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History of Horse Saddles
 By Winniefield Park   •   15th Nov 2015   •   2,254 views   •   0 comments
History of Horse Saddles

I doubt that the first person to sit on a horse did so with a saddle, or even intentionally. Some poor prehistoric human was probably waiting, hanging in a tree with his spear while his hunting mates chased a herd of nice tasty horses past. He intended to take one down with his spear, but he wasnít careful about what branch he was standing on. It broke, sending him down onto the back of a panicking horse within the herd. It wasnít likely a comfortable ride, or one anyone would care to repeat, but it did plant a seed.

Our first relationship with horses was as a food source. Then came domestication. We ate them, milked them and began to use them to draw simple drag vehicles and eventually conveyances with wheels. Then, that seed of an idea that had been planted so many generations before sprouted. Letís sit on our horses! What a great idea! One problem though. We kept bouncing off. Those primitive ponies had really round backs and low withers.

It took us about 2000 years from the first domesticated horses 6000 years ago, to develop something resembling a saddle. The first saddles were simple pads of leather or cloth, held on by the seat of the rider against the horse. Archeological finds have shown that Bronze and Iron Age man had leather bridles and harness but no evidence for actual saddles. Even the ancient Greeks rode bareback. It was at least another 1000 years or so on, that saddles with girths and padding came into use. These saddles were probably more comfortable than the animal skin or cloths pads previously used, but they still lacked the one thing that helps you stay stable on the back of a horse.

Related: Taking Care of Your Horses Back
Related: Understanding Your Horse's Back
Related: Sizing English and Western Saddles

It took another few hundred years or more before someone thought to stable the padding of a saddle with a solid tree. Covered and padded wooden frames began to appear in Asia and the Roman military used a saddle with a horn in each corner about 100 BC. This made riding easier on both horse and rider, as it distributed the riderís weight more evenly. It would take a few hundred more years before another innovation would make riding even easier.

In armed battle, soldiers need to lean and stretch to defend themselves and attack their enemies. Doing so while gripping with legs only made the job much harder. They needed an easier way to keep their balance as they swung and thrusted their weapons. The first stirrups were likely loops of leather, perhaps attached to the girth. These were seen on the Indian continent about 200 A.D. Their earliest use was probably to help the rider mount up. Itís hard to know exactly because leather degrades rather easily. The Chinese are credited with the first metal stirrups a few hundred centuries A.D. The idea spread to the west during the Middle Ages, which lasted from five to fifteen hundred years A.D. There, the shape and use of the stirrup was refined.

Saddles continued to develop, each incarnation adapted to the type of horse and use. During the Middle Ages, knights in armor needed high pommels and cantles to help them keep their seats. Eventually, the design was modified for jumping, herding and other important activities done on horseback. The needs of those who worked cattle called for a comfortable seat, wide stable tree, and room to pack the rider's necessities as he followed cattle herds down the trail. These evolved into the western saddles we know today. Fox hunting, steeple chasing and other jumping sports required a light saddle, that allowed both rider and horse to move unencumbered. The english saddle answered that need. And now, today there are even more saddles, specialized for the needs of pleasure riders.
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