The History of Sidesaddle Riding
Did you know that there are multiple ways to ride a horse and different kinds of saddles to support these different ways to ride? One of the most famous and most difficult ways to ride a horse is called sidesaddle riding. It comes with an exciting and rich history that every horse lover needs to know about.
Sidesaddle and the way we ride horses continues to evolve in and out of history books, to film, to being back on the filed. For some, it's coming back into popularity outside of period movies and TV shows and back into horse races and shows. But what is riding sidesaddle and what is its history? Sidesaddle riding is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of straddling the horse while riding, you posterior flat with either leg on either side of the horse, you sit sideways on the horse with both legs hanging off of the same side of the horse when riding. Many think this type of riding was just a tradition followed by women of historic royalty and high birth in the last few hundred years, but it goes way beyond that! Some historians date it back to the 6th century where the god of blacksmiths, Hephestus, has been pictured riding sidesaddle himself.
This type of riding became common for women to use because riding with your legs on one side of the horse allowed women to keep their knees together at all times, which was considered to be more modest, which was important even while riding. Even though it is is much harder to ride this way, it was culturally accepted as the only way a woman could ride a horse for centuries. In the beginning, it was only men who rode horses and women were just their passengers. Women would ride behind their male counterparts, sitting on an attached cushion or blanket, being as modest as possible and keeping both of their legs together. This was also due to the fashion at the time, women wore heavy layers of skirts, and it was impossible to ride astride and maintain their modesty while doing so.
Some say women started riding sidesaddle as early as 1382, and some say it was even earlier. In 1382, Princess Ann rode sidesaddle to marry King Richard II. This style of riding was considered the only way to properly preserve a woman's virginity, so from there on out it was the only way for a woman to ride. Ironically it wasn't until the middle ages that the idea and concept for a specially made saddle for this proper type of riding was even considered. This new saddle would offer support, comfort, and allow them to control and guide their horse better than ever before, and be able to ride without a man.
As the years went on, many saddles were created and invented to help a woman ride more comfortably, but in 1830 with the addition of an additional pummel, the tables turned for women riders. This provided the most security and freedom in their movements than ever before, allowing them to freely gallop, ride for longer periods, and even jump if they wished. They could now hunt, race, and keep up with their male counterparts while still being in control of their modesty. But what about the lower social classes? Of course, they rode out of necessity, but as a form of physical activity and fun and appropriate behavior, it was only acceptable for women of the wealthiest class to ride until as late as the 1850's. It took almost until the 1880's for a specific riding outfit to be designed and considered for a woman to ride in. Up until that point, a woman was wearing her normal day wear, which if too long, could prove to be very dangerous for the rider. This fashion quickly changed and by the early 20th century women could wear pants to ride. With this change in fashion and with the rise of the Suffergets side saddle riding slowly began to decrease in popularity. By the time the 1930's arrived, women were finally riding like their male counterparts after almost 550 years.
Today, thanks to the rise in popularity of British TV shows like Downton Abby, the return of sidesaddle riding has come. These vintage lovers are riding again in competition, races, horse shows, and for fun. They are not only bringing back the style of riding, but they are also bringing back the classic period style of dressing along with it too. Some men throughout history did ride sidesaddle, even though it was considered a woman's sport. If they had lost a leg or had other injuries, riding sidesaddle was easier for them. Riding sidesaddle was used when riding camels, zebras, mules, ostriches, and other exotic animals. Of course, some women refused to ride this way. They claimed that they were still very much proper women regardless of riding astride, Catherine The Great being one of these ladies. Also, if they were going to be riding long distances, sidesaddle was deemed impossible.
The next time you are looking for the best horseback riding in Charleston and you find our beautiful paths and stables, will you want to ask about riding sidesaddle? Would you be brave enough to try it? It will give you a whole new perspective on riding, and we guarantee that it will provide quite the adventure. Come see us soon, we can't wait to ride with you!
Middleton Place Team