History of Equestrian Stirrups
A stirrup is a loop frame with a flat base device attached on horses to give riders a leg up and support while riding a horse.
Origin of Stirrups
Stirrups did not come about until 1000 years after the horse was domesticated.
Horses used to run wild and untamed. It is believed that the first domestication of horses happened between the 4th and 5th century BC on the steppes of Central Asia.
Early representations of the stirrup did not occur until around 3rd century AD based on historical artifacts found in Asia.
The earliest evidence of a stirrup was excavated in India, during 2nd Century BC. It was a cornelian seal depicting a rider on a horse, his foot resting on a stirrup made of wood in a hook style L-shape format.
Another image is that of a horse statue with stirrup from Japan during the Kofun period in the 6th century.
Another artifact was found in a Jin Dynasty tomb during AD 302. It was a single stirrup, excavated in near Changsa in China.
A memorial artifact with 2 stirrups dated AD 322 was unearthed in a Manchurian tomb near Nanjing.
These excavations led to the historians’ belief that the stirrups originated in Asia.
First Recorded Mention of the Stirrup
Between the late 6th century AD and early 7th century AD, during the invasion of Central Asia by the Avars marks the spread of stirrups from China to Europe.
The first recorded mention of stirrups was in 580 AD in a Byzantine military manual.
Introduction of Stirrups in Medieval Europe
The Avars of Hungary discovered stirrups during their war with Central Asia and soon adopted the use of stirrup during combat.
The Agars’ war with the Byzantine Empire led to the introduction of the use of riding stirrups in Europe.
Scandinavia was one of the first in Europe to learn about the use of stirrups. A pair of stirrups was found on an 8th century tomb in Holiare, Slovakia.
The Norse who settled in Northern France introduced the use of stirrup to France and it Charles Martel used stirrups during the Battle of Tours 732.
It was around the 10th century that stirrups were introduced to England via the Viking raids led by Cnut the Great.
Mongolia’s biggest breakthrough – metal stirrups
In 1206, the world met a force beyond compare, the Mongolian force of Genghis Khan.
The nomadic tribes of Mongols originated from northern China. They lived in the mountain areas between China and Siberia along with many other tribes.
Genghis Khan united all these tribes and became one of the most powerful nation in the world.
Genghis Khan’s Mongolian army was the most powerful army of cavalry archers that conquered Russia and Poland.
Genghis Khan claimed the largest land empire under his rule and many historians believed that the power of his mighty cavalry was due to a technological breakthrough: the metal stirrups.
An archeological findings made by the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia yielded remains of a Mongolian woman buried with sturdy leather boots, change of clothes, a saddle and stirrups.
The remains dates back as far as 10th century AD.
The metal stirrup allowed Mongolian riders unrivaled mobility, stability, and balance thus giving them a great advantage in any fight.
Stirrups Ushered In the Birth of Feudalism
Modern Historians theorize that the invention of horse stirrups gave birth to Feudalism in Europe.
The use of stirrups paved the way to the birth of Knightly class that created the vassalage system where Kings in Europe granted nobles land titles.
Under a Feudalism society during medieval ages, nobles held lands from the Crown in exchange for service in the military.
Modern day stirrups
The stirrups have evolved tremendously since the time of Genghis Khan. The basic design is still the same but new variations were added to suit safety and comfort.
Modern day stirrups are no longer made of irons but instead it is made of stainless steel.
Here are few of types of stirrups that has evolved over the years.
English stirrups are made of metal or stainless steel even if still referred to as iron. The design has an oval open bottom covered with a pad. The pad has a tread to maintain grip. The English stirrups were designed to prevent ankle pain. Other designs can be turned to allow the stirrups to be positioned sideways. The English stirrup is suitable as general riding stirrups.
The English Fillis stirrup designed by French dressage trainer James Fillis in the late 1800 is similar to the English stirrup. The difference is the Fillis is thicker and heavier at the bottom. The Fillis is best for showing and dressage.
The English Peacock stirrup or also known as safety stirrup is suited for children or beginners. The English Peacock is the same as the English stirrups but instead of pure metal, it has an elastic band that hooks outside. In case of a fall, the elastic band will release the rider from the stirrup.
If you are an equestrian and loves to do show jumping, the Jointed English stirrup is the most suited for you. It has a joint link in the upper part of the stirrup to make it more comfortable and flexible. If you are looking for equestrian stirrups, this should be your choice.
Western Bell stirrups is a bell shape stirrup made normally out of metal, plastic, or wood. Most common design is combination of wood and metal and usually decorated during shows. The western bell is also highly recommended as equestrian stirrups as it is most suited for showing and riding.
A Small Tool with a Powerful Force
The invention and subsequent widespread use of the stirrups changed the course of history.
The use of stirrups helped change tactics in battle. It allowed knights to stay on their horses while in combat.
Some historians attribute the rise of Knightly class from the use of stirrups in medieval Europe. The importance of the cavalry armies gave birth to the Knightly class.
The invention of stirrups gave the biggest contribution in the rise of the equestrian world.