While I was watching American Experience’s Silicon Valley segment on PBS, one of the show’s observations really struck me. According to narrative, the success of the Apollo Space Program was only possible because of concurrent advances in computer technology. I’d never looked at it that way, but it’s true. In this age of smart phones, we take electronics for granted, but a 1950s computer took up an entire building and required its own maintenance crew. So constructing a computer small and light enough to fit into a space capsule was a real challenge. Only the advent of the transistor made it possible, and though most people at the time were unaware of that achievement in electronics, they certainly took note when the first man walked on the moon.
There are probably countless examples of such unsung technological advances that revolutionized different arenas, and the equine world has its share. For instance, if I say, “horse racing,” most people will think of jockeys riding Triple Crown races. (Congratulations to Palace Malice for winning the Belmont!) But ancient Greeks were more likely to think of something like this:
That might seem odd to Americans, who are more accustomed to horseback riding than carriage driving. But there are a few reasons for this difference, one of which is a little thing that would hardly catch anyone’s eye nowadays: stirrups.
The ancient Greeks didn’t have stirrups. Stirrups didn’t arrive to Europe until centuries later, probably from Asia. That meant riders went bareback or possibly with a saddle cloth. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, imagine trying to mount a horse by yourself without the benefit of something to stick your feet into. Mounting aside, stirrups give a rider something to brace against.
It’s certainly possible to go galloping bareback. The Boyz’ Mom asserts that going bareback allows for better communication between horse and rider. But Julie who’s a less experienced rider, says that she’d never take her feet out of the stirrups unless she’s on a steady lesson horse. If you’re dealing with a skittish or unfamiliar horse, stirrups can make the difference between staying astride or going airborne.
More on stirrups next time.