Most horses and ponies take very well to Side Saddles (so I am told) . The first version of the side saddle was a small padded seat. Females probably rode horses under 14 hands. Even when sitting sideways they could exert enough strength to have control . In the main however , they would have been led by their servant. This padded seat type of side saddle was introduced into England in 1382 . Little by little it was improved upon , but in the process it created difficulties for riders that took several centuries to overcome.
By the 15th century , the padded seat had developed a central horn in the front and signs of a cantle at the back, but it still had the foot and remained unchanged for 200 years. Almost all the information relating to ladies riding Side Saddle in a certain period of time come from paintings by great great masters, preserved in art galleries and in private collections. They tend to show ladies of royal blood or those of similar high social status
Indeed it was from paintings of the 17th century that demonstrated the elaborate bridles, breast plates and saddle cloths being worn by the horses around this time. It was also noted that Ladies wore the same outfits for riding as those being worn for everyday use .
By the 18th century the side saddle was in general use. Some female riders still had a rail at the side and velvet covered slipper stirrup. Also around this time Ladies started carrying little whips (often made from whale bone ) and with a finely carved handle , which was more for decoration than for use on the actual horse.
It was around 1850 that various safety stirrups appeared , replacing the velvet lined slipper stirrup , in turn replacing the planchette (platform) . Later in 1875 the cut back to the trees was introduced enabling the front of the side saddle to be less cumbersome and sitting more flat. Prior to this the saddles were high in front and straight across the horse's withers. The rider therefore sat very much on a slope, with quite a dip in the seat.
Today's Side Saddle Rider wears an outfit known as a Habit which is based upon the original designs of the early 19th Century. Essentially it is designed for safety, as any long and full skirt would be very dangerous if a rider were to fall from their horse. The skirt is actually an apron with no back and jodhpurs of the same colour are worn underneath. When mounted it would not be known that it was only an apron because of the way it has been designed to sit 'around' the rider.
Also a female could usually go and be measured and fitted for their saddle so they would have a tailor-made saddle. Following the closure of Champion & Wilton of London in 1957 , side saddles became very hard to come by and very few saddlers know anything about them at all. The Side Saddle has gone through a lot of changes over many years and they have now become more of a sport and pleasure accessory. ( The last time I saw Side Saddle Riding as an ' occupation ' was at the annual Trooping of the Colour before the Queen of England eventually decided to take to her horse drawn carriage) .
Interest in Side Saddle Riding is growing and there are now Side Saddle Associations across the world .
In spite of the many re-assurances as to the safety and comfort , I am just glad that I wasn't born a female in earlier times and being the true coward that I am , will still happily sit astride a bench from the spectators side of the arena and admire the spectacle as the Side Saddle Riders pass by !
Author. T.D. Fuller :