonal strap from the breast collar to bar to keep it from slipping.
Outfitters Pack Station
This saddle seems to be the most ornate and beautifully crafted. If I did a wedding or had a event to tack this saddle to I would be proud of it. At $550, from the picture, it would be worth just hanging in the living room to look at, but as someone who is rough on their gear, I would probably scuff it up. Heart buckles and all. Looks backcountry pack worthy as well.
Craiglist & Ebay: tough to find burro sized gear. Good luck though.
Facebook Groups: Laughing Valley Burro Ops group is one of the largest groups so they may be a option to find a used saddle. The New Mexico Pack Burros Group is growing and it would be worth asking there as well.. There is also several general donkey groups where you might be able to post a “in-search-of-ad” and come up with something.
I hope you found this informative and helpful. If I missed saddle maker or you have expierience with once of these brands, please comment below so folks can find them!