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                       History of Side Saddle Riding


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Whilst out jumping Greenacres Stud's horses at ' County Shows ' , there is usually enough time to wander around and to observe the performances of the other equestrian disciplines on display . Other than show jumping , the author has never been more intrigued than when watching the elegance and poise of the Side Saddle classes.( not to mention the ladies themselves in their immaculate outfits ) . It always seems a mystery and a miracle to me on how they manage to stay mounted especially when out hunting.

Not having the first clue as to the origins of Side Saddle Riding ( other than understanding how difficult it would have been for females to sit astride a horse in a full skirt and petticoats ) , I therefore decided that on a snow bound day when our  horses were ' off the road ', then I would research the origins of the Side Saddle.



                                                 Picture Courtesy of   Georgina Fielding ( seated ) .


Little did I realise that in the first place , the history and development of the Side Saddle can be traced back to the 9th century and that also ( by way of early pottery ) there is evidence that females sometimes rode sitting sideways way back in the days of the ancient Greeks !

Also whilst researching , I came across web sites that contained page after page of information upon the subject. The object of this page is not to go into lengthy historical detail , but to give an overview of the major developments throughout the centuries. Those wishing for a more in-depth appreciation may find suitably written books with the necessary diagrams and I would suggest that they contact The Side Saddle Association ( formed in 1974 ) for recommended reading material and advise upon ' getting started ' in the world of Side Saddle Riding.

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.
It wasn't until the 1900's that the flat seat came into being with now only two horns enabling the rider to sit straight to the front of the horse and also to have full control. A lot of balance is required in addition to keeping straight and square. Today, the lady side saddle rider can achieve all that an astride rider can do, with equal security , as the side saddle is regarded as a very if not the securest piece of riding equipment.

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 : .6/02/2009


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