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Sadle-Blankts-art - 11/8/08


"Treasures Under the Saddle (16th Century Persian Saddle Blanket)" by The Honorable Lady Maria de Andalusia.


NOTE: See also the files: Stirrups-Hist-art, Horse-n-t-MA-art, horses-msg, horses-lnks, p-horses-bib, horses-bib, horse-racing-msg, saddles-msg, warhorse-size-art, felting-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org




(16th Century Persian Saddle Blanket)

by The Honorable Lady Maria de Andalusia


Respectfully submitted by

THL Maria

MKA Maria Hall


July 14, 2007




Early History of Saddle Blankets


Medieval Saddle Blankets




Recent Wool Felted Saddle Blankets


What Are Saddle Blankets Made Of


My Project


Materials and Methods of Construction


Felting and Fulling Felt












When the horse was first domesticated several thousand years ago (actual time is somewhat debated… it is felt it was sometime between 4000 and 2000 BC), the saddle blanket was the first and only piece of equipment placed on the horse's back.  It was attached with a strap or rope and used primarily to protect the rider. Over the next several thousand years, the saddle blanket eventually developed extra padding or folds for the rider's comfort.  


It is thought that the Sumarians invented the first saddle in approximately 365 AD.  After this new invention, and the saddle became used more widely, the blanket or pad evolved into more of a cushion and protection for the horse's back, and created a supporting base for the saddle. [1]


Horse-shaped terra cotta vases were found in Iran (ancient Persia) dating from 8th and 7th century BC.



Yellow-buff terracotta horse-shaped vase

Decoration consists of birds and flowers

From Azerbaijan (Maku) 8th -7th century BC

Archaeology Museum, Tehran, Iran



Yellow-buff horse-shaped terracotta vase

Light brick red decoration showing wild boars and birds.

7th century BC, Achaemenid village, Susa.

Archaeology Museum, Tehran, Iran


Saddle blankets found in Pazyryk region in Southern Siberia in 1920 have been dated back to the 5th century BC.  




Saddle Cover

Felt, horse-hair; applique. 119x60 cm
Pazyryk Culture. 5th century BC
Pazyryk Barrow No. 1(Excavations of M.P. Gryaznov, 1929), Altai Region, Pazyryk Boundary, the Valley of the River Bolshoy Ulagan, Russia
Source of Entry:   State Russian Museum. 1934


“Saddles used by the ancient Altaic nomads differ from those used today. They were devoid of a wooden base and consisted of two leather cushions filled with reindeer hair, or sometimes with hey, and sewn together on one side. The saddle was attached to a horse's back with a saddle-girth. Felt saddle covers were traditionally decorated with scenes showing a beast of prey tearing at a herbivorous animal.


The Hermitage saddle cover shows two identical compositions in an appliqué technique with a griffin attacking an ibex (mountain goat). Such dynamic scenes with one animal tearing at another were a motif typical of the whole of the Scythian world.


The ibex is depicted with its forelegs tucked, and hind quarters turned upwards. The Scythian artist used this device to convey the animal's death agonies. The pendants attached to the edge of the cover are trimmed with horse-hair dyed red, and decorated with stylized heads of mouflons (sheep) and horned tigers.”


A beautiful example from China…



Tang Dynasty, mid-8th century AD

Astana, China

British Museum, London, United Kingdom


“This figure formed part of the furnishings from a tomb, together with other figurines of horses and a camel. Although made from clay and wood, it was based on sancai-glazed ceramic examples placed in tombs of metropolitan China at this time. Painted markings on its body indicate that this is a bay-coated horse. There are petal-shaped pieces of silk on the body. Its wooden legs could be fixed to the floor of a niche in the tomb. The saddle-blanket is shown as magnificently embroidered and remnants of silk indicate where stirrups would have hung.”


Interestingly, it appears that from nearly the very beginning, saddle blankets were decorated either through embroidery or added ornamentations.  They were also of varying length, sizes and shapes.


Early History Resources


McBane, Susan. The Essential Book of Horse Tack and Equipment. David & Charles, Devon, England, 2002


Archaeology Museum, Tehran, Iran


State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russian






Norman knight during the Battle of Hastings

Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century.

Museum of Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom




The Journey of the Maji

Gentile da Fabriano,

Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy






Topkapi Palace (Museum) Istanbul, Turkey

15th century

Embroidered and Appliquéd Caparison

16th Century jousting armour with armorial inlay by Anton Peffenhauser and a caparison showing multiple quarterings.

Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg

(German National Museum, Nuremberg)


Medieval Saddle Blanket Resources


Bayeau Tapestry, Museum of Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Topkapi Palace (Museum) Istanbul, Turkey

Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg





A shabrack or shabraque, originating from the Turkish word "chapraq", is a saddlecloth used by mounted military units as an aid in identifying and providing uniformity to their cavalries.


