Sit to the side – by Jenny Richardson BHSAI

Have you ever fancied trying side saddle? You can read a little more about it elsewhere on this site, in a feature by the Society of Master Saddlers.

According to The Side Saddle Association, horses have been ridden side saddle for centuries, as the side saddle was for a long time considered the only way for a lady to proceed ‘properly’ on horseback. The 1930s were its heyday, with the emphasis as much on elegance and style as on technique, horsemanship and courage. Ladies were not alone in practising the art, as grooms rode side saddle to train and keep their ladies’ horses fit. The 1939 – 45 war meant shortages, and the emergence of a less affluent society.

side-saddle-2Many who might have inherited side saddles and habits from previous generations now chose to ride astride. Plus, as it became socially acceptable for women to ride astride while wearing split skirts in the early part of the 20th century, the side saddle fell out of general use and popularity. However, riders and spectators began to miss the beauty and elegance which side saddle riders had contributed to the pre-war equestrian scene. Today, there’s a growing resurgence in side saddle activities, with many shows across the equestrian calendar – the 39th National Side Saddle Show takes place from 2-4 August at the UK’s Addington Manor Equestrian Centre. Here, hundreds of competitors from all over the United Kingdom take part in a wide variety of classes to suit all riders.

The design

The side saddle as we know it with two pommels was designed in the early 19th century – the fixed, upright pommel curves gently to the right and up; the rider’s right leg goes around it, supporting the right thigh.

The lower right leg rests along the shoulder of the near side of the horse and up against the second pommel, called the leaping head, on the left side of the saddle. This pommel is curved gently downward in order to curve over the top of the rider’s left thigh.

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 horn gives women both increased security and additional freedom of movement when riding side saddle. Unbelievably, the world record in side saddle show jumping is set at 6 ft 6 inches, established in Australia in 1915!

Ladies in historical side saddle attire, in front of Castle Leslie.

Ladies in historical side saddle attire, in front of Castle Leslie.

The riding habits worn by women riding side saddle were introduced in the second half of the 16th century – in 1875, the first safety skirt was introduced and later evolved into the open-sided apron.

Here at Castle Leslie, we are passionate about promoting this elegant past time, and offer guests the chance to have side saddle lessons at the Equestrian Centre; complete with side saddle habits, if you would like! (See picture, left). You can learn the basics on one of our school-master horses, get the feeling of riding in a beautiful side saddle, and have your photo taken in front of the imposing castle.

Why not consider a riding break at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, where Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager?

This venue offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks including side saddle tuition in the heart of Ireland. Visit

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