Ancient saddles

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Seats of Empire title

New addition: a fifteenth-century saddle

The Maker: Dr. Timothy Dawson

I first became involved in re-enactment in 1979, bringing to the pastime established skills in dressmaking and metalwork. I took up riding in 1984 specifically to explore the historical experience. Eschewing the stylised overlays of modern practice, I worked from the primary evidence for historical riding techniques for Classical Greece through to the Age of Chivalry. In the latter case, riding with long stirrups and sitting to every gait though all maneouvres, and doing so in armour, as well as its protectiveness in battle, made the utility of the medieval war saddle manifest. So in 1985 I began constructing replica saddles, working up from the backs of my own horses. A range of functional eleventh- and twelfth-century saddles resulted, all built from scratch.

Norman saddle

My first scratch-built Norman saddle based upon the Bayeaux Embroidery.

kngiht's saddle

My most successful scratch-built Age of Chivalry saddle of the 1980s.

After that, I experimented with converting modern Universal Pattern military saddles. (Below left) And while I have continued to use that saddle until recently, revisiting the method (Below right), and considering UP saddles more critically, re-affirms the principle that a custom built saddle designed to fit the horse is a far superior route.

Norman saddle

A Norman style saddle converted from UP in 1986. Last used at the Battle of Hastings re-enactment 2015.

Steppe saddle

A Steppe style saddle converted from UP in 2016.


For illustrations of my riding practice up to date using the equipment offered on this site please see the page called Examples of riding.

My papers and publications discussing historical equitation and equipment include:

My methods

The sidebars of my early saddles were carved from substantial pieces of wood to mimic the shape of the horses back, an approach that did lead to them being somewhat heavy and potentially fragile. When I resumed building saddlery, an early experiment using curved timbers recycled from furniture suggested a better way. Hence, my sidebars are now made of Beechwood steam bent to an appropriate curvature and twist affording a construction of maximum strength with minimum weight. This result is also facilitated by superior woodworking techniques involving tenoning the arches into the sidebars and pinning them in place.

Basic models can be made approximating the standard categories of modern saddlery — narrow, medium and wide, but a more customised fit is allowed by a jig which holds two preformed sidebars allowing them to be adjusted for width and angulation to get a precise individual fit. It must be acknowledged, that the fit of a rigid saddle tree is complicated by the fact that a horse’s shape can change somewhat from season to season. Should a horse show this characteristic strongly, this complication is allowed for by doing the fitting in the season in which the horse is most commonly going to be ridden for historical events, that is, of course, in Summer for Northern climates.
Highly built up and enclosing saddles, such as those of the late Age of Chivalry, also need to some degree to be fitted to the rider.