Research & Discussion
A Short Canter Through Early Historical Riding Styles
And finally...Re-creating the cavalry from any period is expensive. The training and practice never ends and consumes lots of time and money. But putting that to one side, the correct equipment is a major expense. Clothing, arms and armour are subjects for other articles, but they need to be of excellent quality. Too often we see photos of Roman re-enactors wearing poor quality mass produced equipment covering a 300 year time span. But bridles, saddles and tack are the focus of this article.
Because of the expense and limited availability of some items those re-creating period riding make compromises, and other compromises are made for safety reasons. Modern bits are used often with modern bridles and martingales are common in all periods. In some ways I do not have any issues with such items as long as the public understand the compromises made, and these are relatively small issues compared to the more visible saddle. The safety of the horse, rider and public must be paramount in public displays. Modern girths and other materials can be disguised and the opportunity for accidents must be minimised. There is an art to transporting horses and using them in public displays. The paddock, arena and access points all need to be carefully laid out, and public shows need to be professional, as well as educational and entertaining.
The general public may not fully understand all the finer points of the display but they will be interested in the saddle, and it is the largest part of the tack on display. Portuguese, McClellan and UP saddles are often used and can be suitable for the medieval period onwards, with a little disguise and decoration. But those that use such saddles to portray Roman cavalryman could do so much better. And those who use stirrups as Romans need to do more research! Saddle pads offer a way forward to many, cheap and easy to make. But few people use them perhaps because they offer relatively little support. And in some ways people expect Romans to ride in four-horned saddles and the idea of late Romans using saddle pads and steppe saddles is hard for some to understand. But such cliches need to be challenged.
The size and shape of the horses used also needs to be considered since this is a vital part in working out the speed of manoeuvre. I have deliberately avoided the issue in this article, but in the west horses should generally be around 14 hands or less until the medieval period. A Roman riding a large horse just looks wrong. Getting everything to come together and work properly is a massive undertaking. But when done well period riding recreates the past in a way nothing else can. Not only is clothing and equipment on display, but also the skills of the past as well. Reconstructed equipment of the highest standard is not just on display but is actively used. Historic riding fires the imagination and brings the past to life.