by RSE Guest Blogger: Nadya Brown, BHSAI IIT SMIV SSA A Instructor and Judge
Hello my name is Nadya Brown and I am a Vice Chairman of the Side Saddle Association (UK), Side Saddle A Instructor and Judge and examiner. This is my homebred little horse Velvet and I having fun at a show a few years ago.
I first got involved with side saddle in the 1980's when a friend invited me to try it on one of her hunters and so we set sail around a 20 acre field and my love of side saddle was born. I had ridden all my life and loved everything equestrian and had broken and schooled horses, raced on the flat and over hurdles, shown, hunted, show jumped so why not try side saddle.
Well I was really very lucky the saddle fitted the horse to perfection. It also fitted me - two of the most important factors if you take up this way of riding. I also had expert help on the ground so all was well.
A little advice is needed because the saddle is not so straight forward. It has two pommels, a fixed head and a leaping head, the higher one of the two being the fixed head, around which you place your right knee if riding on the left. Most saddles popularly are left hand side saddles but right hand ones are available if you search. This month I want to explain how to prepare your horse's back for a side saddle and how it fits the horse.
"I had ridden all my life and loved everything equestrian..."
Prepare your horse for a side saddle
You cannot simply plonk a side saddle on and hope for the best if you care for your horse/pony.
- the side saddle will sit further back than an astride version, and weighs at least 6kg heavier;
- basically the weight bearing surface sits on the back muscles behind the normal position of a cross saddle, and across behind the wither;
- if the saddle sat any further forward, it would ride on the withers, causing bruising and in some cases continuous rubbing comes up in a large fistulous swelling on the opposite side of the wither to the leaping head.
The saddle needs to be balanced and fit both rider and horse. This fitting ideally requires you to have the assistance of a good SSA instructor and a saddler specialising in side saddles, together. The rider will also need to spend time getting muscles fit which are not normally used astride.
Today, owing to costs and skill, there are very few new side saddles and so we ride on the original antique saddles and they need to be handled with care, as they were built on a wooden tree. The side saddle tree was made to fit the horse and the two pommels (the leaping head, fixed head) and seat were custom made to fit the rider.
The saddles mainly had flocked panels underneath, lined in linen or serge. However there was also Wykham pads which strapped onto the tree skeleton and fitted more horses. A Wykham is a lot easier to fit to a round cob. I always advise the use of a good numnah (saddlepad) that fits your make of side saddle and never remove the saddle patch when clipping.
To prepare the horse's back for a side saddle is really quite simple: grooming and schooling. Years ago horses were very fit and grooms spent time "strapping" the horses daily.
So taking 10 minutes daily before you ride, using either your hands, body brush or dandy brush (only if thick coated) following the lie of the coat with long strokes in time with the movement of the muscles, works wonders.
Start from the neck and withers, taking care not to apply pressure over the loins as that is the weakest point.
When first riding it helps to ride one day astride and one day side saddle. This schedule allows you to regularly check for any heat, rubs or soreness especially near to the wither and back area by running your hands over the horse's body when you take the saddle off.
- build up the exercise time slowly from 20-30 minutes and if he is sharp, do two short sessions if you have time
- hill and pole work help to supple and strengthen the muscles of the shoulders.
"(the benefits of the side saddle) for disabled riders should never be overlooked, and they so much improve the average rider's astride position and balance when correctly used."
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Who is Nadya Brown, BHSAI IIT SMIV SSA A Instructor & Judge?
I am lucky that I have had the pleasure to ride and care for horses all of my life, they give you so much in return, with a broad spectrum from pony club, hunting, showing - hacks, riding horses, hunters, dressage, race riding flat and hurdle, and the odd bit of show jumping. so I naturally took to teaching - BHS AI, Intermediate Teaching and Stage IV Stable Manager/training horses and riders for competition and exams. My interest in side saddle was sparked when I went to work for Betty Skelton [Harroway House] in 1970’s and discovered that they were used for real riding and not just breaking bucking horses and designated to the attic. Their benefits for disabled riders should never be overlooked and they so much improve the average riders astride position and balance when correctly used. I joined the Ladies Side Saddle Association in the early 1980’s and took my side saddle teaching exam in front of two wonderful knowledgeable gentlemen, I was quite terrified as they sat there in their bowler hats studying my every move/word closely, however all was good. Today I teach, judge and examine and talk on side saddle whenever asked and enjoy every minute, especially the 4 year old lead rein rider on a first lesson. So why not join me this year and help preserve the art of graceful riding for the riders of tomorrow.
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