Equestrian topics

What is side saddle?

Picture from http://www.bwcp.co
Picture from http://www.bwcp.co

Have you ever tried to ride sidesaddle? Did you know that sidesaddle is the favorite riding style of Queen Elizabeth II? If not, now you do!My curiosity was triggered by the relevant article on Horse Collaborative “Side Saddle Resurgence and the Downton Abbey Effect”, so I wanted to know more.

Side saddle is a type of riding which requires the special type of saddle which provides the rider with the ability to ride with both legs on one side of the equine. We find the roots of side saddle in the antiquity, illustrated on ancient Greek vases, sculptures and Celtic stones. Side saddle was developed in Europe in the Middle Ages since it was an ideal way for women in skirts to ride.

It is still practiced today as a special equestrian niche, which is overlooked by the International Side Saddle Organization. Sidesaddle is found in a number of disciplines in contemporary equestrianism; dressage, eventing, show jumping, western pleasure, hunting and seat-style English pleasure. Furthermore, sidesaddle is suitable for people with disabilities, who find this type of riding more comfortable than riding astride, and for people who have lost a part of their leg. The sidesaddle is also used in equine therapy because the design of the saddle provides extra security for some types of riders.

Side saddle is mainly a female sport even today. Nevertheless, there are a few male sidesaddle riders as well. But this is not always for fun, but rather for survival purposes. During World War I, on the Macedonian Front in Salonica, Greek soldiers used to ride sideways in heavy wooden packsaddles, very different to the English and Western ones. During World War II, soldiers galloped sidesaddle to lay field telephone lines from cable-drums that were loaded on the back of the horse.

Regarding equipment, although there are manufacturers today who make sidesaddles, the relevant market is too small and new sidesaddles are too expensive. As a result, many riders turn to attics, antique shops, estate sales and barn lofts, hoping to find an old saddle that not only fits perfectly to both their body and the horse’s back but also is in good condition.

Sidesaddle riding has a special technique as well. The rider’s posture, including the position of the legs and arms, shoulders and hips,  needs to be square and her spine aligned with the spine of the horse. Both reins must be held evenly both in length and tension. Only one stirrup is used in sidesaddle and it is placed higher than the stirrup of astride riding. Normally the right leg will control the horse while the left one is kept down, to maintain proper balance, accurate contact with the equine and correct position in the stirrup. Additionally, sidesaddle riders will use a spur and a whip as riding aids. The whip is held on the right side, to replace the right leg and its length is normally between 2 and 4 feet.

Below there’s a video of Stardust, one of Queen Elizabeth’s horses, who took part in her diamond jubilee celebration. Mr. Katie Jerram shows us on Stardust the technique of riding sidesaddle.

And here are some pictures:


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