Discomfort and riding are old partners. So it's no mystery why horsemen through time devised soft pads and supportive saddles to make riding more of a pleasure and less of a pain for man and beast.
The first "saddles" appeared more than 4,000 years ago and were nothing more than a patch of animal hide or a piece of cloth. These early models offered little in the way of support or security, but they served as a buffer between horse and rider during bareback migrations and battles.
As this novel concept caught on, the hides and cloths became more elaborate. About 700 B.C. in the Middle East, Assyrian warriors went on campaigns seated atop decorative saddle cloths. Some had straps that resembled girths.
Moving north toward the area that is now Siberia, the nomadic Scythians created saddlery that was functional and beautiful. A frozen Scythian tomb from the 5th Century B.C. revealed a saddle cover intricately decorated with animal motifs made from leather, felt, hair and gold. As expert horsemen, the Scythians used cushioned saddles and girths and may have had leather stirrups.
Concerned with their mounts' comfort, Asian horsemen created a felt saddle with a wooden frame about 200 B.C. This primitive saddle tree kept a rider's weight off the horse's tender, sensitive vertebrae, preserving the animal's well-being and prolonging his usefulness.
This article first appeared in the January, 1996 issue of Dressage Today magazine.