Historians consider the Mongols one of the most horse-dependent societies in history. Their widespread use of the horse has been largely credited to the saddle, which went through many stages and developments to become a powerful tool. The earliest saddles emerged in nomadic cultures in Central Asia, estimated between 500 and 300 BCE, and consisted of little more than simple cloth or animal hide. Although basic in design, these early saddles allowed easier horse riding and set the stage for further innovation. As the saddle became more widespread throughout Asia, societies using the new-found technology began to make them sturdier and more practical. The development of wooden frames, an innovation that dated around 100 BC, gave the saddle a more defined shape and the rider a better seat.
The stirrup, a considerable addition to the saddle, changed the way of life and warfare for the Mongols. First developed in China around 100 CE, the invention of the stirrup gave the rider more stability and the ability to move in the saddle. Prior to the stirrup, soldiers faced difficulties during cavalry-type warfare; the rider would have to use weapons and balance on the horse simultaneously. With a stirrup, warriors could primarily focus on fighting, being able to stay on the horse with little effort. They also had greater mobility, allowing them to maneuver themselves for battle and striking. The development of the stirrup allowed the exploitation of horses in warfare and gave an advantage to those using horses. The Mongols, a prime example, became a society known for fearsome warriors.
The saddle, and horses in general, allowed the Mongolians to develop a long-lasting nomadic culture, while growing an empire and becoming feared enemies of many. While the majority of countries at the time still used chariots and lacked the ability to fully exploit horses, the Mongols could traverse across harsh landscapes, including rugged mountains, that many cultures used as a natural barrier. The Mongols attacked from unexpected angles, giving them an advantage. Their early incorporation of the stirrup also strengthened their troops, giving them the ability to fight on horseback, pursue fleeing armies, and continue to fire arrows while retreating. The widespread use of horses also allowed the unification of Mongolian tribes, as renowned leader Genghis Khan could communicate with them in a relatively short amount of time. With the combination of efficient travel, improved warfare, and accessible communication, the Mongols became a large nation while sticking to their nomadic roots, keeping horses alongside every step of the way.
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