The Writer’s Guide to Tack

Of course, a critical part of riding a horse is the saddle, bridle, and other equipment, collectively known as tack. As with several the other topics we have covered, things have changed a bit since the Middle Ages. While modern tack is a descendant of medieval tack there are some distinct differences.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Parts of the Saddle

Just as with the names of the parts of the horse, there is unique lingo for describing the parts of a saddle and bridle. Please refer to the diagrams below.

Parts of English tack. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Parts of Western tack. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Types of Saddles

Today most saddles fall into one of two categories: English and Western. There are differences in weight, shape, and purpose. The English saddle was primarily designed for jumping while the Western saddle was developed for ranch work. One important difference that I unfortunately see messed up frequently is the name of the strap that goes around the belly and holds the saddle on the horse. On an English saddle it is called a girth and attaches with two buckles on either side. On a Western saddle it is called a cinch that is attached either by a buckle or a cinch strap that wraps repeated through the ring of the cinch and a ring on the saddle.

There are some variations within these two categories such as dressage saddles that are usually put in the English saddle group but are shaped differently to encourage the rider to adopt the desired straight-legged upright posture. Outside of these categories there are several other styles including Australian stock saddles, Spanish saddles, racing saddles, and side saddles.

Medieval Saddles

However, medieval saddles looked quite different from our modern ones. The primary reason for this is because they were designed for warfare and keeping the rider as firmly in the saddle as possible. The front of a medieval saddle has a tall pommel, which offered protection to the rider. It also caused the rider’s legs to be quite straight, much more so than a modern English rider. The back or cantle was also tall and wrapped around the rider’s hips, helping to hold him in place.

However, just like today, there were other types of saddles for different uses. There were light saddles that were used when speed was needed, such as carrying messages and racing. [1]

A painting depicting a medieval saddle.
From the History of Alexander at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo source.

Side Saddles

For noble ladies in the Middle Ages, riding astride came to be seen as vulgar as well as impractical in long skirts. The earliest version of the side saddle was developed in the 14th century and is commonly credited to Anne of Bohemia. [2] The woman would sit sideways on the horse in a chair-like contraption with a footrest. However, since she was not very secure and the design made it difficult for her to control the horse herself, her horse would often led by a person on the ground or mounted astride another horse. This is why smooth-gaited and calm palfreys were popular for ladies.

In the 16th century, a better design was developed reportedly by Catherine d’Medici. This style had a pommel that the rider would hook her right leg over with a stirrup for the left foot. This design allowed the rider to face forward and have control of her horse although it was still not secure at high speeds. [3] However, some women still preferred to ride astride including Diane de Poiters, the mistress of Henry II of France, Marie Antoinette, and Catherine the Great of Russia. It wasn’t until the addition of a second pommel in the 1830’s that a side saddle rider was secure enough to gallop a horse and take tall jumps.

Here is a fantastic video that shows the differences between a modern and medieval saddle.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddle
 [2} Strickland, Agnes (1841). Berengaria of Navarre. Anne of Bohemia. Lea & Blanchard. p. 309. anne bohemia sidesaddle.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidesaddle#cite_ref-4
 [3] "Sidesaddle History". georgialadiesaside.com. Georgia Ladies Aside. Archived from the original on 2007-10-09.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidesaddle#cite_ref-georgialadiesaside.com_1-1 

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