This rare saddle stiffener is made from naturally curved wood, most likely cherry.  There are wear marks where the horse’s neck would rub and also on the inside of the holes, where leather straps could be attached.

The stiffener was the front section of a rigid ‘tree’ framework.  It kept the saddle clear of the sensitive spine and distributed the rider’s weight on to the flanks.

It was found in the remains of the large second wooden fort, possibly in a cavalry barrack or stable, sealed below clay in a compressed floor covering of heather and bracken and just below a layer containing possible horse droppings.

This context dates between A.D. 95 – 100 when Cohort VIIII Batavorum, the Batavian part-mounted division from the Netherlands was living at Vindolanda.

Digging up memories- making connections

Liz Pounds (Volunteer) reminisces about her experiences learning to ride a horse and goes on to explain how a small, rare object contributed to the success of the Roman cavalry.

Further information

Saddle Sore to Saddle Success 

by Liz Pounds (Volunteer)

How would you feel riding with no stirrups and no proper saddle? Challenging?  In Roman times stirrups had not been invented.

If you were a skilled horseman you would ride bareback with a saddle cloth but imagine if you were in armour and needed to swing your sword or launch your spear. It would be impossible to keep your balance and your seat!  Without a firm saddle the effective use of horse in battle was greatly limited.

The rigid tree saddle originated in Asia in 4th century B.C. and by the 1st century B.C. was adopted by the Romans with the addition of four protruding pommels or horns. The saddle stiffener was shaped to fit the withers at the front of the saddle.  Bronze pommel frames, well padded, were attached to the framework and covered in tight fitting goat skin.  Breast, girth and haunch straps kept it in position. You would feel secure, as the front pommels angled across your thighs whilst you could brace against the back pommels.  The seat position is similar to the Western or rodeo style of horsemanship. This was how the Romans rode.

Roman horse in full tack (M.C.Bishop)

As a prospective cavalry man, your intensive training would involve vaulting in full armour from all sides onto the moving horse and learning to use your weapons on horseback with great accuracy.  Imagine going into battle, hearing the dreadful cries and smelling the sweat and fear, but sitting secure in your horned saddle, the hours of training would pay off, enabling sharp turns, spurts, and riding up and downhill at speed. Bracing your back against the back pommels gave greater thrust for your spears or you could lean over to pursue and strike your enemy without fear of being easily unseated!

The invention of the four horned rigid saddle totally changed the cavalry capabilities, enabling it to be used to maximum efficiency, greatly increasing the power of the Roman Army.