What About Stirrups?
Stirrups are an important part of modern equestrianism. You'll see lots of stirrups in the gilded tack rooms at the Stallburg in Vienna and also at the stud at Piber. In the museum at Piber, there is even an interesting display of hand-forged stirrups made for the Spanish Riding School from different metals. The designs are ornate and beautiful.
But the apprentice riders of the Spanish Riding School learn to ride without stirrups. They learn balance and connection with the horse that reaches its zenith of achievement when riding the airs above the ground, which are done without stirrups. One reason for this is the respect for the traditions of the art; remember that Xenophon and the true forefathers of classical riding did not even know what a stirrup was!
Stirrups are first seen in art from India circa 200 BC, but they were not widely used in European riding until after the fall of the Roman empire. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius supposedly had and used stirrups but they were for the purpose of mounting, not for riding, and were not attached to the saddle. The word stirrup literally means "mounting rope".
By the way, did you know that saddle design used by the SRS is related to the French cavalry school saddle of the famed ecuyer la Gueriniere? For schooling, the riders use modern English style saddles. There are many cross-cultural influences seen in the saddlery, uniforms and training of the SRS, as one would expect after studying a bit of central European history--and the family tree of Austrian royalty that created and patronized the Spanish Riding School.
Photo by Fran Jurga
(PS Did you know that the insignia and stripes on the rich red saddle "cloths" have significance as well? The riders are identically dressed, but their saddle cloth gold stripes disclose rank.)
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