»History | Parts of a Side Saddle | Side Saddle Gallery

The Beginning
The history and development of the Side Saddle is a fascinating study that can be traced back as far as the 9th century. However, there is evidence on Greek Vases and Celtic sculptured stones that women sometimes rode sitting sideways even earlier than this time.

The first version of the Side Saddle was a small padded seat. We are not sure when this was used but in the 9th century, a step called a planchette had already been added to the saddle and was used by the Picts and other Celtic people. On one Celtic sculptured stone the woman rider is seen to be riding aggressively and in full control of her horse, not just being carried.

Women probably rode smaller horses under 14 hands, even when sitting sideways and they would exert enough strength to have control, but often they would be led by a servant. This type of Side Saddle was introduced into England in 1382 by Anne of Bokemia, wife of Richard II. Little by little it was improved upon but in the process it created difficulties for riders that took several centuries to overcome.

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15th Century
By the 15th century the padded seat had developed a central horn in the front and signs of a cantle at the back, but still had the foot rest and remained unchanged for 200 years.

Recent writers have suggested that evidence shows Catherine De Medicc may have been the first to have hooked her leg around and over the high pommel (horn) and been facing more or less to the horses head. This was a break through for the rider being in more control of her horse. Catherine loved hunting and rode until her sixtieth year.

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16th Century
In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots whilst 6 months pregnant fleeing with Darnley from the Palace of Holyrood, rode pillion behind Lord Erskine through the night to Dunbar Castle, a journey of 25 miles.

Almost all the information we have of ladies riding Side Saddle comes from paintings by great masters, preserved in art galleries in private collections. They tend to be ladies of royal blood or of good quality. What happened further down the scale is obscure and left to the imagination. Some were seen riding pillion behind the man.

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17th Century
During this century paintings show elaborate bridles, breast plates and saddle clothes on the horses and in the case of Isabella of Bourbon they are gilded and embroided as is her gown. Queen Christina of Sweden who mounted on a white horse for her official entry into Rome in 1655 was first thought to be riding astride, because although sitting on a Side Saddle, she was so straight and erect and stiff that gave that impression.

Ladies would wear the same outfit riding that was worn for everyday wear.

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18th Century
By the 18th century the Side Saddle was in general use, some still having a rail at the side and velvet covered slipper stirrup. About this time women started carrying little whips often made with whale bone and with daintily carved ivory handles more for decoration than use on the horse.

The marchioness of Salisbury hunted her own hounds, the “Herlfordskin Hunt” from 1777 to 1812 and Lady Lade in 1799 was present throughout the run of the season that lasted two hours and forty minutes with the royal buck hounds. It was said that women had difficulty riding astride because they had rounded thighs.

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19th Century
At the end of the 18th century and part of the 19th century it was unusual for women to follow hounds, although they would often grace their presence suitably attended by a groom.

The invention of the leaping head came about when Thomas Aldaker Huntsman to the Earl of Buckeley (1788 – 1820) broke his leg jumping in a Side Saddle with only the top central horn and having no grip for his left leg. Although Jules Charles Pellier, a French riding master emphatically claimed he invented the leaping horn in Paris in 1830.

Around about 1850 various safety stirrups appeared, replacing the velvet lined stipper stirrup, in turn replacing the planchette (platform).

As late as 1875 the cut back to the trees was introduced enabling the front of the Side Saddle to be less cumbersome and more flat. Prior to this the saddles were high in front and straight across the horses withers and the rider sat very much on a slope, with quite a dip in the seat.

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20th Century
Then around the early 1900’s 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 able to have full control. A lot of balance is required as well in keeping straight and square. Today, the lady Side Saddle rider can do everything an astride rider can do with equal security, as the Side Saddle is very secure.

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Saddles
Until 1957 the old establishment firm of Champion & Wilton Saddlers still existed in Oxford Street, London, where ones every wish pertaining to Side Saddles could be met and women would go and be measured and fitted for their Side Saddle so they would have a tailor-made saddle.

Now Side Saddles are very hard to come by and very few Saddlers know anything about them at all.

At the Royal Mews there are a perfect pair of Side Saddles being pony size and of modern design. One saddle is to ride on the near side and the other rides on the off side to be used alternatively as it was thought that a child’s spine became crooked if she rode on the one side all of the time. These pony Side Saddles were used by the late princess royal as a child.

The Side Saddle has gone through a lot of changes over many years and lots of courageous men and women have tried their skills at riding in them (and staying in them). Also they have become more of a sport or pleasure to ride in, rather than just a mode of transport from one destination to the next changing from a basket type seat that sat the rider sideways to a flat seat with horns positioned to sit the rider straight to the front of the horse. This later positioned gave the rider full control of the horse as well as a very secure and firm position, fully able to stay in place if the horse were to buck or rear badly.

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The Habit
Today’s outfit which is known as a habit was designed in the early 19th century and was made for safety, as the long and full skirts were very dangerous if a rider was to fall from her horse.
The skirt is actually an apron with no back and Jodhpurs of the same color 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 on the rider.

The tie or stock is tied in a special way so as to sit neatly around the neck. It is about one metre in length and has a two fold purpose. If the rider was to have a fall while out hunting it can be used as a bandage.

The cane is carried in the right hand to replace the right leg and is used as an aid to control the horse.

The hair is worn in a bun for neatness and the veil over the face is to protect the lady’s face when out hunting from scratches on bushes and weather.

The top hat is traditionally worn after midday and at larger shows of reasonable standard. Any horse of any breed can carry a Side Saddle and does not need to be specially trained, as he/she will go just as well in a Side Saddle as he does astride, so long as the saddle is comfortable on him and fits correctly.

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The Future
There is so much more history about this subject. Side Saddle riding is being relived again today and hopefully will still grace the show ring and horse places in the future to show its gracefulness and elegance as it has in days gone by.

Interest in Side Saddle riding is growing and there are now Side Saddle associations all over the world.

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Researched and compiled by Wendy Tidbold

 

 

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