Traditional Horse Harness

In the conditions of nomadic life, the horse was a necessary animal, which is why the harness was considered an object of special pride amongst the Kyrgyz people, and was something which demanded special care. Nomads treated their horses as a reliable, faithful and dear friends and helpmate. In the distant past, being unmounted, (without a horse), was equivalent to the loss of a life; a man without a horse was not a man; a man’s dignity was determined by the good condition and beautiful view of the harness of his horse, and it was an honour for him to die on a horse on a journey.


A complete harness embodies the great achievements of nomadic culture – as hunters, warriors, cattle-breeders. In the conditions of nomadic life a horse was an indispensable animal, that is why a complete set of horse harness was an object of special pride amongst the Kyrgyz.


Horse control tools. Amongst the tools used to control a horse were the bridle and kamcha (lash or horsewhip). One of the most important means of controlling a horse are the rider’s legs. The word “Shenkel” refers to the inner side of the legs from heels to knees. Since ancient times, in order to increase the influence of the rider’s legs on sides of the horse, people have used spurs of different designs, structure and length. A novice rider, however, couldn’t use spurs: he could not only damage the spurs themselves, but even cripple a horse, and not learn to ride a horse correctly.


Horse protection means. This category includes horsecloth and sweat-cloth. 

The Horsecloth was an important component of the harness. It protected the animal in hot weather from sweat; in bad weather from supercolding and in combat conditions from the arrows, lances and axes of opponents. The horsecloths of Maverannahr's horses had a trapezoidal form and covered their croups from the neck of withers to the tail. They were put directly under the saddle. Sometimes instead of a horsecloth, a blanket was put on surface of saddle, which was fastened with special straps. Horsecloths were used in both summer and winter. Summer horsecloths were produced from carpet, velvet or silk; and for winter, according to Yazdi, from felt.

A horsecloth consists of two parts: the lower, with embroidered edges, and the upper (tokum), which is smaller, only the middle part hidden under saddle. The sides of the horsecloths are decorated with hanging "teben'ki" (or teminoor), and sometimes additional pendants. Horsecloths were usually embroidered on black velvet, and sometimes on leather. Among fancy motives of embroidery it is possible to see often a round rosette with four horn-shaped curls - kochkor muyuz (sheep's horn), and a motive of wavy sprouts.

A blanket for saddle (kopchuk) was made from black velvet and decorated with wide embroidered bands along the edges. A breast-collar (kemelduruk) was also embroidered.

A sweat-cloth is used as a lower lining of the saddle and made from several pieces of felt. It covers the horse's back and fits snugly against its body. A sweat-cloth softens the pressure of the saddle and, (as the name implies), absorbs sweat. It needs constant care and, especially, thorough drying.

Means which are used in order to assure the most comfortable and correct position of a rider on horseback        

Saddle. The Kyrgyz people say that: “You may not have a horse, but you must have a saddle”. You can ask a neighbour for a horse in time of need – he will give it, it is a commonplace. On the other hand, even if he gives you his saddle, it will be against his will.  This is because, for nomads it cost more than a horse. Even nowadays a good saddle costs the equivalent of two horses and can serve for a hundred and fifty years.


Saddles have been used for riding since beginning of 1 thousand years B.C. (basically as “soft saddles” – or horsecloths). Initially they were fastened on the horse by means of tail and breast straps, later they also used one around the girth. Hard saddles appeared only in the early Middle Ages.

Stirrups. A stirrup is a part of a saddle, and provides a foot rest for the rider. Originally a loose surcingle, (a strap around the girth made of animal skin), probably allowed for the riders feet to be tucked in next to the animal's skin and so functioned as stirrups. Later stirrups as loops were invented. Metallic stirrups appeared in Asia and Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. A modern stirrup is made of steel as an irregular ring. It is fastened to the saddle with help of a strap, or stirrup-leather.   




Girth. A girth is a strong wide strap, which is usually made from leather, that stretches under the animal up around both sides and keeps the saddle in place.