Saddle evolution down through the ages, from the first “bareback pads” around 700 BCE to our wide variety of modern versions for specialized use is a function of comfort for both the rider and the horse, but also, notably, security in battle. From warriors shooting arrows to knights in heavy armor to invading Huns balancing with swords, the saddle has always been a key component in the success of a mounted fighter.
The American saddle can be considered typically American in that its designs are a combination of influences from many diverse origins. One derivation, the Spanish War saddle, can be traced back to the Moorish horsemen of the Dark Ages. The Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico, the basic design of which migrated northward and became known as the Western saddle. The Western saddle and its offshoots, the California and the Texan, are direct descendents of this Spanish War saddle. A significant feature of the Western saddle is its heavy rigid tree, high fork and cantle, deep-seated seat, and the all-important horn.
Similarly, on the East coast it was the influence of European designs which led to the popularity of what became known as the English saddle. The English saddle—with its light wooden tree, and low pommel and cantle—made jumping more maneuverable and comfortable when fox hunting became popular in England. Various styles of these saddles are used in all Olympic equestrian events, as well as show jumping, dressage, horse racing, and polo.
In 1857, U.S. Army Captain George McClellan, after spending a year in Europe studying the latest European military tactics and equipment, designed what was to become the de facto military saddle for the next hundred years: the McClellan Cavalry Saddle. It appears to be a combination of a Hussar saddle he had observed in use during the Crimean War, while also including features found in the Western Saddle. It had an English-type tree with a higher pommel and cantle and a unique gap between panel sections on the tree which greatly added to its comfort. It was light, strong, comfortable and durable, and became one of the most enduring military saddles of all time.
PatentWear’s Saddle design was created from the Barak T. Nichols patent issued in 1861. It is an adaption of the original McClellan design that “dispenses entirely with the flaps of the saddle” among other “new and useful improvements.” The patent further claims that features of the design “thereby considerably reduc[e] the weight and the cost of the saddle, and add greatly to its strength, durability, utility, and convenience.” It also enables the rider, “by simply pressing upon the stirrups or rising in his saddle, by the weight of his body to tighten the girt, thus obviating the necessity, when about to charge upon the enemy, of a dismount by the soldier to regirt his horse.”