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


durer (1)

Albert Durer circa 1495



Kathy 2013


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…


3 - Mounting


Sound a familiar marketing ploy?






For more about side saddle riding




Twitter: HelenHollick @HelenHollick



  1. 11-11-2013

    This is a really interesting piece of writing. As a regency era novelist, thank you. I found it easy to understand and your illustrations are very helpful. Anne Stenhouse

    • 11-11-2013

      Thank you Anne. Kathy or I are always pleased to help out if any writers want to ask questions or check the accuracy of their scenes if any aside riding is involved.

  2. 11-11-2013

    I was looking for info like this and had , in fact, a long discussion on the topic with Elizabeth Chadwick recently. When were the first side saddles in France or in England? That is my query. Wonderful post and may your website go from strength to strength Jenny.

    • 11-11-2013

      Carol, I think you’ll find the time-span is more or less the same. What was in France was in England & vice versa (possibly with a delay of a few months?) I guess it depended on how quickly a new “fashion” took off. The ‘chair’ type side saddle was in use from pre-Roman to late Tudor period – it was the invention of the second pommel that altered the use of the side saddle dramatically, bringing greater independence to the rider.

  3. 11-11-2013

    Thank you Jenny for inviting me onto your blog!

    • 11-11-2013

      My grateful thanks to you, Helen, for contributing such a fascinating piece. I think my guest posts here couldn’t have got off to a better start!

  4. 11-13-2013

    Thank you very much for this. I found it most informative. Is the Durer picture the earliest example of one showing a woman riding aside in the modern way? I would like to know when the change from astride to aside occurred.

    • 11-14-2013

      Hilary, not sure about the Durer, I’ll see if I can track anything down. The change to riding aside (as opposed to sitting sideways on a chair-like structure) seems to have taken off in the late 1600’s when the extra pommel was added – but the popularity increased in the Victorian age when the saddles became more-or-less as we know them now, giving the rider a very secure seat (actually more secure than riding astride)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *