Ladies have ridden horses side-saddle for centuries the art is depicted in early editions of The Canterbury Tales, while a recent find in the Isle of Man suggests that it was already practised before 1000 AD. For many centuries, side-saddle was considered the only way for a lady to proceed 'properly' on horseback. The 1920's were its heyday in Britain, with the emphasis as much on elegance, style and 'propriety' as on technique, horsemanship and courage.
Ladies were not alone in practising the art: their grooms rode side-saddle to train and keep their ladies' horses fit. It became fashionable for ladies to follow hounds, not merely as interested spectators out for a good gossip, but as active participants. One of its pioneers was HIM The Empress of Austria, who rode regularly with the Pytchley Hunt in England. By her daring example she helped set the pace in saddle design, by demanding the same, or indeed greater, durability and security for the side-saddle rider, whether hacking in a London park or keeping up with hounds.
The art was, of course, practised in many other countries of the world too, though the British hunting field was considered the most fashionable and socially attractive for ladies of the era to practice the art. The deliberately low-key style of dress was designed to combine protection from the cold with elegance without garishness. For many ladies it was worth coming from abroad to hunt with the famous and the rich. World War II led to shortages of clothing materials, of trained saddlers and other staff, and the emergence of a not-so-affluent society. With a few hard -core exceptions, side-saddles, habits, veils and silk hats remained in the attics where they had lain throughout the War. Many who might have inherited them from previous generations now chose to ride astride. Some could see no further use for them, and destroyed them.
Yet equestrian sports were becoming a growth leisure pastime, especially among ladies who now found themselves able to compete with men on equal terms. Riding caps, boots and breeches had apparently taken over. Nevertheless, riders and spectators alike missed the beauty and elegance which had contributed to the pre-war equestrian scene, in and out of the hunting-field. But rarely was a horse seen ridden side-saddle. Conscious that the side-saddle rider was becoming extinct, in 1974 Valerie Francis and Janet Macdonald formed the Ladies' Side Saddle Association now The Side Saddle Association in Great Britain to regenerate a skill and an art that many wished to preserve and foster. Hundreds of well-preserved side-saddles and habits have now come back out of storage, and shows all around the country now run qualifying classes for the largest side-saddle show in the world.
This information was kindly provided by The Side Saddle Association (SSA)
For more Side Saddle information and international links please visit the SSA - click here