Continuing on a horsey theme, what is the primary purpose of the saddle? Most assume it is to provide the rider with a more comfortable and stable seat, and that is true to an extent, but it also serves another critical purpose: to keep the rider’s weight off the horse’s spine. If you look at the underside of a saddle, you’ll see that the saddle is designed to keep all weight off the spine and transfer it to the large muscles of the back, where it can be borne without injury.
This has implications for anyone writing in the ancient world, because this type of saddle (the “solid tree saddle”) was not invented until 200 B.C., and until the solid tree saddle was invented, there were no stirrups.
It’s not that ancient peoples didn’t think of the idea. They tried stirrups. But when your saddle places weight on the horse’s spine, and then you attach stirrups which increases the load, the horse suffers back injuries.
I’ve got a Bronze Age novel set around 2000 B.C., and my characters ride horses. I’ve got them using primitive saddles with no stirrups. This raised all kinds of issues in the writing. Simple things like, how do they mount their horses? All those throwaway lines about the character putting a foot in the stirrup and swinging up into the saddle… suddenly those weren’t throwaway lines anymore. Those lines wouldn’t even work for that book.
I ended up having my characters vault into the saddle! It may sound crazy, but I know it is possible because I have done it myself. I used to bring horses up to the stable from a distant pasture, and because I was lazy, I’d go out and halter the horse, then fasten the lead rope around the horse’s neck like reins, vault up on the horse’s back, and ride it to the stable bareback. I was young and limber back then, and these were smallish horses! The horses in my book are smallish too, and the characters are young.
One wonders about riding techniques of the day, too. Did good riders learn how to squeeze with their knees when riding bareback (or with a primitive saddle), mimicking the effect of a solid tree saddle, so that they weren’t bouncing around on the horse’s spine? That probably gets into more detail than most books require. But riding in ancient times probably demanded more skill from the rider than after the solid tree saddle was invented, not just because it was harder to stay on, but because bad riding could damage the horse.