The M1928 was a response to changes in the theory of horsemanship that took the military world by storm before the war. Based on the work done by Caprilli of Italy, the method was taught to many officers attending the Saumur riding school in France before, during and after the war. This theory emphasized a closer relationship between the movement and action of the rider and horse. In terms of equipment changes to the McClellan, it would require increased leg contact with the animal, which had never been very good to begin with, and shorter, lighter stirrups.
While potentially better saddles had been created and experimentally tried, the start of the Great War for the US brought about massive stockpiles of the old McClellan patterns. It was politically and economically nearly impossible to cast these all aside to continue with pre-war equipment projects, much as it had been after the Civil War – the mass of surplus could not be ignored.
This cavalry equipment modification was basically the best that could be done with a bad situation. While it is referred to as the modified M1904, and more commonly later as the M1928 modification, it really didn’t come into common use in the various cavalry regiments until some years later. The testing for the proposed improvements to the M1904 McClellan began in 1923-4 and resulted in the adoption of the modification that became known as the Model 1928 McClellan. The first M1928 “kits” made at Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot (JQMD) were furnished to organizational saddlers in 1931; the M1928 designation referring to the year of the design acceptance.
These modified war-surplus saddles were the last issued cavalry saddles in the Army, and found their way to many other countries in post-war military aid material. It’s still surprising how many old M1928’s show up so far-away from their initial duty stations.
The actual changes in the saddle are quite noticeable. The old rigging was cut away at the edges of the saddle, with the quarter straps nailed down and sewn into the edge. The old stirrup straps were converted with provided roller buckles (or sometimes modified versions of the existing centerbar buckle). Straps, Stirrup M1904 M1928 (pdf)
The hooded wooden stirrups had their hoods removed, and a large section of the stirrup was band sawed off, so that the tread would measure about 2″, instead of 4.5″. Unaltered hooded stirrups were occasionally retained, with M1912 steel stirrups sometimes being used. The technically proper ‘modification’ was for the wooden stirrup with narrow tread, however.
Given that most of the M1928’s were modified by unit personnel following the JQMD instructions, you’ll find variations and occasional substitutions – especially in the area of stirrups and stirrup straps.
The greatest change was the addition of a saddle skirt and “english” type girth webbing and straps. To accomplish this, the seams on the outer edges of the saddle were opened. The skirt was nailed to the surface of the tree, after which the girth webbing was nailed down. The straps, three in number, were usually sewn and riveted to this webbing. At this point the cover seam was resewn. This may have been done to retain the strength in the seam and save time. Later modifications also replaced the sheepskin linings with hard felt pads, glued and stitched over the previous sheepskin linings (after removing all the curly wool). The girth was also changed during the 1930’s, with the olive webbing being supplemented by a mohair cord girth. This latter girth was also issued with the M1936 Phillips officers saddle.
M1928 Cavalry saddle, McClellan
This is likely late ’30s or WW2 conversion. Characteristics of a later conversion are the rounded quarterstrap ends that are nailed down above the outer seam, and the doubled stitching on the outer seam. The unit saddler would only stitch every other machine stitched hole from the original cover seam.
The stirrup strap has a couple of post-service additions in the brass spots, but otherwise look to be standard M1928 stirrup straps with roller buckles.
Note that whomever sawed the original stirrups did not cut through the crescent-shaped reinforcing washer on the outside. One of the many variations of issue stirrups you’ll find with the M1928’s.
M1928 Cavalry saddle, McClellan
Here is an earlier variant, where you see the quarterstraps stitched into the side seams, and the outer seam has hand-stitching in every original seam hole.
This also has stirrup straps with original M1904 center-bar buckles – these may be original unaltered, 1922 modified straps w/o the buckle twist, or some post-service surplus pickups.
Do note the stirrups, which have been bandsawed into a narrower tread, going through the steel reinforcements on the sides.
This thick grey wool felt on the bottoms of the sidebars is also part of the M1928 modification. The old sheepskin wool would be shaved off, and these thin hard felt pieces would be glued and tacked on. After the outer seams were stitched in with the new flaps and girth webbing, the extra tacks would be removed. The wool felt was much easier to keep clean, and more durable than the old sheepskin wool.
An unissued new-old-stock pair of M1928 saddle skirts, still held together with two small iron tacks near the top edge. The upper edges were skived to lay smoothly on the tree.
On the outer surfaces of many of the JQMD supplied skirts you will find a stamped marking. These aren’t found on many old ’28’s, and most appear to be very early WW2 dates. The ‘J.B.’ would have been the initials of the inspector at Jeffersonville QM Depot.