After the final dive in Monterey we went to have a celebratory drink with D's dive partner, B, and one of the instructors. We ordered something to eat but B declined, saying she had "eaten enough cookies earlier to kill a horse". Of course, I couldn't let this go so I replied that it would take an awful lot of cookies to accomplish that, my horse seems to have the ability to put away countless cookies at one sitting. She asked what kind of horse I had. "She's a thoroughbred", I said. She got this look on her face that told me she thought that meant "purebred", so I set her straight on that point. Then she asked what kind of riding I did, Western or English. When I told her English, her got another puzzled look on her face and blurted out, "Who DOES that anymore?"
OK, now I'm confused. Her questions seem intelligent but she has no idea what she is talking about. I glance at D for some help and tell her it's quite popular, actually, especially in the part of the Bay Area where we live. The instructor asks what the difference is. She gives him a pat on the arm as if to say, boy are you dumb, and says with great confidence, "Both legs on one side, silly!"
We couldn't help it, D and I burst out laughing. M says in self-defense, no, that's sidesaddle, and we proceed to explain the difference (ever watched the Olympics?).
I felt a little bad for her, but she dug her own hole. As much of a beginner as I was when I started taking lessons last summer, even I knew more than she did. That's been one of the most surprising things to me, how little the average person knows about horses, or the things they think they know that are flat out wrong. I'm guilty as anyone else, I thought palomino was a breed and not a color, I had no earthly idea what a martingale or a surcingle were and didn't have a clue what the lifespan of a horse is. I have a client who is in his 40s who told me he's never seen a horse in person. How is that even possible? I guess if you lived your entire life in the city...that made me sad.
Anyway, when she said "sidesaddle" it conjured up all kinds of images in my head so I had to do some research and learn a little bit about it. Turns out there is a thriving sidesaddle community, both national and international and there are sidesaddle classes at many elite horse shows. (I've seen it with and without the space in between the two words, I'm not sure which one is correct.)
The image that popped in my head initially was of a woman dressed like this, performing at a renaissance fair.
I found many wonderful paintings and woodcuts of women riding side saddle, here's one of Jane Austen.
Our good friends at Wikipedia tell us that..."In Europe, the sidesaddle developed in part because cultural norms for the upper social classes dictated that it was unbecoming for a woman of apparent wealth or high social status to straddle a horse while riding. The practice was reinforced by folk beliefs suggesting that riding astride could destroy a girl's virginity, impair her ability to bear children, or provide a lady with an unnatural sexual stimulation. [Well, goodness we can't have that!] Riding sidesaddle was also practical, since long dresses were the required fashion. The earliest functional "sidesaddle" was credited to Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394). [I wonder if she was considered a Bohemian for doing this?] It was a chair- like affair where the woman sat sideways on the horse with her feet on a small footrest. The design made it difficult for a woman to both stay on and use the reins to control the horse, so the animal was usually led by another rider, usually male, and sitting astride. [A good way to keep a wandering woman under control.]
In the 1830s Jules Pellier invented a sidesaddle design with a second, lower pommel to the sidesaddle. In this design, still in use today, one pommel is nearly vertical, mounted approximately 10 degrees left of top dead center and curved gently to the right and up. The rider’s right leg goes around the top, or fixed pommel, which supports the right thigh of the rider when it is lying across the top center of the saddle. The lower right leg rests along the shoulder of the left (near) side of the horse and up against the second pommel (called the leaping head or leaping horn.) lies below the first on the left of the saddle. It is mounted about 20 degrees off the top of the saddle. This pommel is curved gently downward in order to curve over the top of the rider's left thigh, and is attached in a manner so that it could pivot slightly, to adjust to the individual rider. The rider places her left leg beneath this pommel, with the top of the thigh close or lightly touching it, and places her left foot in a single stirrup on that side.
Although that description is wonderful, I still couldn't really grasp what the saddle looked like until I saw this picture. Looks entirely too precarious to me. I have a hard enough time staying on riding "astride".
Then I read on and discovered that people actually JUMP OVER THINGS while riding sidesaddle, they even do cross country eventing. My velvet hat is off to these folks.
I would love to ride in a classic outfit like this some day though, I've always loved the look of formal riding attire.
I absolutely adore this replica Edwardian outfit -- gentile, feminine, classy -- can you see me riding Mystere dressed like this?
Speaking of Miss China, she's finally sound and we've been working hard. That's one of my many nicknames for her, created the day Willow asked her, "Are we going to have to bubble wrap you?" (to keep you from another mishap). I rode her last weekend, then twice during the week, and will be taking another lesson on her tomorrow afternoon. I am still giddy at the idea of riding my own horse.