This amazing, intricately carved saddle is a Renaissance saddle from Tyrol. There are many additional detail photos on flickr. Saddles of this type were layered onto the horse - blankets or pads go on the horse, followed by the hard saddle shown here. Then additional pads or cloths were layered on top, to cushion the rider. Slots for a girth and stirrups can be seen.
This type of saddle design is still used throughout the world in many cultures (gaucho, North African, much of Asia, and traditional Native American, for example). In modern American and European saddles, this hard structure is hidden inside the saddle, surrounded by the exterior leather and padding. In other words, the multi-layered saddle has become a convenient single unit.
The ornate decoration on this saddle suggests it belonged to a very wealthy person, and was probably used only for special occasions. The saddle was photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City.
Photo: mharrsch on flickr