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  I want to create here a source of knowledge for people who are interested in the technical details of classical equestrian maneuvers from the Renaissance period. I address this blog mainly to riders aspiring to ride in the style of that historical period.



Fig. 1. Reconstruction of a bardella.

             Bardella[1], Pastine[2], Bastina[3], Pad[4] were names of treeless saddle made of straw and covered with canvas or leather in the 16th and 17th centuries. To this day a similar design is used in Italy (bardella viterbese, bardella orvietana, tusscanella from Tuscany, bardella tolfetana), or in the Spanish "albardero". From the following text, we will not only find out for what purpose this type of saddle was used, but also how much awareness the riding masters of the time had in the gradual adaptation of a young horse to riding .

            Before examples from the 16th and 17th centuries will be specified, it is worth  mention the information from the French manuscript "Rustican" from 1306. Crescenzi describes there the way of riding a young horse with some kind of "riding pad" (Fig. 2) and it should take one month before he gets the saddle. [5] In the above-mentioned source riding without a saddle is called "à la nappe", which means "on the blanket" / "on the cloth".

Fig. 2. From manuscript „Rustican” (1306) - Pierre de Crescenzi.

            Pirro Antonio Ferraro (1602) indicates that Neptune - the god of waters, clouds and rain and the creator of a horse (Fig. 3) was the inventor of the "bardella" and "cavesson".[6]

Fig. 3. Neptune creates a horse by hitting a rock with a trident. From the book „Cavallo frenato” Pirro Antonio Ferraro – 1602.

It is impossible not to quote the author of the first treatise of the classical riding Federico Grisone (1550). He points out that the bardella teaches the horse to carry the weight and teaches the rider to sit properly with the legs lowered down.

            „Mà finche il cavallo arrivi à quel termine di ponersegli la briglia, come presto vel dirò, gli sarebbe assai più conveniente cavalcarsi con la bardella, nella quale intendendo bene le premure della sella, senz'altro dire, saprete da voi stesso accomodarvi, & con le gambe ferme, & tirate abbasso, cosi come accade (…)”[7]

„Until the horse gets to the point of being able to wear the bit, as we will get to it soon, it is much more practical to ride him with a “bardella”, from which he learns well the pressure of a saddle. Without further explanation, you will know how to sit on a horse with firm legs pull down as needed.”

The method of riding with a bardella was also quoted by Pasqual Caracciolo in 1567. He recommends using a bardella with a cavesson and with the help of a pedestrian. For him the horse should be led on two cavessons at the same time. One is for the rider and the other is for the foot helper. It is also one of the few passages where it is advisable to keep the reins separated contrary to curb bit reins, where it is recommended to always keep both reins in the left hand.

            "Altre volte poi gli si potrà mettere essa bardella nel trasto suo: et posto gli accòciaměte nel capo un cavezzone, alquale voi nel cavalcare u'havrete ad attenere con ambele mani, disgiunte però l'vna dall'altra, & ne harete à correggere il cavallo, farete che sopra quello stia un'altro cavezzone ben grosso, et lungo circa sei passi, ilquale habbia à tener in mano una persona ben esperta, che'l guidi, e tenga forte.”[8]

"Another time you can put a bardella on his [back?] and put the cavesson correctly on the head which you will have to hold with both hands, but separated in both [and when] you will correct the horse, make sure that there is over [that cavesson] one more thicker cavesson [with a rope] on it, about six paces long, it should be held by an experienced person who leads [the horse] and holds it firmly."

Claudio Corte (1573) describes the recommended seat with a straw sadle a little more precisely.

            „Ma deve il cavalcatore in questo star di bardella con le gambe distese, ma non tirate, ne meno attaccate al ventre del cavallo, che l’uno & l’altro saria diffetto, & vitio, con i ginocchi e coscie stretti, & con il resto del corpo dritto & sciolto; in modo tale come s’egli stesse in piedi in terra (…)”[9]

            "But a rider must ride seating with a bardella with his legs extended but not tucked up, not touching the horse's belly, which will be both incorrect and wrong [and] with the knees and thighs straight and with the body straight and relaxed as if he was standing on the ground (...)"

A bit further Corte describes how much time should be spent exercising which are designed to make a horse relax and to give him confidence. He also mentions that riding with bardella takes two months after which he recommends put on a saddle. [10]

            „Hor in tutto questo tempo del trottare in bardella vorrei mettere al più dui mesi.”[11]

            "There in all this time of trotting with a bardella I would like to spend at least two months."

And another quote from Claudio Corte.

