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Did the Amish invent the horse saddle?

By Paul Niemann

"The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man."  -- Anonymous

[NOV. 11, 2004]  As regular readers of this column know, I live on a horse farm just south of Quincy. I recently took my horse, a black 3-year-old gelding named Bocephus (hey, a cool horse deserves a cool name), to an Amish man in Missouri to break him.

To break a horse means to train it to accept a rider. I gave up trying to break horses in 1988 when Bocephus' grandfather nearly broke me. That's why we no longer have a horse-training division here at Invention Mysteries.

When I noticed that the saddle the Amish man used was a little different from the saddles that we use, it made me wonder who invented the horse saddle. (No, I don't think about inventions 24 hours per day, in case you were wondering.)

But first, let's look at the Amish way of life -- a way of life that keeps them separated from the outside world.

The Amish were founded by Jakob Amman in Switzerland in 1693, and they began immigrating to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They are one of several Anabaptist groups, which also include the Hutterites and Mennonites.

Imagine life without cars, trucks or tractors, with no electricity, televisions, radios, computers or telephones. That's part of the Amish way of life. Visiting this Amish man's farm made me feel like I had just stepped back in time to the mid-1800s.

The Amish make their own clothes and produce much of their own food. They typically don't vote in elections because they believe that God will bring the right person into office. They follow the Bible literally and attend church services at the home of a different member each Sunday. They raise their children speaking German, which explains their accent. They learn English when they begin grade school, and their formal schooling ends when they finish grade school.

They can leave the group once they turn 18 if they wish, although very few actually do so. Once they get married, they grow beards. The men, that is. Those who violate their religious traditions get excommunicated, or shunned. The Amish live a simple life, but it's a life they choose to live.

Many of the Amish people have their own businesses, which include making cabinets and furniture, running leather shops, and training horses. They didn't invent the horse saddle, though.

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People were riding horses as early as 3,000 B.C., long before the Amish came into existence. Prior to the invention of the saddle, riders would use a blanket, just like you've seen the Indians use on TV. Some tribes even rode without bridles, steering the horse by poking it with a whip or a stick that they carried with them.

It's believed that a tribe called the Sarmatians, located near the Black Sea in what is now southern Russia, developed the first saddle in 365 A.D., but it contained neither stirrups nor a horn.

The saddle made it much easier to wage war, for without it the warriors wouldn't have been able to carry weapons or supplies. Attila the Hun's troops rode horses with saddles as they conquered much of Europe during the fifth century A.D.

In fact, it was the Huns who introduced the saddle to Europe. Roughly 1,000 years later, the Spanish brought the saddle to America when they arrived by ship in the 1400s.

Spanish cowboys, known as vaqueros, developed what is now known as the Western saddle in the early 1800s. As a result, the Western saddle was first known as the Spanish saddle. The Spanish cowboys added the horn to make it easier for them to lead cattle. Prior to the horn, they would lead cattle by tying a rope onto the horse's tail.

There are two main types of saddles in use today: the Western saddle and the English saddle, or as we say on the farm, a saddle with a horn and a saddle without a horn.

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at niemann7@aol.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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