What does "to the height of a saddlehorn" mean in the following context? First, I don't know what "saddlehorn" mean and how height is "to the height of a saddlehorn". Second, is the sentence saying that the trees in question are getting shorter?

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

Context: Thinking Like a Mountain By Aldo Leopold

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    Yes. It's unclear whether the literal intent is the height of maybe 4 inches of a saddlehorn above the saddle, or the height of the saddlehorn above the ground when the saddle is on a horse. My guess is that the reference is to defoliating the trees from the ground up to a height of 5 feet or so, leaving the branches above that height essentially intact (as this is what deer would do), but it's all a bit unclear. – Hot Licks Jan 19 '17 at 2:16
  • Regardless of the height, @NWR (hello!) points to the similarity between the shape of saddlehorn and defoliated horn-like stubs. – Sasan Jan 19 '17 at 2:22
  • On reflection, the usage is ambiguous. A deer can reach up to about the height of a saddlehorn mounted on a horse, so they would eat all of the foliage up to that height. They would not reduce the height of the tree since they only eat the foliage, not the trunk or the bark. What is left would be the stubby remains of the accessible branches. – user208726 Jan 19 '17 at 2:27

A saddlehorn is a feature of a Western saddle (in comparison to an English saddle with no horn).

It would be a few inches higher than the back of a horse, so about 4-5 feet.

In the passage it suggests the tree trunks are completely bare. This suggests grazing by herbivores slightly shorter than a horse - the deer described in the passage.

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