The Greek and Hellenistic Period

Mounting The Horse

The prime function of the stirrup is to act as a step to mount the horse. But the question is often asked, "How did Greeks and Romans mount the horse". Those of us who regularly recreate Roman and Greek cavalry often spend a great deal of time on riding and weapon skills, but relatively little on mounting the horse. This winter some of us have been trying to put that right.

Vegetius mentions learning to mount from either side of the horse, stationary and on the move. Fences and infantry are both good mounting blocks and much influenced by Persian horsemanship, Xenophon follows Persian fashion in suggesting that the groom should know how to give his master a leg-up in the Persian fashion, if the master was old or infirm. In armour and when using a Roman four-horned saddle a leg-up is the standard method we use. But Xenophon describes how the rider should mount, taking the rein loosely in his left hand either gripping the mane near the ears or using his spear while with his right hand hold reins and mane at the point of the shoulder. He would draw himself up with his left hand, while also using his right to lift himself, throwing his right leg across the horse without resting his knees on the back of the horse.

When mounting from stationary Xenophon's description perfectly matches the necessary actions. As with most things, practice makes perfect and on a fourteen hand horse, with a simple saddle cloth it is not really too difficult.

But it is far easier at the trot, and easier still at the canter. The rider almost skips alongside the horse facing forward. At the right moment the rider jumps forward with both feet and as the horse comes alongside the rider uses the horse's momentum to swing up in to the saddle.

An alternative is to place a carrying strap on your long spear. You place your left foot in the loop of the strap and use it as a step to mount the horse. This is a very easy method and seems to be shown on this intaglio. It is not like using a stirrup since you face the horse and try to keep the butt of the spear still in the ground as you mount.

If you twist the spear you may weaken the join where the butt spike is socketed into the spear. And you need to hold the spear vertically, since holding the spear at an angle will place more strain upon the join between the long sauroter and the spear shaft. You hold the spear in your left hand, with a good handful of mane, pulling yourself up into the saddle as your left leg straightens in the leather carrying loop.

If your horse is a nice steady mount you can approach the horse from the rear and perform a straddle jump straight over the horse's rump. As you land, grip with your inner thighs to stop your whole weight suddenly landing on the horse's back. I am certainly no athlete but I find this an easy method even in armour. I suspect that you commit yourself so totally using this approach nobody has any doubt they will succeed. The horse needs to know you are coming and what to expect, and on occasion some horses just decide this is not for them and wander off.

But my favourite method is just to get the horse to lie down for you. It is easier to teach the horse to lie down than to kneel. Just step over your mount and encourage him up using the reins. During a public show the crowd will think this is very impressive, and it allows the rider to wear lots of heavy restrictive armour and still get on the horse. As the horse rises, the rider throws his weight forward as with jumping, and can steady himself with the spear.

I suspect all these methods of mounting will be used in our public shows during 2012 and will become a set part of the display.

John Conyard