We have all grown up with the maxim “necessity is the mother of invention.” And yet, this logic is sometimes thwarted by the mindset “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or more significantly “If it works, don’t change it” even though we know there must be a better way. We, like others, may be guilty of ignoring a need because we can’t afford the time to solve the problem and besides we have always gotten by doing it the old way.
One of the great mysteries of history is why prehistoric men rode horses for several thousand Years before anyone invented stirrups. Remarkably, the Romans, who constructed the Aqueducts across Italy and southern France, the Coliseum which held over one hundred thousand spectators and featured a roof awning which moved with the sun and was fully retractable, the Pantheon dome, which was not equaled in diameter for 1400 years, had developed cavalry for its Legions but without stirrups. Presumably because no one had ever seen stirrups or thought through the advantage such an invention would create.
Military historians consider the stirrup the last of the three great leaps in technology that changed the course of history by revolutionizing the traditional way of waging war. The first was the invention of the chariot, the second was the mounted warrior and the third was the stirrup. The stirrup permitted the rider to stabilize himself in the saddle and shoot his arrow, attack with his lance, and most importantly, turn his mount sharply without falling off due to centrifugal force and increasing his ability to attack more adversaries in greater force. In recognized papers, knowledgeable historians state that the armored knights of the Middle Ages could not have existed without stirrups because they would not have been able to control their center of gravity while charging on horseback. These are the same knights who rode their mounts from Western Europe to Jerusalem during the Crusades.
An interesting footnote is the evidence in prehistoric China, which reports that before a foot stirrup was developed, a toe stirrup for the big toe was used for stability of the rider. It required several hundred years before the crude device evolved into the equipment that was the for-runner of what appeared 1600 years later inWestern Europe.
It was not until the 13th century that Genghis Khan developed a horse cavalry using saddles with stirrups to stabilize his ferocious warriors, whose reputation created panic in the inhabitants of towns and villages hundreds of miles in their advance.
Why did it take thousands of years for people with domesticated horses, on two continents, to perceive the benefit of being much more secure in a saddle? Using current vernacular, it seems that no one took the time “to think outside of the box.”