Riding Sidesaddle …


Ah, the sidesaddle, a piece of horse tack designed in the old west to make those flowing skirts women wore to flow equally well on horseback … NOT!

In actuality, the sidesaddle was invented way back in the fourteenth century to … wait for it … protect the virginity of a teenaged princess as she made her way across Europe to wed the young King of England. Wow. Just wow.

So, the assumption the sidesaddle was a product of fashion because of long flowing skirts and dresses, isn’t how this particular piece of tack came about. Instead, it was to protect the physical proof of a princess’s royal virtue. And the rest is history.

This bright idea (I’d really like to know who came up with it) set forth the notion that the only way for a proper lady to ride was “sideways.” Never mind the fact you had to hang on like your life depended on it (which for many it did) it’s how you were supposed to ride. So, for some five hundred years this was how it was done. YIKES!

The sidesaddle we still know today was invented in the 1830s by Jules Pellier. His version has a fixed pommel to support the rider’s right thigh. He also came up with a revolutionary second pommel for the left leg. This allowed more security and control, giving the woman the freedom to stay on at a gallop and to jump fences. It was a far cry from early sidesaddles, The earliest of which was nothing more than a pillow and a piece of wood that had the woman facing left. Horses are mounted on the left side, so even the earliest versions were made this way.

Fast forward to the early twentieth century where the sidesaddle was a permanent fixture for women when it came to the proper way to ride. Worse, the slightest suggestion to the contrary could get you an earful. Take for example an article in the Los Angeles Times from 1905 (and yes, this was written by a guy): “The woman does not live who can throw her leg over the back of a horse without profaning the grace of femininity; or grasp with her separated knees the shoulders of her mount without violating the laws of good taste; or appear in the cross-saddle with any semblance of dignity, elegance or poise.”

There were women writers of the time who agreed. But as with anything, rumblings against this mode of riding were bound to start. In this case, it was British author Alice Hayes who made some of the first complaints against a sidesaddle, despite the fact she argued women should ride sidesaddle. But she also saw the sidesaddle’s impractical design and how it placed women in harm’s way.

“The fact of a lady having to ride in a sidesaddle, subjects her to three disadvantages: she is unable, without assistance, to mount as readily as a man; she cannot apply the pressure of the leg to the right side of the horse, and she cannot ‘drop her hands’ in order to pull her horse together to the same extent as he can,” wrote Hayes, in her 1893 book, The Horsewoman: A Practical Guide to Side-Saddle Riding.

 

 

By 1900, American women were geographically split on the issue. Women in the East clung to the sidesaddle as
proper and necessary, while Western women saw them as impractical and dangerous. Women out west were far more likely to use a horse for farm and ranch labor than those in the East, who were more likely to use a horse for weekend entertainment. Now there are sidesaddle riding clubs, events in horse shows for the sidesaddle and of course, other interesting places in the horse world where riding sidesaddle is the used.

 My sister and I grew up with horses, and we tried riding side-saddle by wrapping our right leg around the saddle horn. Dangerous? Yep, but we were Tomboys, what did we care about the danger? And yeah, we worked our way up to a canter riding that way. But we weren’t going to go for a gallop! Have any of your seen women riding sidesaddle in parades or at horse shows? Have you ever ridden a horse that way or thought it an elegant way to ride?

 

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Kit Morgan is the author of over 100 books of historical and contemporary western romance! Her stories are fun, sweet stories full of love, laughter, and just a little bit of mayhem! Kit creates her stories in her little log cabin in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. An avid reader and knitter, when not writing, she can be found with either a book or a pair of knitting needles in her hands! Oh, and the occasional smidge of chocolate!

38 thoughts on “Riding Sidesaddle …”

  1. Have seen sidesaddle riding in parades. Never tried it myself. Give me a regular saddle any day!

  2. To me, they’re right up there with corsets and hoop skirts. No thanks. I’ve seen photos of women back then, fox hunting with them, and jumping had to be a test of courage!

    • I told my sister (she’s a professional horsewoman) about this blog just after I wrote it. Even she said she wouldn’t ride that way! And she’s a pro.

  3. I’ve always thought that women who were able to gallop and jump fences while riding sidesaddle were amazing. So much harder than how a man would ride. Thank heavens common sense overcame idealized femininity eventually! I’ll always remember the scene from The Princess Diaries when Julie Andrews teaches Anne Hathaway how to ride sidesaddle for the parade and the fake leg (named Herbie) that they hooked over the saddle horn to make it look like they were riding sidesaddle, when all along they were riding astride beneath those thick flowing skirts. 🙂

  4. We raised a few quarter horses back in the day and never once had the thought even occurred to me to ride side-saddle. My balance would probably be off.

    • I happen to have a Saddlebred horse when my sister and I would try it with western saddles (never try that at home, folks!) Anyway, his smooth gait is the only thing that helped me stay on!

  5. Yes I have tried this saddle. No thank you. There was no control with the horse and I always felt like I was going to fall off. I stuck to a western saddle. I did a lot of riding and barrel racing. Mom wanted me to make sure I was in control of Goldie because in the desert I needed to watch where we were going. I also loved split skirts and boots many times while riding. Other times it was jeans and boots. Our daughter in law prefers to ride English. She trains horses and students to ride English.

    • Ah, you’ve tried it! Good for you. I wondered what it would actually be like. My sister grew up riding western but trains hunter/jumpers now so it’s all English for her as well. Do you still ride?

  6. Kit, I cannot imagine riding sidesaddle. That would’ve been horrible, and would twist your spine in a really unnatural position so if she had to travel some distance, I doubt she could even stand up. Men worked very hard through history to make women conform to their thinking. Boo-Hiss!

  7. I have always thought women who rode sidesaddle were much better riders than men. They had to be to ride in such an unnatural position. I have seen sidesaddle riders in parades but I would not like riding that way.

  8. This article is very interesting, I had no idea! I have only seen women riding horses on sidesaddle. Thank you so much for sharing this very interesting information. Have a Great week.

  9. I have seen women riding side saddle in parades and other events. I have never ridden side saddle nor do I have any desire to. It has always struck me as a ridiculous and dangerous way to ride a horse. It was one more way to keep women “in line” and restrict their movements.

  10. I had a long comment on this yesterday but I see it’s not showing up! I can’t even imagine having to ride side saddle! I’m 100% western saddle! I have to admit I’ve never been on an English saddle before! Woman that rode side saddle had to be better riders than men! I’ve never seen anyone ride side saddle before. Of course without and actual side saddle that would be dangerous!

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