Roman Cavalry

A Short Canter Through Early Historical Riding Styles Part 4

The Steppe Saddle
In the 4th century the steppe saddle was introduced into the west by the Huns and their allies. It is a simple and strong design. It is possible that some saddles were built with a one piece wooden tree, but reconstructions are made of no more than four pieces of wood joined and shaped to transfer the weight of the rider to the horse's sides. In time this saddle would develop into the medieval saddle and the modern Portuguese and Spanish saddles. The proportions of the pommel and cantle can only be deduced from surviving metal decoration. The earliest such fittings from Europe are a set of early 5th century curved and triangular-shaped gold sheet mounts from Mundolsheim, Alsace. These suggest a very high-fronted saddle, used to display wealth and status. Lower status riders could have used lower fronted saddles, for which rare, small and functional fittings have been found from later dates.

A reconstructed Hunnic saddle from early 5th century France.

The steppe saddle does not need integral padding and can be left as just bare wood, weighing 6.4kg. It sits on several layers of wool or fur to protect the horse. It does not need breast or breaching straps, although they may be of use over long distances and rough terrain. Coming from a four-horned saddle, the Roman rider is initially concerned about sliding out of the "side door". They try and hook their legs under the front cantle to secure themselves in the seat, as they would hook their legs under the front horns of the four-horned saddle. But the steppe saddle is not designed for this and the position soon becomes very uncomfortable. Instead the rider must use a straight leg and a very deep seat when cornering. Such a position is relatively easy on the riders legs and can be maintained for long periods of time. But this saddle is a design that naturally benefits from the invention of the stirrup.

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