»History | Parts of a Side Saddle
| Side Saddle Gallery
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Researched and compiled by Wendy Tidbold