Riding Aside - In Costume

Pirates Side Saddle
One of the things I wanted to do when riding side saddle was to compete in the classes dedicated to historical costume. After all, I love riding and I love dressing up! Searching through e-bay in early 2010 I found a costume which immediately caught my attention. It was green velvet and made in the military style of the King's Rifles - fans of the TV series Sharpe (and Bernard Cornwell's books) will instantly know what I mean.

The King's Rifles became well known during the Napoleonic wars. Muskets were the usual firearm, but the rifle had just been invented - it was, to put it mildly, in the right hands a lethal, accurate weapon (unlike the musket which was highly inaccurate)

Later, the Kings Rifles became the King's Royal Rifles Corps - The KRRC.  My grandad was in this regiment, so being a Sharpe fan, falling for that rich green velvet colour and my family connection - I had to get the costume.
It fitted well, although I had the jacket altered a bit snugger around the shoulders, to stop it bunching up. When I compete I also wear my Granddad's regimental badge - I think he would have been proud of me.
The costume is not historically accurate - but the classes I compete in are all about elegance, not accuracy. I describe it as "Imagine the wife of a King's Rifles' Officer tagging along with the army through Portugal. She would, perhaps, adopt the unique "Green Jackets" style, but adapt it for something more feminine and elegant."
I took the championship Concours d'elegance historical costume class at the Side Saddle Association National Show in 2014. A very proud moment!

Another costume is a Colonial mid 1700's gown. 
It is a Blue and White Vintage fabric, drop front, laced and boned cut to a pattern of circa 1760/80. The pattern is of stylized tulips and other flowers - perfect for the period of the American Colonies which were heavily influenced by Dutch design. The hat is of genuine Colonial style - and actually comes from Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia USA.
The Kerchief is a simple lawn style, with blue ribbon for lacing the "stomacher" (the front part of the gown)
The lace on the sleeves and for the hat is called needle or tatted lace and is of an open type lacework which gives a delicacy to compliment the gown, and is in character with the period. Lace, in the 1700's was a highly prized commodity and was one of the items often smuggled as contraband.
The gloves are genuine Victorian hand crotched lace. Although of a later period, the style did not change all that much, so they are perfectly in keeping. I find it exhilarating to actually be wearing something that was hand made well over 100 years ago!

Underneath I wear Victorian style ankle-length bloomers and a Victorian style white cotton petticoat. My boots are black leather lace-up riding boots.

The Royal International Horse Show

Another costume is a genuine late Victorian travel Habit circa 1889. It is a beautiful blue velvet with impressive 'leg-o-mutton' sleeves. I'm not sure, though, whether it is English or from Philadelphia in the United States of America. There are more photos of this costume on the side-bar >

And then there is my cream silk French Outfit....

Side saddle can also be fun 
- especially the Fancy Dress Class!

Click here for a (not very good)
Video Clip
of the show

Scroll down for my diary on learning 
to ride side saddle!
And browse the menu bar at the top!

Riding Aside - Learning to ride side saddle - Part One

The following six articles
were published as a diary in
Hooked On Horses Magazine
from 2009-2010

When my horse, Elswyth (stable name Izzy) injured her hock I decided to give up show jumping and learn a new discipline. Side saddle. A few people said I was barking mad, others muttered it would not be safe, and a couple confessed they had never even seen a side saddle. I have developed a love of history and historical re-enactments from my writer Mum, so the anticipation of donning a habit and re-creating a riding style from a bygone era was irresistible. And I have always enjoyed a challenge.
First step. Find someone to teach me. I am dyslexic, even as an adult reading and writing are still a problem (Mum is helping me write this.) Starting lessons with a new coach is always apprehensive for me. You’d be surprised at how many trainers become impatient when clients cannot remember left from right or a string of instructions.
Mum telephoned the Side Saddle Association for a list of local trainers and found Jo. A lovely lady who rides side saddle and knows her stuff. That was one of the first things I learnt: when you ride ‘aside’ you are not a ‘woman’ but a ‘lady’. A gentleman should always approach from the off-side, and of course helps the lady mount and dismount.
There is a lot of traditional etiquette involved in side saddle.
I had bought a saddle from e-bay but on closer inspection from Jo it slipped a little – it was a foreign make and she advised me to sell it and buy an English saddle instead. I found a beautiful Champion and Wilton made around 1920–30. It has a “saddler to the King” metal plate on it. The quality is superb, but as I have now learnt, get an expert to help you fit any saddle.
Izzy took to it straight away, in fact she went better than when I rode her astride – even leg yielding when I asked! It felt a little strange riding with both legs on one side, but all the things I had thought would be uncomfortable were fine. I felt perfectly balanced, there was no sensation of toppling sideways, and using my schooling whip as a substitute for my leg I had no problem making the aids on the near side. The trot is a sitting trot, Izzy has an nice even pace so no problem there, though a short choppy stride could be hard on la derrière!
As with astride, it is important to sit straight and square and not have one hip or shoulder sagging to the side. Hooked around the top of the two pommels the muscles along my right thigh ached after a while, and it was strange having to hold my hands slightly higher and wider than I was used to, but I was perfectly safe and secure. Within ten minutes of my first lesson I knew I was going to love riding aside; by the third I was cantering, and I ventured a small jump on the fourth. Another week and I was ready to buy myself a habit and attempt some adventures: to hack out side saddle, ride a dressage test and enter a local show. I had no worries about riding side saddle, but Izzy could occasionally have a mind of her own…

