It is believed that horses were first domesticated around 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Horses have helped make history in our country by helping us build communities, farm, build our industry and go to war. Where were humans during this? Either walking beside the horse or sitting in a saddle.
While the Chinese are believed to be the first horsemen – they used horses in their civilization since 4,000 BC – it was the Egyptians that created the first saddle. Knowing riding bareback was uncomfortable, the Egyptians created something that acted as barrier between themselves and the horse. As time went on, and they became masters at creating saddles, the saddles became more decorative and intricate. It took years and many cultures to get the saddle we know today. The Assyrians invented girths, Asians invented a felt and wood saddle that actually provided comfort for the horse, and the Scythians invented the stirrup. All of these cultures and more used these saddles for similar purposes–i.e. personal use, agriculture and war. It was through these saddles that the main types of saddles were created such as the Hungarian, which would become the English saddle, and the Moorish, which would become the Western saddle.
The Western saddle has its beginnings in Spain, when the Moors invaded Spain in the 700’s and brought their saddles with them. The Moor’s saddles had high cantles and forks which provided security and protection. They were designed for armor and war. When the Spanish started to look at expansion and colonization, the horses traveled to the new world along with their saddles. During the time of Spanish colonization the saddle became less about war and more about traveling and daily use. It was this saddle that became the saddles the cowboys used. Since the 19th Century the Western saddle has not changed much in its design. What has changed are the materials used, such as fiberglass trees that are not only light but strong, and that these saddles can be specialized for certain purposes or horses. Click here to see an illustrated picture of a Western style saddle.
One of the most popular saddle types for the Western saddle, would be the Wade saddle. Named after Clifford Wade who had the original style, it was his friend Tom Dorrance that recreated the saddle for himself. Several other saddles were made in this style but failed to become popular in the 1940’s. Then in 1961 Dale Hardwood opened his own saddle shop and started to produce the Wade saddle once more. It became quite popular among cowboys and found success not only in the United States but Canada and Australia as well.
Edward H. Bohlin made some of the most famous saddles in the United States. He was an immigrant cowboy to Montana where he started to make his own saddles. His most famous are the silver parade saddles he made for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Bohlin was a designer and maker of luxury Western-style saddles and horse related goods, which still have people fascinated today.
The English saddle we know today we developed during the 17th Century when fox hunting became a popular sport. Fox hunting required several different adjustments on the saddle; these included a low pommel and cantle and a flat seat which allowed the rider to jump over things and offered more comfort. As jumping sports grew in popularity, the saddles continued to change, offering greater movement for the horse and allowing for more speed. It was actually horse jockeys that brought about a number of these changes.
Here in the United States horses and saddles were used mainly for farming. With horses pulling the plow more acres could be covered, which allowed for more food produced. The saddle’s used for pulling objects like plows however were different than the saddles used for riding. Visit here to see an illustrated picture of what a saddle for harnessing would have looked like. As innovation came about so did the railroad and industry. Horses could pull more than humans and were therefore instrumental in building the railroads that crossed the country. Along with farming and industry, horses and saddles were used in countless wars. From the Persians to World Wars, horses have played a huge part in determining the outcome of wars. The United States has been using horses since the Revolutionary War. In fact one of the types of saddles was named after a United States Captain from the Civil War; the McClellan Saddle. The Canton Historical Museum has one of these saddles and tells us that the hole in the center of the saddle was to protect the horse’s backbone. Over one million horses were used in World War I to transport artillery and soldiers and many of the saddles used were the McClellan saddle.
Another type of saddle is the side saddle, which started out as a simple pad during medieval times. When women first
started to ride horses independently they would sit on the horse sideways. This caused several problems however, because they could not control their horses. In the 16th Century it is believed that Catherine de Medici invented the second horn which was placed by the right leg and allowed the women to sit facing forward, thus allowing her to control her horse. In our collections here at the High Plains Museum we have a side saddle, shown on the right. This saddle was donated for Dorthea Dockhorn who came to Goodland in 1907. She was originally from Iowa where she taught school from 1899 to 1900 and would use the side saddle to get to school. The other saddle, found on the upper left, we have is in the Western style and was probably used for work and personal travel. Both objects are, as the date of this post, on exhibit in our permanent gallery. We also have several photographs in our archive featuring Goodland citizens on horseback. The image below is one such photograph of Paul Baker on a Pinto Horse.
As John Moore said “Wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilization we will find the hoofprint of the horse beside it.” Horses and saddles have been a major part of history in the United States. From helping with farming to industry to wars, without the horse many of these tasks would have been much more difficult. Saddles have been around for thousands of years and are still in use today. While they have changed over the years, they are still an object we use today. Some use the saddle for work, like ranchers and jockeys, and some use saddles for entertainment or personal reasons, like riding a horse for fun. While they may have changed for some purposes one thing is clear, saddles probably will not ride out of style.
Look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.