            „Ma perche il cavalcar in sella è molto più degno, & bello, che non è il cavalcar in bardella, & è di molto più ingegno, & artificio, vi ricordo, che’n sella debbiate stare con più gratia assai & con maggior avertenza, & con più scioltezza di tutto il corpo, che in bardella non havete fatto; guardandovi da ogni affetatione per minima che sia.”[12]

            "Becouse riding with a saddle is much more dignified and beautiful than riding with a bardella and is much more intelligent and sophisticated. I remind you that you need to seat in a saddle with more grace and with more attention and with greater agility throughout your body which you will not have in a bardella, it protects you from any excitement [of a horse], however small they are."

This is another passage which proves that a bardella is a saddle only for the first phase of a young horse training until the first unwanted reactions are suppresed.

In the manuscript "Scritti di Cavaleria" (circa 1600) by Valerio Piccardini on the title page we can see two types of saddles including the bardella (Fig. 4.).

Fig. 4. „Scritti di Cavaleria”(około 1600) – Presentation of the bardella on the title page.

Another quote comes from "Cavallo Frenato" (1602) by italian master Pirro Antonio Ferraro.

             „(...) et la persona atta non si deve vergognar di ciò fare, nó essendo si basso il cavalcar di Bardella, che molte persone famose, non habbiano fatto esercitio tale, come si potrà dir che fossero stati ne'i tépi addietro, Pietro martire, Bonifatio, doppo lui Roberto, & Gaspare volpe, i cui Cavalli riusciuano di tanta fermezza, & perfettione, che poi a Cavallarizzi, che in sella dovevano cavalcargli, rimaneva poco che far in essi (...)”[13]

            "(...) and a virtuous person should not be ashamed to do it as it is not humiliating to ride a bardella, so that many famous people did not do such an exercise. As you can tell about those who did [ride in bardella], Pietro the martyr, Bonifatio and after nim Roberto and Gaspare Volpe whose horses achieved great stability and perfection that the next riders who had to ride them with a saddles [later] did not have so much to do with them (...)"

This quote is extremely interesting because it shows us that people with a higher social status were ashamed to ride with a straw and linen saddles, probably considering it something unworthy of their status. However, Ferraro points out that also it is possible to train a horse with a bardella to a high level.

Also in Polish source the riding master Krzysztof Monwid Dorohstajski in 1603 mentioned that bardella saddle should to be made only with straw and covered with canvas or leather without any iron or wood inside and without stirrups. [14]

Additionally in the same passage Dorohstajski distinguishes the pros of the bardella between physicall (avoiding pressure on the animal's back) and psychical ones (limiting emotional discomfort).

He also suggests to put bardella almost in the center of a horse’s back. [15]

Giovanni Gamboa in 1606 mentioned that bardella gives more freedom to a horse and it also says to be as less unpleasant to a young horse as possible. [16]

The next quote comes from Giovanni Battista Galiberto (1650) which explains to us that the bardella (in this case called "bastina") has properties that do not restrict horse's movement and helps the rider to take a stable posture (Fig. 5). Galiberto recommends putting this type of saddle at the age of four. [17]

            „Et adoperarai la bastina sino che il cavallo sia'un poco aggiustato, e soprà ben'trottare, parare, e star saldo, e dritto, & un'poco fermo di testa; e per questo s'adopra la bastina avanti la sella perche la bastina è libera, e non lega il cavallo come fà la sella, e si scioglie meglio nelle giunture del petto, & gambe, & il cavagliere impara à star'meglio, e più forte à cavallo.”[18]

            “And you will use the bastina until a horse has adjusted a little and can trot well, stop, be stable and straight and can stabilize the head a little and for this we use "bastina" before placing a saddle because the bastina gives freedom and does not restrict a horse like a saddle and relaxes it better in the joints of the chest and legs and the rider learns to be better and stronger on a horse."

            On the graphic by Galiberto from his "Il cavallo da maneggio" we can see the rider in a saddle of the "bastina" type without stirrups and also we can see how lead a horse on a cavesson combined with a curb bit bridle. It is also worth paying attention to the rider is seat position with the legs stretched down.

Fig. 5. Ilustration form „Il cavallo da maneggio” (1650). Signature: „Riding in bastina”.

Although in the graphics from the treatises discussed we can sometimes notice many helpers with a rods raised around a horse, it should be noted that there are no descriptions of such situations in the texts. So these are either graphic designers' fantasies or "extreme" situations. A confirmation would be, for example, Galiberto's description to use desensitization during work such as patting a horse and giving him bites of grass. Galiberto also mentions that the first curb bit should be without reins and curb chain. [19]

Movie 1. Riding with bardella saddle.

Although the article is mainly focused on the Italian sources from the 16th and 17th centuries, it is also worth presenting a few ones from outside this region and period.

The Frenchman Pierre de la Noue in 1620 mentions the same reasons as the Italian masters for using bardella. He also presents us with wonderful graphics showing this type of saddle and methods of riding in it (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7).

