While most people are familiar with the impact that the invention of the wheel had on civilization, many people are less familiar with the impact of the stirrup. The ability to use and control powerful animals like horses and mules marked a turning point in human history and the stirrup was essential to this domestication process. However, while horses were first tamed in about 4500 BC, it wasn’t until around 500 BC that the stirrup was put to common use.
In simple terms, the stirrup attaches to the saddle, providing foot support and control for the rider. The basic composition is generally the same with all styles, including English stirrups. A strap is used to attach the pair of stirrups to the saddle on either side of the horse. English stirrups have a thinner strap than their Western counterparts. To these straps the actual stirrup is attached. This piece of horse tack has several functions.
First, they provide a foot hold making it easier to mount the horse. Most riders mount on the same side and the leathers can become unevenly stretched. The stirrup straps can be periodically adjusted or the rider can switch sides for more even wear. Riders can also adjust their straps for greater performance. A longer strap will give the rider more control, while shorter straps increase mobility. Once firmly seated, the stirrups also allow the rider to better maneuver their mount. By gently pressing the stirrups into the horse’s side, it is easier to let the mount know what the rider has in mind.
While it is true that the stirrup is a simple tool that effectively pushed civilization well into the future, it is also true that the design isn’t without problems. One of the most common safety issues is having a rider’s foot become stuck in the stirrup itself. This is common with all designs. This can lead to the rider being dragged by the horse and injured. Many English saddles are now made with safety features that allow the leathers to detach if a rider becomes stuck. Also, many regular riders experience damage to their foot by spending long hours in stirrups. To decrease this risk, the stirrup bar can be made wider to provide more support. A good pair or riding boots can also be helpful and the rider can be trained in techniques to diminish foot damage. Despite these concerns, the stirrup remains an important part of civilization and we are still benefiting from the advances that it has allowed through the ages.