Saddles are considered the most widely known horse riding equipment. And they have quite an interesting history. Starting from just a simple cloth to an advanced “seat” that provides comfort to not only the rider but the horse.
It is said that horses have been domesticated as early as 3000 BC. Without a saddle, humans rode horses bareback. You can imagine how hard it would be to charge during a war without a saddle. Thus the need for something arose.
Long, uncomfortable rides resulted in the realization that something was needed to make riding more comfortable. They need some sort of barrier between the rider and the horse’s back.
In the early times before saddles, riders used cloth saddles. Just a simple blanket or cloth was placed on the horse’s back for the rider. The Bible even mentions the use of cloth saddles.
And even in the early days, saddles, even those of cloth, were a symbol of status for people. Those that had a more embellished version of the saddle were considered of higher status and wealth. Embellishments included gold accents and leatherwork.
After the cloth saddle, the Scythians were the first people to create an actual frame for the saddle. It was a very basic and rough framework. Made from two parallel leather cushions with the girth attaching them together. Sometimes the saddle would also have a pommel, a rounded knob, and cantle with leather, bone, or horn facings. Along with that, it contained leather thongs, a crupper, and breastplate. This assisted with keeping the saddle in place with a shabrack underneath.
Saddles constructed around solid trees, in other words, built atop solid wood frames, first appeared during the Han dynasty in the year 200 BC. This new build was a huge achievement. The tree raised the rider above the horse’s back and allowed for even distribution of the rider’s weight on either side of the horse’s spine. Allowing the animal to live longer and to have the ability to use the animal for a longer time.
After the development of using solid trees, the stirrup was created. It started a simple leather strap that allowed the rider to slip in their toe. This helped them mount the horse and provided additional support during riding. By 477 AD, the stirrup was widespread across China and into Europe.
During the middle ages, many advancements were made to the saddle. Including creating a higher cantle and pommel. These improvements provided more security in the saddle. This format became the predecessor of the modern western saddle.
Split Into Two Designs
The rise of cow work and bullfighting resulted in splitting the design of the saddle into two main categories. There are Moorish and Hungarian styles. Both of which are used today, but with slight adjustments and upgrades.
The Moorish design is what we now consider the western style saddle. The modern western saddle was greatly influenced by Spanish conquistadors and vaqueros, cowboys that conquered lands in the United States.
This style of saddle included a prominent horn on the front of the saddle. The horn allows the cowboy or rider to tie their rope around it to tow livestock. This method proved the most effective after several tries to find a way to tow or move livestock.
The Hungarian design is the modern English style saddle. This style does not have a horn, as it is not needed for the riders. And with the rise of fox hunting, it became apparent that a high cantle and pommel was a hindrance when jumping. So the saddle was redesigned to better suit its purpose.
The English saddle also has more padding underneath. To make it easier to ride, the stirrups are further forward on the saddle design. Again, helping the rider with jumping and dressage.
Both saddle designs have evolved to suit the needs of the rider. While very different, they both serve their purpose dutifully.
In the modern world, it seems impossible to think that there was a time that riders didn’t use a saddle. Nowadays, it is one of the most critical pieces of complete dressage for riders, whether as a cowboy or an equestrian professional.
While saddles are critical, other equipment is used to fully reign in the horse. This includes bridles, spurs, and even ropes. And the good news is, Texas Saddlery can provide the rider with all their equipment. Time to saddle up!