Part Two

Feeling brave I hacked Izzy out a couple of times – riding aside. I stable in Chingford, and ride in Epping Forest. I found hacking side saddle not much different from astride; Izzy still leapt about, pretending goblins and ghosts lurked behind bushes and fallen logs. My one concern was should I take a tumble it is impossible to mount side saddle without a leg-up or a mounting block. The stirrup is designed to come away as soon as weight is put into it, a safety feature. Not that it mattered. Mum insisted that I did not hack out alone “just in case”. And I didn’t part company anyway!
The next adventure was a showing show at Longwood E.C., Basildon. I entered the Riding Club Horse and the Ridden Coloureds. I’m not going to say much because it was an embarrassing disaster. Izzy never was one for behaving herself at shows. If there was a prize for Naughtiest Horse or Most Talented Bucker I would have dozens of red rosettes. Suffice to say we were beautifully turned out, her plaits were not gold balls for once, and I looked and felt elegant. However, I can now categorically state that it is perfectly possible to sit a series of leaping bucks while aside. Although I would rather not have proven this in the middle of a showing class.
A few weeks later we tried a different tactic. Dressage at Harold’s Park Farm. Now Izzy is not a dressage horse – I used to show jump her and she’s the type of horse who hated going slow when fast was better. I practised the test at home and under the watchful eye of Jo, my side-saddle trainer. “Sit up, you keep looking down and that’s rounding your shoulders. Good. Now, left leg back a little, Kathy. Trot – lovely!”

Izzy had impulsion, rhythm, balance. Good transitions, was bending into the corners. A nice walk on a loose rein, near perfect straight line from A to X. Great. Couldn’t you just scream when they are perfect at home and utter demon’s as soon as the judge’s bell goes “ting”? Suffice to say it is not a good when your horse bucks during a dressage test. Still, we obviously entertained the judge for I had an amusing comment on my sheet. “Elegantly ridden. The half pass across the arena was beautifully executed. A pity it was not included in this test.”
My only saving grace; we were not last. Someone else was eliminated. We were second to last. Oh well, that’s horses for you. I was determined not to give up, though; maybe I could try jumping side saddle?
December. Izzy went lame again. She had been unsound earlier in the year, which is why I had given up show jumping, but that had been a hock injury, this was in her off-hind foot. I called the vet and it seemed Izzy possibly had an abscess deep beneath the frog. I applied a poultice, rested her, led her out to graze. Christian, my farrier took off the shoe but couldn’t find anything obvious, so I arranged a trip to Oak Equine in Ongar. Mum was laid up in bed with a leg injury and could hardly move. My Nan was gravely ill in hospital (she passed away on Christmas morning) Things were bad and became worse. I thought the X-rays would reveal something wrong with the pedal bone. What none of us had expected was the awful truth. The tendon had somehow been scraping against the navicular bone and had literally been wearing it away, rubbing across it like a cheese grater. The damage was so bad there was nothing left to repair. I had no choice. Izzy, eight years old, was put down on December 10th 2009. One of the saddest days of my life.

Part Three

Ace - a few days after I had bought him (31st December 2009)

and at the end of February 2010 - see how he's filled out & muscled up!

December 2009

The run-up to Christmas was a gloomy time for us. I’d lost Izzy, my Mum was laid up in bed with a leg injury and my 91 year old grandmother was in hospital. Life went on, however. It had to with two other horses to look after. Rosie is a dun Welsh section C, rising 21 (behaves like a 2 year old) and Lexie – full name Shinglehall Casino, was almost 2 – behaving like a 21 year old regarding manners and sense! Lexie was bred locally near Epping by Karen Phillips; Shinglehall Senator is her sire. I bought her as a young foal with the main intention of eventually competing her under side saddle; the more she grows (16.2 already!) the more I am certain she will look magnificent as a lady’s hunter. Watch this space for the RIHS, Windsor, HOYS and the Side Saddle Association results circa 2013/14.

While Lexie is lovely, I needed a horse to ride, so the hunt was on to find one.

