It’s my great privilege to welcome the fabulous author Helen Hollick to my blog for a first guest post on the fascinating subject of sidesaddle riding:
Ladies Ride Aside
By Helen Hollick
Downton Abbey has revived an interest in riding aside – the correct term for riding Side Saddle. My daughter rides (and competes and jumps) aside.
Yes, that is what I said: jumps.
Contrary to belief riding side saddle – at least with a modern (post Victorian) saddle – is safer than riding astride.
The ‘saddle of Queens’ by Tudor times was considered the proper way for a lady to ride – astride was considered to be base. Early side saddles were – literally – side saddles, a bit like a chair with a footplate. These were padded and highly decorated, and built upon a man’s astride saddle.
The lady could ride independently, but because she had little control of her mount was more usually led – however a few old paintings may contradict this:
In Greek and Roman art women were rarely portrayed on horseback unless they were Goddesses and most of them are riding aside.
Epona, Celtic Goddess of horses
The sideways facing ‘chair’ was then turned to face the front. The lady would face front, her back supported by the ‘chair’ with her right leg hooked round the pommel. This is possibly the sort of saddle Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn would have used when riding.
Queen Elizabeth I’s saddle
It is unknown when the upright horn, the one the rider hooks her right leg around, came into use. The second horn, an appendage that comes from the right side of the saddle, is commonly attributed to Catherine de Medici (1519-1589). The horn gave women a more secure seat, an independent control of their horses, and enabled a faster gaits.
The Victorian era in the late 1800s is typically how we think of side saddle riding. Early in the 1800’s the leaping horn or head was invented and the balance strap (another girth) was created. This is attached to the right rear of the saddle, passes under the belly of the horse, and fastens to the left front. It serves to stabilise the saddle and offset the extra weight from both legs being on the left side of the horse.
a modern saddle showing the position of the legs
the balance strap is the rear one
The hunting field was a great place to meet a future husband; unmarried Victorian ladies wore a navy habit with a bowler hat, while married ladies wore a black habit with silk hat if they were a subscriber, or a black habit and black bowler for less significant meets or while visiting another pack. As a widow, Queen Victoria wore black for much of her life and ladies of the day emulated her. It is possible that this could this be the reason behind the traditional black habit seen in the hunt field (and showing arena) today. A side saddle horse was trained to walk and do a collected canter as it was thought unseemly for a lady to be bouncing about (especially a particular part of her anatomy!) at the trot. Victorian riders were quite often sewn into their habits in order to show off their figure to best advantage.
Fashion must have dictated whether a lady rode astride or aside – farthingales were not designed for riding (nor were the later Victorian crinolines and bustles!)
These pictures clearly show the women riding side saddle, for even where a long skirt is worn, the right toe is visible, and in the other picture the lady is wearing trousers and her leg position is shown.
Family Hunting Party 1755/6)
It seems that ladies did ride astride, particularly when hunting (too fast a pace for the literally sitting sideways saddles.) However, a big problem would be what to wear underneath. Bloomers were not in use then, so either women donned men’s apparel, or they had very chafed thighs. How did they ride astride with those voluminous skirts? Were they split in the middle like modern culottes?
The images below show that women were riding in almost the same position as ‘modern’ riders – the ladies’ position is remarkably similar.
‘An Elegant Equestrienne on a Grey Horse ‘
Alfred de Dreux 1810-1860
Albert Durer circa 1495
And a note about the men.
There are examples of men riding side saddle other than for humorous, drag, or satirical purposes. During World War II riders rode aside as they laid field telephone cable from a cable-drum on the back of a galloping horse. Some farm workmen riding wide-backed draft horses bareback to or from the fields found it easier to sit sideways than astride and a few modern male riders with certain types of back injuries or lower limb injuries and amputations find riding side saddle to be helpful. Male grooms would also have ridden side saddle in the hey-day of aside riding – primarily to school a lady’s horse or to ensure it was exercised before she mounted. What a pity more men cannot pluck up courage to ride aside nowadays!
Horse for Sale!
Rotten Row, in London’s Hyde Park was the place to ride. It was the Facebook and Twitter of the Victorian age – want to meet your friends? Find a husband? Get a horse and ride (elegantly aside) in the Row… And if you wee a horse dealer with a horse to sell (that possibly wasn’t all it was cracked up to be)? An evening in the Row could guarantee a sale. All you have to do is find a lady of ‘ill-repute’ put her up on the horse and the men would be so busy ogling her they would buy the horse…
Sound a familiar marketing ploy?
For more about side saddle riding http://springwillowequestrian.blogspot.co.uk/
Twitter: HelenHollick @HelenHollick