History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

01 December 2006

Aside or Astride

Aside or Astride? When in history did riding sidesaddle become the norm for woman? The sidesaddle has been around a long, long time…ninth century Pict and Celtic women were some of the first documented to ride astride. The Roman-Celtic goddess Epona, the goddess of the horse, is typically depicted riding sidesaddle.

But clearly, equestriannes have ridden astride from ancient times through the Middle Ages, and social customs did not demand a woman ride aside until the late 14th century. A sort of sidesaddle for noblewomen was popularized in England by Anne of Bohemia in 1382. She rode aside, in a padded chair facing to the left, with her feet resting on a platform called a planchet (see image; not a particularly stable way to control a horse).

In the 15th century, Catherine de Medici rode with her shoulders facing forward and her leg hooked over the pommel of the saddle. She is generally credited for popularizing this side saddle style. Again, not a secure way to sit, and soon we see the attachment of the “leaping head” to the saddle. The design of the leaping head is attributed to one of several men who claimed to have come up with the idea in the late 1700’s. My take---a woman probably came up the “leaping head”…her life depended on it.

By the Victorian era, most women of quality would not be seen in public riding any other way than riding aside, although I have seen magazine prints from the late 1800’s advertising riding habits which split up the middle for the “Victorian Amazon” who defied convention and insisted on riding astride.

The sidesaddle hasn’t changed much since beginning of the 19th century. Equestiranne etiquette dictated ladies of quality ride through the 1930’s. Yes, the 1930’s! The sidesaddle is enjoying a resurgence, and the basic design of the leaping had has pretty much remained unchanged.

On my next post, we’ll take a quick look at women’s riding habits, and just “what’s under the skirts.”


Blogger Unknown said...

OOOOooooo, Kathrynn!!! Thanks so much. I've ridden aside, but not since I was a kid. It's great to see someone who KNOWS talk about it.

Can you tell us all a little about how it feels to ride aside? About what's really different from astride? Like how you let the horse know to go when you can't squeeze it with your legs?

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm taking notes. Thanks Kathrynn, I can't wait for your next post. Very good topic.


8:42 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

For the Victorian Amazon? That's classic!

Looking at that picture and diagram and picturing my weak thighs squeezing for my very life. . . it all makes me very queasy.

Pardon the ignorance of this question, but it looks so off-balance. Is the saddle cinched differently or tighter? It just seems inevitable that the whole thing would start sliding toward the side though that can't possibly be the case.

Thanks, Kathrynn!

9:44 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

dKalen, even though I've ridden all my life, I never felt secure enough in a sidesaddle to actually try taking a horse over a jump of any signifant height. I felt okay at walk, and even at a controlled canter, but if a horse wanted to buck, and really act up, I am sure I'd be unseated. Kudos to those women of the past who could fox hunt at a steeple chase pace and not end up in the mud on their bustle (And they did it in all in a corset!).

Old ref books describe horses in the 1700 and 1800's who were specifically trained to be ridden side saddle---eg they responded to a whip on the right side, a light touch! Modern day sidesaddle riders tend use a combination horse, that can "go both ways".

12:42 PM  
Blogger Sandy Blair said...

Loved this post. In the 1990s I was still showing gaited horses and enjoyed watching--and much admired--the women who showed side saddle.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you tell us all a little about how it feels to ride aside? About what's really different from astride? Like how you let the horse know to go when you can't squeeze it with your legs?

Why ride aside? Why wearing high heels?
When I ride aside, I feel like a lady.
The more I ride aside, the more I appreciate the sidesaddle, and actually riding astride starts to become awkward.
The trick is to have a perfectly well fitting, well balanced sidesaddle, if not it becomes an unsafe, uncomfortable, sliding to the left afaire.

Like how you let the horse know to go when you can't squeeze it with your legs?
Actually advanced riders always use much more then only their leg aid, in side saddle your riding is much more focused on seat and weight aids, and you will be amazed (after a small period of fine tuning) how your horse is super sensitive to your seat and weight aids, the communication between you and your horse improves, as well as your horsemanship, and your looks!

gabriella hirschsprung

1:53 PM  

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