Why Did Women Ride Side Saddle?

two women in blue dresses are riding side saddle

Sidesaddle riding in an exquisite equestrian discipline that has been known since ancient times. That was typically a female style of horse riding, however, nowadays the sidesaddle riding hits both men and women.

So why did women ride side saddle? Do they still ride aside? What are the techniques to slay sidesaddle? Here, we covered all the questions, and even more.

two women are ridng aside at the show

What Is Sidesaddle?

Sidesaddle is a horse riding style that requires the rider to sit aside, not astride as in common horseback riding. Female equestrians prefer such a riding style so they are able to wear a skirt or a dress while they are on a horse saddle.

A special saddle is needed in order to ride a horse aside seamlessly. It typically has two pommel built. It’s hard to find a side saddle on the modern market and they are quite expensive. The problem is that the gear has to fit both a horse and rider ideally. Thus, an individual order is recommended. Most horse keepers try to find old side saddles at antique stores. However, such equipment usually needs special care and full renewal.

Apart from the saddle, you need a cinch (girth) that goes under the belly to provide a solid fit. You can also consider a breast collar that prevents the saddle from sliding. To control your companion while riding you need a horse bridle and reins. Keep in mind that reins for sidesaddle riding slightly differ from astride riding. As the aside rider sits a bit farther than an astride rider from the horse’s head, the reins should be longer for more comfortable handling.

pictures of women riding aside

The History of Sidesaddle

First women sitting aside on a horse were found in ancient times. They were passengers behind the men, not riders. Women used to hold the men around the waist or sit on the padding or pillion. The reason lay in the woman’s attire. Women wore long skirts and dresses that made it impossible to ride astride. Besides, the aside sitting position showed the woman’s modesty.

The first sidesaddle was associated with Anne of Bohemia, Queen of England (14th century) who was riding aside to marry King Richard II. The saddle looked like a small chair with a footrest to place her feet. It was complicated to control the horse from that saddle, thus, there was another rider at the front who was holding the reins.

Soon after, Catherine de Medici (16th century) improved the side saddle design to make it comfy. She upgraded the gear so the woman didn’t need to place both feet on the footrest but place the right leg over the pommel so the corpus faced forward. The footrest was replaced with a small stirrup. Such a position allowed female riders to control the horse on their own while sitting aside. Therefore, women were able to mount a horse safely without losing their dignity.

side saddle scheme drawing

As we already mentioned, a special saddle was used to ride aside. The classic sidesaddle design was invented by Jules Pellier in the 19th century. Modern manufacturers still have been using his idea to produce the riding gear.

The side saddle has two pommels that distinguish it from a standard horse saddle. The right leg should be placed over the fixed pommel. While the left leg is set under the leaping horn of the second pommel and the foot is placed on the stirrup. Such a position allows women to move confidently and even perform gaits. There are records that mention female side-saddle riders performing at hunting and show jumping.

woman is riding aside back view

Sidesaddle Position

Handling a riding horse while sitting aside requires special techniques and solid balance. As a woman is sitting with her legs on one side of the equine, it’s crucial to avoid uneven excessive pressure on its body. As this may lead to causing physical harm and traumas. Rookie riders need to tighten up the horse tack gear to avoid slipping off. And this may get a negative impact on the horse’s well-being.

Therefore, the rider should fix its posture and hone their balance in order to sit on the back flawlessly. When performing in a sidesaddle event, the proper sitting position is highly assessed. The rider’s spine should line up with the horse’s spine.

There’s only one stirrup attached to the saddle to place the foot on. It’s positioned a bit higher than a regular stirrup. The heel of the left leg should be placed down with the toes up on the stirrup for better balance. The toes of the right leg should look up with the heel down. Some equestrians claim that the right toes have to also be placed down, thus, you should choose which position is more comfortable for you. Change the position to find the best balance and coordination.

The sidesaddle riders should hold the reins evenly. Since the aside rider sits farther from the horse’s mouth than the astride rider, they may hold the tack higher than usual. This could make the horse lift its head higher than needed. To avoid that, use a curb bit that helps the horse to lower the head position, unlike the snaffle bit.

Female horse riders used to switch the sitting position from one side to another while riding aside. However, nowadays it’s not an easy task. A solid design of modern side saddles doesn’t allow to change the position, thus, you need left-sided and right-sided gear to do so.

Modern Side Saddle

Women all over the world are still enjoying sidesaddle riding, especially in the UK. There are dozens of sidesaddle schools where little ladies are taught how to ride aside. You can take a shot by partaking in a wide range of equestrian activities, including dressage, hunting, show jumping, eventing, English and Western pleasure.

Apart from that, you may face women riding aside while performing in parades and horse shows. Both Western and English riders can find equestrian classes to their taste.

horse is tacked up with side saddle
woman is sidesaddle riding a bay horse

Conclusion

Sidesaddle riding is a popular style among female riders. It was found centuries ago to allow women to ride a horse with dignity. The side-saddle design has been developed in order to provide a safe and comfortable ride.

Thanks to modern design with two pommels, women can ride aside and stay comfy. The discipline is still on with a variety of sidesaddle classes suitable for both Western and English equestrians. Such activity is attractive for not only women but men too.

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David Garcia

David Garcia

David Garcia is a vivid writer and a big fan of equestrian sports. He founded Horse Riding Center – the blog where David shares his knowledge and experience about horses, tack, equestrian riding equipment, taking care of horses, and other useful guidelines.

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