It is believed that the early side saddles were a cross between an astride saddle and a chair, where the lady sat facing sideways and was very probably lead on foot by her groom.
The early 1800s saw the introduction of the leaping head which considerably improved safety and security in the saddle, enabling the lady to go faster and more securely, even jumping, utilising what is now known as the ‘forward’ seat.
The balance girth or strap was also introduced around this time which was attached to the rear of the right-hand side of the saddle, runs under the belly of the horse and thence attaches to the left-hand front of the saddle. This was to give more stability to the saddle.
Whilst there are various mixed reports on when ladies rode astride as opposed to aside, the general opinion appears to be that until the end of World War 1, ladies tended to ride sideways. This is thought to have changed because as they were involved in the war effort, they would have worn trousers during the course of their work. This would have freed them from the confines of wearing long skirts and with the independence this gave them, enabled them to ride astride.
The art of riding aside was thought to be dying out, but the past few years has seen a massive resurgence in ladies taking up this traditional and very elegant form of equestrianism.
Nowadays, whilst it is possible to purchase or have made a new side saddle, which can be very expensive but most new to this style of riding buy pre-1950 saddles. Makers typically were Champion & Wilton, Mayhew, and Owen. When seeking to buy a side saddle, it is important that you purchase the more modern saddle with a straight seat and quick release safety stirrup.
The older style dipped seat saddles must be avoided as it would be very difficult to keep your weight correctly balanced (more of this later).
The fact that the rider will be a passenger rather than a positive horsewoman.
The security of a ladies seat whilst riding aside is thought to be one of the main reasons side saddles had a bad reputation. As ladies felt so secure after just a couple of lessons, they thought they had nothing more to learn.
However, unless you are initially riding under an experienced practised eye, you could be riding totally unbalanced and could be causing your horse all sorts of problems.
Issues arose with the horses backs, blame the saddle or saddler. Issues with the horse not going correctly, blame the horse. Never themselves.
SADDLES AND FITTING
A good general fitting tree should fit most horses from a larger pony to say, 17hh.
The saddle will not fit all of these horses perfectly but if the rider sits in the correct place with a correctly balanced seat, she will be unlikely to hurt the horses back.
This is, of course, a general rule of thumb and is not cast in concrete.
The side saddle should also fit the rider, ensuring the shape and size and positioning of the pommels suits the rider. Ladies often took their saddles with them for this very reason, when travelling and indeed, still do to this day, particularly if using a hireling for hunting.
The photograph below shows a lady sitting correctly, showing the hand fitting underneath the leaping head, as it should be to give enough purchase, when necessary.
COMING SOON – THE SEAT, ATTIRE (I am looking forward to this bit) and ETIQUETTE – Subscribe and follow me to find out more.