Friday, September 7, 2007


As if getting a black belt in Aikido weren't enough of an accomplishment for 2007, last weekend D became a certified advanced scuba diver. The desire to do this was sparked by our planned trip to St. Lucia in December, but it was the worst possible time for me to take the classes, what with working ridiculous hours and being sick the entire month. I'm perfectly fine with snorkeling, frankly, but I may reconsider, I'm not sure about the whole idea yet. I'll post some scuba pictures in another post.

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.


  1. I rode sidesaddle one time years and years ago. It was the most uncomfortable riding position I've to this day ever been in. To get the same feeling, sit in the same position on a round railing or banister. Now imagine that banister is your horse, with all that rolling gate and the 'OHMYGODISTHATALEAFIHAVETOJUMPNOW!!!' moments and you quickly feel the precariousness of it. Fall off backwards and chances are you'll either be dragged or get a broken neck or back. How people jump in the things is beyond me...

  2. I meant 'rolling gait', of course...

  3. That Edwardian outfit it to die for. It's so beautiful.

    I can barely sit astride so sidesaddle looks completely impossible to me. And to jump while doing it!

  4. Sidesaddle has never looked anything but beautiful, not functional. I like the control you get with legging anyway.
    Very interesting that history, though.

  5. Hey, Donna. Beautiful pictures, as usual.

    Thanks for checking in on me.

  6. Sidesaddle classes are always part of the schedule at regular Arabian shows all the way up to the national lever. I am surprised that they haven't introduced it into the Arabian Sport Horse classes yet but you can bet it will happen.

    I have no inclination to show that way but have a couple of horses that would be good side saddle mounts.

    Because both legs are on one side, a horse must be very responsive to a light tap with a crop or rommel on the off side to stay nicely collected.

    I think most the women I know that show in that class do it just so they can wear the period clothes!

    Sometimes they even have men's sidesaddle classes just for a hoot!!

    Glad to hear your horse is sound. And I love the story about the woman tripping over herself! Funny how that happens when we get too sure of ourselves about something we know nothing about.

  7. Loved this post! The pictures are incredible.
    I was just thinking to myself "I wonder if Donna is going to try riding sidesaddle?' when you answered the question. The last time I was on a horse I was in my teens, and the horse took off like the one in "Man from Snowy River!" I did get back up on that horse, and I did go riding again, but Sidesaddle??? I don't think so. It would be fun to wear the clothes.
    I'm really glad to hear that you are riding Missy again, I'm sure she's missed you, too.

  8. Wow, that looks really painful. It is amazing what women will go through to protect their "virtue." Do you think they rode with or without a chastity belt? Ouch!

  9. Thanks for the sidesaddle info... I did not know the "modern" version was invented so comparatively late.
    It gives me some more insight into the riding scenes in Austen's "Mansfield Park."

  10. Interest post and pictures about sidesaddle.
    So glad to hear your mount is sound and you are back riding.

  11. I love English riding, but there's something that's "real" about Western, as well. Over here they only do English, and I always feel insecure in the saddle (mostly because I never practice, maybe?)

    As for sidesadlle, tell D's dive buddy that yes, we ride sidesaddle all the time over here. Makes drinking tea easier.


  12. Back when I used to fox hunt there was a lady (of course she was a lady, not merely a woman) who was riding sidesaddle. I was always amazed. Those were some very wild runs we were on, jumping at speed and tearing through the woods and sometimes swamp. And she stayed on and looked beautiful.

    I remember reading somewhere that a sidesaddle horse gets one-sided from the muscle strain of carrying an uneven load.

    This is probably from the movies, but you can ride sidesaddle in a western saddle by hanging your leg over the horn. Not that you'd want to.

    I would make some kind of snide remark that women were made to ride sidesaddle because women take to riding more naturally than men, but I won't (and a look at the Olympics proves that it's not true, but there aren't lots of men riding around here....)

    Love your blog! Thanks for adding me to your blogroll. Will add you to my blogroll this morning.

    Nice to meet you!

  13. Personally, I feel sidesaddle is more secure, if the rider is positioned correctly.You are not at all 'sideways' but very square facing forward, more like sitting on the couch with your leg crossed, which gives you great grip you don't have astride. And I do agree, it is a Ladies style, exactly what I love about it.

  14. i have ridden sidesaddle and ive got to a canter but not near a jump lol

  15. If you are properly fitted to the saddle, and the saddle to the horse, it is not that uncomfortable at all. I'm a disabled (wheelchair bound, no leg usage) rider, and I love riding aside.
    Too, properly made side saddles are padded asymmetrically underneath to help aleviate any issues w/the legs to the side...and, when sitting properly, you sit square and your weight evenly distributed enough.
    Riding aside on an astride western saddle can cause the horse back also don't have the added security of a leaping horn if you were to jump, etc.
    It's all well worth it. And only in period type classes would you dress in costume...for plain old dressage shows, WP, etc you'd just where an apron over your breeches, jeans (if western), etc.