Mum was stuck in bed but she could still use the telephone, so while I did the search through Horse & Hound she did the “Hello, I believe you have a horse for sale?” routine.

I found a nice looking 13 y.o. 16.2. grey. Mum phoned – not too far away, close to Patchetts near Watford.

Another problem. Snow – the bets were on for a white Christmas. Fortunately, the roads were clear, so Dad and I went to see Split the Aces. I liked him. I bought him – subject to vetting.

On Christmas Eve Mum was finally able to get out of bed, albeit with the aid of crutches. She went to see Nan in hospital in the afternoon but Nan passed away in the early hours of Christmas morning, so our day was not very cheerful. A sad end to a bad month. We were, I have to say, glad to see the back of December.

January 2010

The snow eased between Christmas and New Year, Ace passed his vetting, so again Dad and I went to Watford, this time with the horsebox.

The one thing I hadn’t tried was the side saddle. I had intended to go back and ride Ace again before finalising the deal, the second time with the side saddle, but the weather had been so appalling, and what with funerals and such to arrange, I did not have chance.

I let Ace settle in for a few days, then Mum groaned her way into the car and hobbled across the yard to the ménage while I saddled Ace for the first time in my nice Champion and Wilton Saddle – which fitted him fine. I mounted from the mounting block and put him through his paces. I believe ‘like a duck to water’ is the expression. He was a little uncertain for the first ten minutes, but riding aside is not all that different to astride. The leg aids on the off side are indicated by a long riding cane or schooling whip. Trot, canter, both were fine. He was willing and I think, enjoying himself, we even popped over a small jump.

All I had to do was to get some muscle tone on my new boy, as he had very little top line: no good for the show ring.

Problem. Remember all that snow just after Christmas? The frost, the ice? How it lingered and lingered. For weeks the ménage was frozen, as were the Forest paths. For a few days the horses had to stay in, it was impossible to get them to the fields. Bang went my planned fitness regime. January had turned to February by the time I could start riding properly, astride and aside.


At last. The thaw. Jo came to give me a lesson. immediately liked Ace and could see why I had bought him. We had a good lesson. I have two faults. One I keep looking down which then rounds my shoulders and spoils my position and I ride short. I always have done, possibly because I have one leg shorter than the other.

Jo convinced me to have a go at a local show, so the end of February saw me at Brooke Farm, Stapleford Abbotts, riding aside in the Riding Horse Class. It turned out to be a most eventful day!

Part Four

With the winter snows gone I decided to enter Ace in a Riding Horse class at Brooke Farm, Stapleford Abbotts. Mum was still hobbling around on crutches and it turned out to be a cold, wet day. Dad parked the horsebox and I started getting tacked up. I had owned Ace for about two months but had done little with him because of the icy conditions and I had no idea how he was going to behave in an indoor school in a showing class under side saddle. It ran through my mind that perhaps I was completely bonkers.
On the last occasion when I had ridden aside in a showing class, Izzy had played me up Big Time. The only achievement had been to prove that I could sit a series of bucks while mounted aside. I miss Izzy dreadfully but she never did behave herself in public.
Getting ready took me longer than I had planned. Side saddles have three girths; the main girth, balance strap and the over-girth. The stirrup is attached separately as it does not “run up” and detaches easily as a safety measure. Then the double bridle with a curb chain to secure and my own clothes to sort out.
Side saddle attire is all about elegance. The modern habit consists of a skirt, called an apron, which goes on over jodhs or breeches; a yellow or checked waistcoat showing slightly beneath the cut-away, well fitted jacket; gloves, cream or brown never black. A tie should be worn with a bowler, a stock with a topper (correctly called a ‘silk’ hat)
I used the horsebox steps as a mounting block and realised that because I was wearing a bowler, for the first time ever I was without a hard hat. Obviously it was a correct safety bowler, but it was a little unnerving to be different. When I came off once – I still can’t remember details - the half-inch deep dent could so easily have been damage to my head had I not been wearing a hat.
A bowler is worn riding aside unless in the presence of royalty or after midday, when it is in order to don a silk hat – unless you are wearing a tweed habit. By the way, a side saddle silk hat is slightly taller than those used for dressage.
I had managed to secure my hair in a bun, that in itself was not easy as my hair is long and fine, but half a can of hairspray helped keep the wisps under control, and I had also worked out how to secure the veil over my face. I brushed off a few last minute horse hairs: a grey horse and a blue woollen habit are not a good mix I have discovered.
Into the ring we went.
There were quite a few in the class. Ace worked well through the paces on both reins, although he was carrying his head too high and tossing it about. (More schooling needed.) We were pulled in 5th, I think.