Laurence Marcellus Larson translated The King's Mirror, written approximately 1250 AD, from the Old Norwegian in 1918. [2]  


Chapter XXXVIII: Weapons for Offense and Defense


“He should also have a good shabrack made like a gambison of soft and thoroughly blackened linen cloth, for this is good protection against all kinds of weapons.  It may be decorated as one likes, and over the shabrack there should be a good harness of mail.”  


Shabraques and regimental facing coverings became officially established with regulation colors in the late 17th century. [3]



Danish Cavalry in Claus Möinichen Painting

“Conquest of Christianstad”
 5 August 1676


(Painted in 1686 AD)

Fredriksborg Museum of National History, Denmark



Modern Shabrack…




The North-West Mounted Police registered a fused "MP" as its brand in 1887. In the 1920's, the "MP" symbol surmounted by a crown was used on the rear corners of the Mounted Police shabracks. [4]



Shabrack Resource


Fredriksborg Museum of National History, Denmark


Kelly, Nora and Kelly, William, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police: A Century of History, 1873-1973, Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, 1973






Saddle blankets have not changed a lot in1500 years, obviously they're there to fulfill a function, but they can also be very pleasing to the eye.



Turkoman horseman

Samuel Martinovich Dudin, 1901

Russian Museum for Ethnography, St. Petersburg, Russia


Note the embroidered felt saddle blanket and felt bedroll


File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0


Modern wool felt embroidered saddle blanket

For sale on www.jennifersimagination.com




Western saddle wool felt blanket

(20th century)




Recent Wool Felted Saddle Blankets


Russian Museum for Ethnography, St. Petersburg, Russia








Saddle blankets are usually of a woven or felted material, and most often wool.  Wool is easily available, and does an excellent job of absorbing moisture (i.e. sweat) and releasing heat buildup off the horse's back. Wool also has the wonderful property of not sliding as much as other materials, which gives a more secure seat to the saddle without having to overly tighten the cinch, which can cause it's own set of problems on long rides, i.e. saddle sores.  While saddle blankets have been used for almost 2 thousand years with all types of saddles, today saddle blankets are usually associated with the western-type saddle. [5]


Saddle pads, a similar item, are usually thicker, with layers of felt, foam or other modern material sandwiched between a tough outer cover on top and a softer cover on the side against the horse's back.  The best designs absorb shock and minimize fatigue for the horse's back muscle. [6]

***       It should also be noted that a pad or blanket cannot and should not take the place of a properly fitted saddle. [7]



In my own experience… having ridden with many types of saddle blankets from non-slip neoprene, to cotton, and felted and woven wool, my all-time favorite is a felted wool blanket.  It seems to do a much better job holding up to the wear and tear of riding, better than any of the other types of materials I've tried.    And perhaps the best testimony is that my horses have never developed saddle sores with a wool-felted blanket.


When the time comes to clean it, a hose is all you need.  If there are grease spots for whatever reason (transporting, etc.) a dab of Dawn dishwashing detergent takes care of it… although, care must be used to rinse it thoroughly.  Drip dry and you're ready go riding again.  


I've slept on my wool-felted saddle blanket many times during camping trips.  They do a wonderful job of keeping the cold away. They're also very comfortable to lie on.   And what can be better than lying on your horse's blanket by the campfire, looking up at the stars and moon and feeling the bond between you and your horse.


What Are Saddle Blankets Made Of Resources


McBane, Susan.  The Essential Book of Horse Tack and Equipment. David & Charles, Devon, England 2002


Ward, Fay E., The Cowboy at Work, Dover Publications, Mineola NY, 2003





My project is patterned after the saddle blankets in this Persian manuscript miniature.  Flowers and vines, often times with an animal in the vine work.



Sarai Albums,

16th Century, Tabriz, Iran

Hazine 2161, folio 4a





I recycled a felted wool blanket.


Wool fabric used for horse appliqués.


Wool thread used for embroidery, appliqué and binding.




I decided to use wool felt for this project because of my positive experiences using it with my horses.


I measured my mare from withers (shoulders) towards her tail to get an idea of how much material I needed for this project.   I measured my blanket making careful note of the areas that were not usable.  After my calculations, I decided I had a 57-inch by 50-inch rectangular piece of felted wool.


I cut the felted wool blanket down to my usable material.  Noticing there were areas that were a little on the thin side, I decided to “full the felt.”  



Felting and Fulling


Felting is the process of reducing or matting wool fibers.


Fulling the felt is fluffing the matted fibers.


Fulling the felt involved working the felt with hot water in my bathtub (because of the size of the felted wool, by rolling and squeezing it in my hands. [8]   After rinsing carefully, I rolled the felted wool between two towels and squeezed the excess water from the material.  


I finished it off by ironing the blanket on high heat (wool setting).  


Two reasons…


1) to help speed the drying of the material, and


2) to flatten it out.  While I was ironing it, I was looking for thin spots that might have needed more attention.  I was very happy with the way the blanket turned out after this process.


