Research & Discussion
A Short Canter Through Early Historical Riding Styles
Scythians and simple saddlesScythians were recruited by Athens and seem to have been the only recorded paid professional cavalry in Greece for over 60 years. Thucydides mentions 200 Scythians in 431, and Xenophon writing in the 360's says they ride before other cavalry in the manner perhaps of Alexander's prodromoi. Lysias in around 395 says serving with them is less prestigious than serving with the "regular" Athenian cavalry. Pericles built his 1,200 cavalry upon this core of 200 horse archers and mentions them in his famous speech of 431. Mercenary horsemen would be very expensive to hire, perhaps be a mixture of rich exiles and skilled non-Greeks, with a logistic tail of grooms, remounts and baggage animals, serving to give a professional edge to the state's existing cavalry force.
On horseback from a very early age the steppe peoples adopted the saddle for comfort and to help protect their horses backs. Scythians could use pad saddles consisting of felt, hair and leather and several examples have amazingly survived in the famous burial mounds of the Altai mountains. But they were also using two simple pads held in place either side of the horses spine with simple wooden or leather cantles mirroring the "double-back" recommended by Xenophon. These rudimentary saddles were the forerunner of the wooden steppe saddles and many other saddle designs in history.
Such pad saddles make life more comfortable for the horse, and sometimes the rider. Yet they stop the rider feeling every movement of the horse. Small cantles can give the impression of greater security and a safer seat.
Riders rode out of the steppe and across Persia, Bactria and Parthia. Xenophon was right to admire the riders of the east, and the Athenians did well to recognise their excellence.