Side saddle riding dates back thousands of years, with the first images being seen on Ancient Greek vases. The type of side saddle that’s used today dates all the way back to the 1830s, and gives you the security in the saddle to be able to gallop and jump.
At the time, it was thought improper for women to ride astride, and the long dresses and skirts they wore meant that it was easier to ride aside. Although times have changed, side saddle riding still takes place, often in the show ring and sometimes even on the hunting field!
Did you know?
In 2013, Irish rider Susan Oakes set a new side saddle high jump world record – clearing a whopping 2.03m on her horse, SIEC Atlas!
Unlike a normal saddle, there are two pommels on a side saddle. Your right leg goes over the top pommel and hangs down, while your left leg sits under the second pommel, and a stirrup is used as normal on this side.
Your legs should stay relaxed and soft on the saddle, but if you get into a sticky situation, you can grip the two pommels for extra security!
Did you know?
A traditional side saddle is, on average, around 6kg heavier than a normal saddle.
On the straight and narrow
Despite the name, when riding side saddle, your body should be completely straight. From behind, it should look the same as if you were riding astride from the waist up. Any twisting in your body, hands or legs can put extra pressure on one side of your pony – this is one of the first things judges look for in a showing class.
Riders often wear a spur on their left leg and always hold a whip in their right hand to work as the leg aid.
Did you know?
Modern side saddles are difficult to come by, and expensive. Most riders use old side saddles, but these often need a lot of work to make sure they fit both horse and rider.
What to wear
The traditional clothes worn by a side saddle rider are known as a habit, made up of a jacket and a matching apron. The apron is an open-back skirt that covers the legs, allowing jodhpurs to be worn underneath. When riders dismount, the apron can be wrapped behind their legs and buttoned up to look like a skirt.
There are loads of different types of showing classes dedicated to side saddle riders. These include equitation classes where the rider is judged, concours d’élégance classes where the overall picture of horse and rider is judged, and normal type classes such as mountain and moorland, working hunter and coloureds. There are even dressage and showjumping classes!
For those who like a real challenge, some side saddle riders even take up steeplechase races and team chasing, where riders gallop miles across country, jumping huge hedges and natural fences!