Side Saddle Q&A

Bit of a random post here, but one that I think might be of interest given the number of questions I get about riding side saddle. Here are some of the most common questions I get asked, I hope that they sate some of your curiosity.

Is it hard?

Let’s get straight in there with the most difficult one to answer, and also the most subjective! Personally, no, I don’t have any real difficulties with riding side saddle. I’ll even be really conceited here and say that my saddler thinks that I ride very well and very straight (his reasoning being that my balance will never impact the way that the saddle sits). I sat on my pre-1820s saddle twice before going hunting, and I think that riding in a saddle without a leaping head for six months made any subsequent modern saddle easy. If you’re not regularly riding, or have inadequate core strength then I think it might be difficult. It will also take some correction if you aren’t very straight. The main point to remember is that you should look from behind like you are sitting astride with a leg missing. I tend to mount and sit astride, and then bring my right leg over without moving my right hip. When moving forwards remember to keep your right shoulder back and think “left shoulder to right knee” when folding forwards for any reason.

How long did it take you to learn and train your horse?

I am a very very bad girl and have never had a side saddle lesson. Neither has Bluey. I put the saddle on, got on him astride, rode him around a bit to get used to the saddle, and then sat aside. And off we went. He was 12 and obviously developed and mature, I was 22 and physically fit (and probably a bit reckless). I have known people who have had five hour- long riding lessons before cantering. Others I have known to sit side saddle for the first time out hunting. That is mad!

Where do you find a side saddle?

Side saddles are expensive. Very expensive. The majority of saddles used today were built a hundred years ago, as a result they are designed for a type of horse that was quite different to the variety of animals that are ridden today. They are also very old and some are realistically coming to the end of their working lives, if they haven’t been cared for very well. My first saddle was a refurbished saddle form the 1800s, and I then hired a 1920s Whippy from a friend at Ciren. Side saddle hire is probably your best place to start- hire costs will depend on who lends it to you but you can expect to pay about £500 per year. The Side Saddle Association is a good place to start when looking to hire one. There are a number of trained saddlers who will fit and refurbish old saddles, and there are always plenty around to buy. There are a few  contemporary saddlers who will make bespoke saddles to fit your horse- the cost is excruciating but worth it if you are serious and can compare it to a long- term hire cost. If your horse is an odd size or if you want something to last another hundred years this may be a good option.

Can you jump side saddle?

YES. You can do anything aside that you can do astride, with the exception of jousting (or so I am told). For generations of women riding side saddle in the hunting field gave them their sole opportunity to be equal to men.

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By Jenn Hewson

There are two main options when jumping side saddle; the first is to fold forward as you would astride, keeping your bottom in the saddle and your right shoulder back. With this there is the risk of having your right knee smack into your chest on take off. For someone with zero cushioning in that area (i.e. me) this is painful. You also have to remember to sit back so that you are not whipped back on landing.

The other option is to sit up and straight and slip your reins. I try to do this, although as I already ride on a long loose rein I have had the reins completely lost on landing a few times!

Headwear

This is a real can of worms.

Generally married women, hunting with a pack to which they subscribe, wear top hats, and unmarried women wear bowlers. Those with wedding rings are permitted to wear a black habit.

This point can cause weeks of discussion when raised within a group of hunting ladies, because there are photographs reputedly showing unmarried women in top hats in the early 20th century.

I do wear a bowler, and will save the topper on the unlikely chance that I do get married. However, I swap to a hard hat before moving off at the meet. There are plenty of riders who fly hedges in top hats; its a personal choice.

Can men ride side saddle?

There’s no anatomical reason why they shouldn’t. There are a couple of very gifted male side saddle riders in the UK who compete and hunt aside. During the First World War soldiers laying cables rode side saddle so that they could lay the cable at a gallop, without their left being in the way. Also, male grooms would have backed women’s horses to a side saddle.

I have never seen a man in a habit though!

Is it bad for the horse’s back?

Not with the saddle fits and the rider sits straight!

How comfortable is riding side saddle?

I cannot recommend it enough! Maybe not sitting trot, which is like an extremely intense abs session, but cantering side saddle is a pleasure of the highest order.

You look like Lady Mary

Aw cheers babe; she’s banging! If I ever find a dead Turkish diplomat in my bed I’ll let you know.

Do you have any questions? If so post in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!