            „Et d'autant que la cause pourquoy on luy donne la bardelle plustost que la selle est tant pour luy laisser les movvemens du corps libres, que pour plus aysement luy dresser la teste & le col, & les luy mettre en belle posture (…)”[20]

             „Especially the reason to give him [a horse] the “bardelle” rather than a saddle is to let his body move more freely and to teach him how to place his head and neck a correct posture (…)”

Fig. 6. „La cavalerie Francoise et Italienne” (1620) – Attaching the bardella.

Fig. 7. La cavalerie Francoise et Italienne” (1620) – Mounting a horse with bardella.

Also in "Cavalarice" (1617) the Englishman Gervase Markham recommended the way of putting a horse in a straw saddle adopted after Grisone.

        „After your horse is thus mand, and made gentle to be drest, shod, and handled, you shall then present unto him the Saddle, which how ever Grisons opinion is it should only at first be but a pad of strawe without any tree, for feare of hurting (...)”[21]

The famous Englishman William Cavendish also recommended using a „pillow saddle” first.

            „When you have made him tractable by these means, the first saddle you put upon him should be quilted, or one made of chaff or straw, well fastened by a suricingle, that it may not hurt his back, but leave his shoulders liberty that he may trot freely, as every colt should do.”[22]

The German master Georg Winter in 1678 called the straw saddle "Pastine" and depicted it in a sketch (Fig. 8 and Fig. 9).

            „Der fünffte Sattel ist eine Pastine, 5. dieser ist von Zwilch und Stroh gemachet, und wird in dem andern Theil, ben Abrichtung der Pferd, davon gemeldet werden.”[23]

            „The fifth saddle is "Pastine", [in picture no.] 5. It is made of a cover and straw and will be shown in the second part when the horse will be in training.”

Fig. 8. „Eques peritus” (1678) – Pastine, straw saddle.

Fig. 9. „Eques peritus” (1678) – Mounting a horse with a pastine.

The French encyclopedia from 1683 in Italian translation also contains the entry "Bastina". In addition to the description of what this type of saddle consists of we also get information who used this tool. They were called "sbardellatori" or "cozzoni", which means "horse tamers". We can see them in Figs. 6, 7, 9 and 10.

            „Bastina è una Sella da cozzonare, la quale non è che di tela ripiena di paglia fortemente cucita con cordicella, senza che u'entri cuoio, nè legno, nè ferro. Non se ne servono in Francia, ma in Italia si trottano i Poledti in Bardella, e quegli, che gli trottano si addomandano sbardellatori, ò Cozzoni.”[24]

„Bastina is a taming saddle, it is nothing else than canvas filled with straw, tightly sewn with a string, it does not contain leather, wood or iron. It is not used in France, but in Italy young horses trot with a bardella, and those who trot on it are called "sbardellatori" or "cozzoni"."

            Also in the work of the famous La Guérinière in "Ecole de cavalerie" (1736) there are graphics where a horse is ridden without a saddle, but on some kind of "blanket" without stirrups (Fig. 10.). Moreover, La Guérinière also praises the old (Italian) methods of riding young horses and suggests their restoration.

        "Formerly there were people employed solely to train colts, when taken from the dam, denominated Cavalcadours de Bardelle. They were always chosen from amongst those distinguished for patience, ingenuity, boldness, and diligence; qualities not so immediately necessary amongst horses that have been mounted; their business was to handle and familiarize the colts, to take up their feet frequently, and beat the under part of the hoof gently in the manner of driving a nail; to accustom them to the bit, saddle, girths, and crupper, by which means they gained upon the colts, made them gentle and easy to mount, never using force or coercion, until every other means failed. Thus they rendered every colt familiar and fond of man; while his vigour, powers and courage were preserved. The adoption o fimilar practice in modern times would be found equally effectual."[25]

Fig. 10. Composition of two graphics from „Ecole de cavalerie” (1736).

In the Bavarian Army Museum there is a saddle from the 17th century (Fig. 11). It is made of cattlehide reinforced with tanned pigskin. The lower parts are padded with horsehair and the pommels are lined with reed stalks and cotton. There are no girth straps or fasteners. [26]

Fig. 11. Saddle from „Bavarian Army Museum” – Germany. Length 64 cm, width 80 cm, heigh 40 cm.

In the PDF book „Forms of war 1600-1815”[27] it is mentioned as a dragoon saddle as it would be too small for an armored rider. But isn't it really a "bardella" for riding young horses?

In "Certamen equestre caeteraque solemnia Holmiae Suecorum" (1672) we can find graphics (Fig. 12 and Fig. 13) depicting Roman horsemens with saddles similar to bardellas.