Continuing on with my project, I cut out 4 horse appliqués from my purple wool material.  A pair for each side.


When doing your own saddle blanket... let your imagination be your guide… animals, flowers, shapes, geometric designs… all were used in Persian embroidery.


I purchased 10 skeins of 3-ply wool yarn from my local yarn merchant.  My intent was to separate the plies and use them as my “embroider thread.”


1 cut 18-inch pieces of yarn, and the plies, which were not tightly spun, separated quite easily.


I did not knot my “wool thread” I ran it through the material and back under itself to “lock” it in place.  This left a much smoother look to the embroidery and blanket itself.





Embroidering is the ornamentation of fabric with needlework.


As a beginner in embroidering, I felt it prudent to get assistance from the internet and beginning embroidery books.


I used 4 stitches on my blanket…


The running stitch…  


“Pass the needle in and out of the fabric, making the surface stitches of equal length. The stitches on the underside should also be of equal length, but half the size or less than the upper stitches.” [9]



The chain stitch…


“Bring the thread up at the top of the line and hold it down with the left thumb. Insert the needle where it last emerged and bring the point out a short distance away. Pull the thread through, keeping the working thread under the needle point.” [10]



The back stitch…


“Bring the thread through on the stitch line and then take a small backward stitch through the fabric. Bring the needle through again a little in front of the first stitch, then take another stitch, inserting the needle at the point where it first came through.” [11]


Finishing off my project with:


The blanket stitch…           


“A popular finishing stitch for edges. Work stitch from left to right, bringing needle from back to front at A. Insert needle from front to back to front in a single motion at B and C. Before pulling needle through fabric, carry floss under point of needle as shown in illustration. Special note: needle exit point C is A of following stitch. Stitch length can be alternated to add a pattern effect to the finishing edge.” [12]


Once my project was completed, I soaked the blanket again and gently massaged the stitches into the felt.  Hung it carefully to dry with two towels beneath it to catch the excess water dripping down the fringe.





Materials & Methods of Construction Resources


Sarai Albums, 16th Century, Tabriz, Iran, Hazine 2161, folio 4a


Singman, Jeffrey and MacLean, Will, Daily Life in Chaucer's England, Greenwood press, Westport, CT,1995









While I enjoyed hand embroidering my saddle blanket, I've come to the conclusion that I prefer to have my “mechanical embroidery guild” (aka my electronic embroidery machines) embellish my equestrian accessories.


I was not able to embroider wool thread on the wool felt with any sort of accuracy.  Stitches too small tore through the felting. Stitches too large looked clumsy to me.  Therefore my designs are simplistic and large and (to me) look as if a 3-year old child (my apologies to any 3-year olds in the audience) grasped a large Crayola crayon in their fist and started drawing on the wall.


Another interesting note… I found out my husband is allergic to wool.  I will leave the methods of our discovery to your imagination.





Barber, Richard and Barker, Juliet, Tournaments – Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, New York, 1989


Clark, John, Medieval Horse and Equipment (c.1150-c.1450), The Boydell Press, A Museum of London Publication, 2004


Kelly, Nora and Kelly, William, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police: A Century of History, 1873-1973, Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, 1973


McBane, Susan. The Essential Book of Horse Tack and Equipment. David & Charles, Devon, England, 2002


Singman, Jeffrey and MacLean, Will, Daily Life in Chaucer's England, Greenwood press, Westport, CT,1995


Sarai Albums, Tabriz (middle of 16th century) Hazine 2161, folio 4a


Ward, Fay E., The Cowboy at Work, Dover Publications, Mineola NY, 2003


Archaeology Museum, Tehran, Iran


Bayeau Tapestry, Museum of Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom


British Museum, London, United Kingdom


Fredriksborg Museum of National History, Denmark


Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, Germany


Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia


Russian Museum for Ethnography, St. Petersburg, Russia


State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russian


Topkapi Palace (Museum), Istanbul, Turkey


Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy










[1] McBane, Susan. "The Essential Book of Horse Tack and Equipment". David & Charles, Devon, England, 2002


[2] http://www.mediumaevum.com/75years/mirror/


[3] Kelly, Nora and Kelly, William, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police: a century of history, 1873-1973, Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, 1973


[4] http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca


[5] McBane, Susan. The Essential Book of Horse Tack and Equipment. David & Charles, Devon, England, 2002


[6], [7] Ward, Fay E., The Cowboy at Work, Dover Publications, Mineola NY, 2003


[8]  Singman, Jeffrey and MacLean, Will, Daily Life in Chaucer's England, Greenwood press, Westport, CT,1995


[9] http://www.embroiderersguild.com/stitch/stitches/running.html


[10], [11] http://www.embroiderersguild.com/stitch/stitches


[12]  http://www.anniesattic.com/cross-stitch/content.html?content_id=46



Copyright 2008 by Maria Hall, 3152 Brethren Church Road, White Pine, TN  37890. <berthall at bellsouth.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org