The History of Sidesaddles and Side Saddle riding
Riding side saddle was developed during the 1600’s and became very popular during the 1800’s. It was considered un-lady like to ride a horse astride during that time so women were encouraged to ride sidesaddle. Riding astride, or better known as riding a horse with a leg on both sides of the horse was never abandoned by women but it was more fashionable to ride side saddle. The art of riding sidesaddle has not disappeared, in fact it continues to flourish till this day.
I personally knew one woman that was suffering from a hip problem that she had since birth and riding astride was very painful for her. After acquiring a sidesaddle and learning how to ride in it she found she could accompany me on trail rides.
How did sidesaddles come about? The first evidence of sidesaddles was in the middle ages when a pad or cushion was attached behind a knights saddle for a “lady” to sit on with her legs together. The cushion was called a pillion. Women were still riding astride for long distance travel on horseback and in fact some parts of the world never saw a side saddle. Women rode astride while working cattle in the west along side their male counterparts. It was thought that side saddles came about because of women’s fashions. As the dresses became more elaborate the need for a side to accommodate them came about. Soon it was the women themselves that made riding sidesaddle the fashionable thing to do. Women riding side saddle showed themselves to be very adaptive. They rode side saddle while even riding during the fox hunt, taking jumps at full speed. There are still several old 1930’s movies where you can watch fox hunting with the leading lady rides sidesaddle. The actress Margaret Rutherford for many years played “Miss Marple” in the movies. She was a sleuth that had many talents. In one of her movies she rode and jumped sidesaddle during a fox hunt. Lucille Ball rode sidesaddle in the 1974 movie “Mame”.
Queen Elizabeth of Britain still rides side saddle on state occasions, even at the age of 85 years old. Below is a picture of her riding in a state function years ago.
There are different types of side saddles too. A brief tour of eBay and Amazon will show you that there are western style and english style side saddles. Not all of them were made 100 years ago, in fact there are several companies that still make them today.
Amid all the fantasy and glamour of sidesaddles there is also a dark side. Men could mount a horse alone but it often took 2 men to help a lady aboard a horse. The sidesaddle rider did not have the security of a leg on either side of the horse so if a horse “acted up” the consequences of the spook were often injurious. The horses also suffered because often the saddles were cinched up too tight to prevent it from slipping. The one sided weight that the rider put on the horse often caused the horse to have back problems. If a horse fell with a regular english saddle while jumping the rider was often thrown clear of the horse. The sidesaddle rider was often trapped and the horse fell on the rider either killing her or breaking her back.