Fig. 12. „Certamen equestre caeteraque solemnia Holmiae Suecorum” (1672) – Roman riders.

The apotheosis of Sigismund III Vasa also shows a similar type of saddle (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13. Apotheosis of Sigismund III Vasa (1621).

Although the outer form of the bardella may differ slightly, the structure and function remains the same. As we can also see the concept of treeless saddles was already described in detail in the 16th century along with the benefits it brings in working with young horses and as a tool to help the rider take a stable seat.


Below you will find my reconstruction of a bardella made of straw and linen cloth. Although it seems inconsistent with the originals I decided to add sheep wool from the bottom for the horse's comfort after having watched this solution on Julio Pérez's video:

The final weight of the reconstructed saddle is almost 6 kg. and for comparison, the approximate weights of modern saddles are presented:

-english saddles - about 8-11 kg.

-„McClellan” - about 8 kg.

-„Podium” - about 3.5 kg.

-treeless saddles - about 5-6 kg.

-western saddles - about 11-27 kg.

Due to the arrangement of the stems, the saddle is flexible in transverse direction and stiff in longitudinal direction, as can be seen in the attached video:

Below photo shows the seat described in the cited quotes.


[1] Ferraro, s.31.

[2] Winter, s.13.

[3] Galiberto, s.13

[4] Bedingfield, s.31.

[5] Crescenzi, s.220.

[6] Ferraro. S.32

[7] Tobey, s.111.

[8] Caracciolo, s.368.

[9] Corte, s.59.

[10] Corte, s.68.

[11] Corte, s.67.

[12] Corte, s.69.

[13] Ferraro, s.32.

[14] Dorohstajski, s.77.

[15] Dorohstajski, s.91.

[16] Gamboa, s.61.

[17] Galiberto, s.12.

[18] Galiberto, s.13.

[19] Galiberto, s.12-13.

[20] Noue, s.12.

[21] Markham, s.30-31.

[22] Cavendish, s.32.

[23] Winter, s.13.

[24] Guillet, s.12.

[25] Guérinière, s.4.

[26] „Forms of War 1600-1815”, s.75.

[27] „Forms of War 1600-1815”, s.75. 


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Winter, Georg. "Bellerophon, Sive Eques Peritus". Norymberga, Wolffgang Moritz Endter und Johann Andreae Endters Sel. Erben//Endter, 1678.

Galibero, Battista. "IL CAVALLO DA MANEGGIO". Wiedeń; GIOVAN GIACOMO 1650.

Bedingfield, Thomas. The art of riding conteining diuerse necessarie instructions, demonstrations, helps, and corrections apperteining to horssemanship; written at large ... a man most excellent in this art. (1584). EEBO Editions, ProQuest 2010.

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Dorohostajski, Krzysztof. Hippika to jest księga o koniach. Kraków; Czas, 1861.

Dzieduszycki, Jerzy. „Obserwacye należące do koni i stad Polskich napisane roku 1705 przez Jerzego Dzieduszyckiego koniuszego wielkiego kornonnego”, Lwów; Stanisław Przyłęcki 1852.

Tobey, Elizabeth. Federico Grisone's "The Rules of Riding". Tempe, Arizona: ACMRS, 2014.

Corte, Claudio. Il cavallerizzo di Claudio Corte di Pavia, nel qual si tratta della natura de cavalli, del modo di domarli, & frenardi. Et di tutto quello, che à cavalli & à buon cavallerizzo s’apartiene. Venice: Giordano Zilletti, 1562.

Caracciolo, Pasqual. La gloria del cavallo. Venice: Gabriel Giolito. 1557.

Gamboa, Giovanni. "La Raggione dell'arte del caualcare". Palermo; Gio. Antonio de Franceschi, 1606.

La Noue, Pierre. La cavalerie françoise et italienne, ou, L'art de bien dresser les chevaux, selon les preceptes des bonnes écoles des deux nations: tant pour le plaisir de la carriere, et des carozels que pour le service de la guerre. Public Library in Lyon: C. Morillon, 1620.

Markham, Gervase. Cavalarice. Or the English horseman”, London: E. Allde for E. White 1617.

Cavendish, William. "A general system of horsemanship". Londyn; J. Brindley. 1743.

Schönauer, Tobias; Hohrath, Daniel. „Forms of War 1600-1815”. The publisher: VERLAG PH.C.W. SCHMIDT. 2019.

Guillet, Georges. "L'arte dell'huomo di spada...", Venice; Pontio Bernardon libraro in Merzeria all'insegna del Tempo, 1683.

Guérinière, François. "A treatise upon horsemanship", tr. by W. Frazer. Calcutta, Thomas Hollingbery, 1801.

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