Saddles - Harness - tack

Early Universal Pattern (UP) Saddle- circa 1902.
Still in remarkable condition for its age, Owned by, "Rough Rider" and army despatch rider, trooper Ben Birt. The saddle is currently on loan from descendant Rex Birt of Matakohe and displayed at the Kauri Museum, Northland.



NZMR Saddle repair and
maintenance workshop

The Immortal Trio
Bits and Pieces
by Elwyn Hartley Edwards

Reprinted here from - British Horse  July/August 2001

The equestrian progression, like the development of the human race itself, is marked by notable watersheds that often altered their direction, sometimes radically, while occasionally tuning accepted thought and practice on its head.

Just such a one occurred in the mid-19th century when detailed attention given to the principles of saddle fitting and construction resulted in the 'military saddle.'

It was accomplished by a handful of professional cavalry enthusiasts whose incentive was provided by the increasingly volatile situation in Europe, whose nations, jostling for moral and material supremacy, found it necessary to maintain large regular armies, with commensurate cavalry forces, in a state of virtually constant readiness.

For their inspiration they turned to the Hungarian puszta, the spiritual home of the world's finest light cavalrymen, themselves the descendants of the steppe horsemen of Asia.

While the nations of Europe were sufficiently proficient in raising large bodies of mounted troops, they were less successful in inculcating the practices of good horse-management necessary to keep them in the field as an effective fighting force.

At the battle of Solferino in 1859, for example, the French cavalry numbered 10,206, of which only 3500 horses were fit enough for action. British horse-management in the Crimean War (1854-56) was deplorable. In the South African War (the Boer War) it was even worse. Between 1899-1902 the British lost 326,000 horses out of a complement of 494,000 and only a few as a result of enemy action. In fairness to the British learned their lesson and up to the time of mechanisation in World War II the cavalry regiments maintained impeccable standards.

In World War I, indeed, the British cavalry were able to remain operational throughout, while their French and German counterparts were for much of the time rendered impotent by horse casualties caused by poor management, much of it concerned with the incident of back injuries.

Foremost among the cavalry reformers and by far the most articulate were Francis Dwyer, a professional soldier serving as a 'Major of Hussars in the Imperial Austrian Service', and Capt. Louis Edward Nolan, who had also begun his career in that service.

(Above) The tree of the Army Universal Pattern (UP) saddle.

The over-riding concern, of course, was to keep large number of horses fit for service in the field. Both men sought to perfect a saddle that would contribute materially to that objective when ridden by troopers who for the most part were no more than indifferent riders, a state of affairs common to all the European armies, with the exception of the Hungarians, the Poles and the Cossacks, all natural horsemen.
Such a saddle had to fulfill three principal criteria:

1. It had to spread the weight of a mounted trooper and his equipment (average 16st) over the largest possible area while retaining the capability of being adjusted to account for the inevitable loss of condition suffered by animals in active service conditions.

2.  It must position the rider of no more than average competence so that with minimal effort he could maintain a balanced, central position of some security, and so not add unnecessarily to the effort a tired horse was required to make.

3. It has to be easy to maintain and repair under field conditions.

In his book, Seat and Saddles, Bits and Bitting, Draught and Harness, particularly in the later expanded edition of 1869. Dwyer was to expound his theories on saddle construction and fitting with a clarity that has yet to be exceeded. The book remains a classically authoritative work in these areas to this day. Louis Nolan is remembered most as the officer who carried Lord Raglan's ambiguous message that resulted in the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade against the Russian guns at Balaclava in 1854. Nolan, attempting it seems to alter the direction of the Light Brigade's advance, was killed. The Poet Laureate immortalised the debacle in The Charge of the Light Brigade, but there were those who laid the blame (unjustly) on Nolan, and his reputation as the most outstanding cavalry officer of his generation has been unfairly obscured as a result. Nolan's two cavalry manuals on tactics and training of remounts, were in advance of their time and without his management skills the survivors of the cavalry brigade 'were allowed to die of hunger and for want of shelter.' (Within two months of the Balaclava action the cavalry lost 1800 of its 2000 horses.)

The American McClellan saddle.

Based on the Hungarian pattern. It was very light and not very comfortable.

The Hungarian cavalry saddle. Position a shows the effect of lacing a seat so that the lowest point is too far to the rear The opposite fault is demonstrated in Position b. Position c shows the correct lacing positioning the rider centrally In this ultimate light cavalry saddle it was possible, as the diagram makes clear, to achieve a very precise adjustment.
(Tiszafüred saddle is named after a town in Hungary)

Nor is it generally appreciated that Nolan was responsible for the Army Universal Patten (UP) the world's most successful saddle. It survives today in all its essentials and is the basis for all European cavalry saddles.

The saddle was used with a blanket and its fitting easily altered by adjusting the shape and thickness of the felt panel covering the side-bars. It fulfilled all the necessary criteria and was easily repaired with the kit recommended, comprising a piece of twine, a knife and a screwdriver

Initially, the saddle was called the Nolan saddle and it is sad that the name was not retained as a memorial to the most advanced cavalry thinker of his time.

Nolan had been influenced by the Hungarian saddle which Dwyer adapted and on which he based his theories of saddle fitting, emphasising particularly, the importance of the rider's position, for Dwyer was as much concerned to fit the rider as the horse.

The Hungarian saddle, originally made entirely from wood, comprised two wooden bars, the angle of which could be adjusted according to the conformation and condition of the horse's back. Between the wooden arches at front and rear was stretched a ‘bearing strap’ laced to the bars at either side, the whole being covered with a piece of canvas. By adjusting the lacing of the seat it was possible to place the individual trooper over ‘the centre of motion of the horse's body,’ which Dwyer calculated as being over the 14th vertebra, the only one standing upright and which must therefore be regarded as the ‘keystone of the arch’.

Dwyer placed the stirrup leathers directly under the rider, holding that leathers so placed made it more difficult for the rider to fall off sideways and easier for him to sit centrally in balance.

'The saddle in the centre of the back; the girths, stirrups and rider in the centre of the saddle.

Unlike the U.P, the Hungarian saddle had no heavy flap between the horse and the rider's leg, allowing as Dwyer said for the leg to be wrapped round the horse and in contact with two-thirds of its length,’ One suspects that Dwyer could have taught the saddle doctors of our own time a thing or two.

The third saddle of the 'immortal trio' was, and is, for it is still in production, the McClellan brought to America in its adapted form from Hungary in 1858 by the future General George B McClellan. It remained in continual service until 1940.

McClellan's saddle differed from the Hungarian original by employing the Western-style stirrups and cinch and, very importantly, it ensured the saddle's stability on the back by being secured, via the central cinch, from straps set at the rear and front of the tree. The girth remained central but the points of contact were from back and font of the tree, which is, unarguably, mechanically correct.

It was constructed of two arches joined by side-bars carrying pads, and was worn over a blanket. The seat was a piece of rawhide stretched between the arches. It made no concession to the rider's comfort, he was expected to develop ‘a butt of the same material,’ but it was a first-class military saddle and it was light - 2­-2.5kg(5-6lb), whereas the U.P. weighed 6-8kg (15lb)

The next equestrian watershed came as a result of the innovatory theories propounded by the Italian cavalry officer Captain Federico Caprilli (1868-1907). They did turn equestrian thinking on its head and altered the course of saddle design, but they do not detract from the contribution of the immortal trio.

The completed UP saddle which was derived largely from Louis Nolan's recommendations and is still in service throughout the world The saddle could be repaired with no more than a screwdriver, a knife and a piece of twine!