The History of Side Saddle

By RSE Guest Blogger; Ms. Nadya Brown, Vice Chairman of the UK Side Saddle Association.

In Medieval times, the lady sat on the side of the horse on a Planchette or as a pillion passenger and had no control herself,  of course, this had to change as we ladies do like to be independent.  Elizabeth the 1st hated travelling in a carriage and chose to ride everywhere.  She hunted with hawks and so she helped saddles to progress a bit, but we still fell off.  It was a problem as fashionable long dresses were not suitable to ride astride and it was considered unladylike to ride astride. The insecure design of the early sidesaddle contributed to the popularity of the Palfrey, a smaller horse with smooth ambling gaits, as a suitable mount for women. 

It only took another 300 years before we ladies could enjoy side saddle.

In the 1830s, Jules Pellier invented a sidesaddle design with a second, lower pommel called a leaping head to the sidesaddle. The rider’s right leg goes around the upright, or fixed pommel, which supports the right knee of the rider where it crosses the top center of the saddle. The lower right leg rests down the shoulder of the left (near) side of the horse.  the second pommel (called the leaping head ] which lies below the first on the left 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 can 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.


The additional head gave women both increased security and additional freedom of movement when riding sidesaddle, which allowed them to sit forwards,  stay on at a gallop and even to jump. With this design, nearly all recreational equestrian pursuits were opened to women, yet they could also conform to expectations of modesty. For example, a world record in sidesaddle show jumping was set at 6 ft, 6 inches at a horse show in Sydney, Australia in 1915 [pictured above]. The leaping head was the last major technological innovation for the sidesaddle and remains the core of basic design even for saddles of contemporary manufacture made with modern materials.

During World War II men riding side saddle laid field telephone cable from a cable-drum on the back of a galloping horse.  Farm workmen riding very wide-backed draft horses bareback to or from the fields found it easier to sit sideways than astride.  Nurses rode out onto the battlefields to administer first aid in the world wars.  There are many people with certain types of lower limb injuries who are able to keep riding by going side saddle, either sitting left or right of the saddle.  Today the Riding for the Disabled and riders who have had hip surgery are able to enjoy riding by going side saddle.






Nadya Brown Riding Side Saddle - Red Scarf Equestrian CanadaI 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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