When Were Horse Saddles First Used?

Have you ever wondered when the first saddle was used?  Or maybe how they differed from today’s most prevalent types of saddles?  Or even if the purpose and use of saddles were different from what they are today?  These answers require a bit of a history lesson, so sit back in the saddle as I try my best to answer all of your difficolt questions.  

Horses were first domesticated sometime around 3000 to 4000 BC, but it wasn’t until nearly 3,500 years later that the structured, solid saddle we have evolved came to existence.  Prior to the first framed saddle, various types of fringed cloth were draped over the horse for the rider.  Even in the Bible, mentions of cloth saddles being used are made.  These cloth saddles were created and used for protection for the rider.  They provided padding for both rider and horse and made longer rides more bearable.  The cloth also absorbed sweat from the horse, preventing the rider and horse from rubbing and chafing.  Like anything else, the cloth drapes became symbols of status, leading to decadent leatherwork and garnishes of gold or jewels.  As time continued, the need for stability when riding became a bigger issue.  Around 200 BC, the Chinese designed a wooden frame and covered it with cloth materials.  Things like the girth, pommel and breastplate were added, making the saddle the most sturdy, stable and safe of its time.  Spreading across the Old World, different clusters of people had different styles of saddles; and each was dependent on location, terrain and purpose.  The Romans made one (also wood) consisting of four horns so that the rider’s weight would be evenly distributed across the horse’s back, rather than digging into the loin.  Because of this weight distribution, stirrups could be added which was very important to rider safety and stability.  The Middle Ages were when the most advancements in saddlery came into existence.  War resulted in a need for comfort, stability and ability to seat a knight decked out in shining armor/weaponry.  To achieve more stability while riding, the cantle at the back of the saddle was raised, as was the pommel at the front.  And, of course, the wooden frame was made stronger to account for the drastic increase in weight.  

Since the early days of the saddle, the purpose of them has slightly changed.  Today, custom saddles are made for different events ranging from English and jumping to Western and reining.  These events are drastically different, therefore the saddles need to be adequate for each rider. 


English saddles are typically smaller and lighter in weight.  This allows the rider to get closer to the horse and hang on better for events such as jumping and dressage.  There is no saddle horn as a result, unlike with western saddles.  Western saddles are bulkier, heavier and are suitable for longer rides on more rugged terrain.  Over time, adaptations to western saddles have led to an easier time when working cattle.  This includes a place to hold a rope, the saddle horn for the rider’s rope to be tied to so cattle can be directed better with their free hand, and strings which are thin pieces of leather hanging down to tie ropes or saddle bags to.  English saddles, on the other hand, are significantly simpler.  There is no saddle horn since there is no need for a rope, the cantle in the back sits lower so the rider can move more freely, post better (which means to sit up and move with the horse’s gaits), and the stirrups are attached to stirrup leather (a leather strap) so that they can be moved up high in order for the rider to get further up on the horse when jumping.  The English saddles warrant more rider movement so they can steady themselves and move with the horse.  Western has higher cantles so the rider can be more secure when working cattle.  

Different studies have been conducted using technology in order to figure out how to make saddles better.  The way pressure sits on the horse from different saddles and the way the saddle seat affects the rider’s and horse’s skeleton have been looked into, which ultimately allow for improvements of saddles.  The horse industry, Western or English, has grown over the years, and today is now used for more pleasure events or “showing off” performance ability.  Compared to older times when saddles were used mainly for long distance travel, war or hunting, technology can almost solely be blamed for the saddles we know so well today.

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