The horse was a vital part of everyday nineteenth century life, but few of us today have such an intimate acquaintance with that lovely animal. What does it actually feel like to ride side saddle?
The English saddle has changed little in its appearance over the past two hundred years. The major change came at the end of the nineteenth century when the modern “Forward Seat” was invented and the saddle flap began to be cut forward, or over a horse's shoulder (allowing a shorter stirrup). In the 1800s, riders sat very straight in the saddle, leaning back when jumping fences, as seen in hunting prints of the era. This was true for both men riding astride and women riding aside.
However, the side saddle has changed quite a bit since the early nineteenth century in England.
The Side Saddle
The earliest “side saddles” date back to the Middle Ages, when a woman literally rode facing sideways. A lady back then would ride a palfrey, a very smooth gaited horse, and would be led by a groom. Over the decades this saddle evolved to allow a lady to sit facing forward in a true side saddle.
Prior to 1835, a side saddle had only one or two pommels. One pommel or horn turned up to support the right leg. And some side saddles had a second pommel which turned down over the left leg.
Modern side saddles now have a third “leaping” horn that can twist to help hold the upper leg in place—but this was not around during the early nineteenth century. This third horn can help riders who are jumping over fences, but most ladies, even those who fox hunted, chose to go through gates instead of jumping fences.
Modern views make it seem as if riding side saddle must be awkward and uncomfortable (What! You have both legs on one side of the horse, and none on the other). Actually, side saddles can be very comfortable and secure.
Betty Skelton, author of Side Saddle Riding, found that....“As a teenager in the 1920s, side saddle riding was second nature to me. I found it comfortable and I did not fall off as often as I had done from a cross saddle.” In teaching side saddle, Ms. Skelton has found that a beginner rider can often be comfortably cantering during her first lesson—that’s not likely when riding astride.
The side saddle requires the rider to sit with a straight back and with hips and shoulders absolutely even. Slightly more weight should be carried on the right hip to compensate for the weight of both legs on the left. Any tilting to one side, leaning or twisting eventually results in a horse with a sore back.
Side saddles have a broad, flat, and comfortably padded seat. The right leg goes over a padded leather branch which turns up (the top pommel). The left leg is in a stirrup that is short enough to bring it firmly up against a second pommel which turns down. If the horse plays up at all, you clamp both legs together, gripping these horns to stay on the horse.
So how do you mount, dismount, and otherwise look good in a side saddle? Come back Friday to find out!
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency; the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts; RWA's Golden Heart; and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from RT Book Reviews magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."
Her Regency romances, including A Dangerous Compromise, can be found as ebooks on all formats, and include four novellas now out as a collection with Cool Gus Publishing.
Her Regency Novella, Border Bride, can be found as an ebook, or in print in her collection of Regency Novellas. Learn more about her on her blog/website.