A night latch attached to your saddle is a handy piece of equipment in the backcountry, roundpen and everywhere in between.
Chances are, if you ride your horse outside the ring, you’ll find a night latch a handy piece of equipment. Horseman and clinician Craig Cameron says the strap, which is usually made of leather and wraps around the gullet of the saddle, is “essential,” and adds that “it’s not just for somebody riding a colt or a bronc.
A night latch can be used several ways, says Cameron, who has one on each of his saddles—on the right side of the horn since he typically rides with his bridle reins in his left hand.
“I’ll come up to a creek crossing or a little jump, and if that horse feels a little unsure, uneasy or tight, I’ll stick my hand through that night latch to give me a better seat,” he says. “It helps keep me onboard.
He says while the saddle horn can be used to grab hold of, a night latch is more secure if it’s fitted snug with an inch or two of slack—enough room in which to slip a hand.
“Because it’s a strap, you can get your hand in and hold on to it better than a saddle horn,” he says. “The horse can’t snatch or jerk it out of your hand. It allows you to ride leap a lot better and keep you balanced.”
Cameron says oftentimes he sees riders using their bridle reins to find balance in the saddle. Not only is it an ineffective way to ride, but it can also be harsh on the horse’s mouth.
“When a horse takes a jump over creek and the rider snatches the bridle reins, which are attached to the horse’s face, it can scare or hurt a horse,” he explains. “Then the next time you want to cross the water, the horse won’t because the last time his face was jerked. Instead, balance with the night latch.”
Night latches have been used for many years, the name stemming from cowboys who would be on a late-night cattle drive, Cameron says.
“They’d call it a ‘night ride’ or ‘night hawking,’ when they’d watch cattle at night” Cameron says. “Those old-time cowboys would sometimes get tired and sleepy. Sometimes they’d go to sleep and accidentally fall off their horse. But they found if they put their hand in a night latch, if they started to doze off, the strap would catch their hand as they started to tip.”