14th C. ITALIAN RIDING CAPARISON
Master Johannes the Black of the Athanor
(Being some suggestions for practical (re)construction, ornamentation and use.)
It is a very rewarding endeavor, this fashioning of equestrian trappings and it's equipage. This is for two reasons; the horse was very much a vital influence in the medieval societies we study, therefore the research necessitated by the making of horse furniture gives us much useful insight; additionally, fewer projects make such a complete test of the quality of ones craftsmanship. A set of caparison shoddily made, or of faulty design, will rapidly disintegrate after only a short ride.
So it is that this article is written; not to give you step-by-step instructions in the construction of caparison, but to give you some design and construction considerations which you will hopefully find useful in arriving at your own original product. For the seamstress/tailor or leatherworker who perseveres, there will be a measure of satisfaction hard to describe, when you first ride across the fields in garb and caparison. Should you make your own, you will understand.
Most non-tourney caparison (referred to as riding caparison) of the 1300's was very much the same in all of western Europe. It seems to have consisted of;
a) The HEADSTALL; this is the halter-like arrangement which fits across the forehead of the horse, around or across the ears, under the throat (the buckle here is called the throatlatch) and up to the bit on either side of the horses mouth (these long straps are called cheek-straps). In the Italian sources, at least, there does not seem to have been a band going over the top of the nose as in today's bridles. As for bits, most archaeological evidence seems to indicate that snaffle bits were much more common than curb bits, even though curbs are more often depicted in period art. Buckles may be seen as the fastening elements in a few works. Reins were often double, with one attached at the bit where it emerges from the mouth, and the other either attached to the same location (Illus. 4) or to the end of the curb-bit. Some snaffle bits which have long arms, making them seem to be curbs, still exist, and may be seen in the annals of the London Museum.
b) The SADDLE COVER may be seen in Illus. 4 & 5. These are very much like the 'mochila' saddle covers which the conquistadors used. If you construct one, it is important that it's constructed of or lined with a coarse material, so that they will not slide on the saddle. It will be necessary to either fit them, or make them out of industrial felt, so that they may be put on wet and ridden, thus conforming to the saddle's shape. The stirrups are pulled around them, as the illustration show, though a horizontal slit could be made to allow them to be pulled through.
c) The PEYTRAL, or breast strap, is a near-necessity on trail rides and hunts. It fastens to the saddle on either side, and care should be taken that it is made of a water-fast material, since horses perspire heavily here.
d) The CRUPPER is the large array of straps that criss-cross and hang from the horses hindquarters. It goes back to the horses tail, where it passes between it's base (called the dock) and the horses anus. The crupper should be covered with soft material here, such as softer leather; we use a piece of ace bandage wrapped around the cord and covered with surgical tape.
I'll leave you with some general construction tips:
-Always make a mock-up, and try it out on a variety of horses before committing yourself to a particular design.
-Be sure to make it as strong as possible, and check it's structure while riding.
-Always finish leather with paint, wax or lacquer, all of which are great. Enjoy, and Good Riding!!!
After various caparisons depicted in 'Tabula sanitatis', a 14thc. Italian MS in the Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. Published modernly as the 'Four Seasons of the House of Cerruti'.