Over to Mum seated in the gallery:
Kathy looked elegant and confident as I sat watching (having dropped my crutches twice and feeling wretched at not being able to do more to help.) Considering Ace had no top line when Kathy had bought him and still needed more muscle-tone, he was looking good and behaving well.
“Any minute now,” I thought, “he’ll do an Izzy and buck.” He didn’t. He behaved like a perfect gentleman.
Kathy was called into line and everyone dismounted; I assumed to strip off saddles. How was Kathy going to mount again? Side saddle needs a leg up! I hobbled down to the front of the gallery with a vague intention of wondering whether I could manage to walk across the arena on crutches. As usual, for me, I started talking to a lady who was taking photographs. Writing is a solitary occupation and I therefore talk to anybody and everybody. I voiced my worry about Kathy mounting and she very kindly offered to nip in and boost her up if necessary. But then to my embarrassment and feeling of doom I realised the judge was intending to ride each horse. Of course! This was a Riding Horse class, how stupid - we had not taken along an ordinary saddle!
I was mortified but couldn’t get into the ring to confer with Kathy. I should have known she had already sorted the situation though; the judge knew how to ride aside. Phew!
Lesson learnt, however. If there is a possibility that a judge will ride – take an ordinary saddle with you. We’ll not make that mistake again!
Kathy came fourth and I had a good chat with the photographer about the pleasure of learning to ride aside. Who was she? None other than Abbey Wass editor of Hooked On Horses.
Which is how and why the writing of this diary came about!

Part Five of Kathy’s Riding Aside Diary next month: Kathy enjoys a Side Saddle Association Training Day and enters her first side saddle historical costume class.

Part Five

April 2010

I thought it was about time I started doing some serious side saddle riding, and I needed to get to know other people who were interested in riding aside. The Side Saddle Association's Training Day seemed an ideal opportunity for both.

I had joined the S.S.A. at the outset for I always think it is best to support a riding discipline that takes your interest. The S.S.A. produces a members' handbook which has details of all the areas, rules, guidelines for affiliated classes at various shows, a show diary and general information.

The training day was to be held at Wix E.C. in north Essex, which is rather a trek for us and we arrived with not long to spare before I was due for the first half of my lesson.
A bit of panic to get ready as Mum can't help much, what with her dodgy hip and blurred sight because of a cataract (she'd never trot up sound for a vetting!) I managed to get into the arena by the skin of my teeth.

The first thing the instructor said was that my leg was not straight and the stirrup was not long enough, so he put it down two holes. This was OK but I then felt insecure and off-balance as I am used to riding short for showjumping. I have never been comfortable riding long. Maybe this is why I don't get on with dressage? I personally believe that the length of stirrup is a matter of preference depending on comfort for the rider, although in aside equitation classes, as with dressage, a judge likes to see a long leg and in the case of side saddle the heel well below the habit. Ace and I produced a nice canter, however,which the instructor was pleased with. I wish I could remember who he was; I'm so hopeless with names.

During the break I found a kind lady who showed me how I should fix my hair into a bun correctly. Tip: get loads of hair clips, two bun nets and several gallons of hair gel!

The second half of the lesson concentrated on transitions especially from trot to halt without losing balance or impulsion. I am lucky as I have a horse that moves well off the leg, I also like my horses to go nicely from walk to canter (even halt to canter) another legacy from my showjumping days - very useful for jump-off against the clock.

It is essential to ensure that riding side saddle you make full use of the cane on the off-side. This is used instead of the leg aid, not to smack but as a gentle "tap" where the heel would be. To turn to the right the cane will come back behind the girth (as your leg would) and the right foot, which is hooked round the fixed head on the near side, will put pressure onto the shoulder. Combined together this will push the horse round.To turn left, the cane goes forward onto the right shoulder, and your left leg acts as usual when riding astride.
Ace is quite responsive so I get a pleasant ride, and leg yielding, half passes etc are no problem.

A week later I was at a S.S.A. area 4 horse show near St Albans in Hertfordshire. Great fun - what a fantastic day we had. I entered the Novice Equitation class first, and the judge made no comment on my shorter length of stirrup which I had put back to where I preferred. To my embarrassment, I have no idea how I managed to put the balance strap on the top of the over girth - which of course, should go on top, hence it being called the 'over' girth! Maybe if I had not messed that up I would have come second not third, but a yellow rosette was quite acceptable.

Then the class which I really want to do as a side saddle rider - the costume concours d'elegance. This is not fancy dress, it is a historical costume class judged on elegance. The judges like a small paragraph describing the outfit - my costume was based on the King's Royal Rifle Corps (most of you who liked the TV drama series Sharpe will know exactly what I mean) My granddad had been in the K.R.R.C. so I was doubly proud to be reproducing a versionof the uniform. The judge was impressed, but the jacket was bunching up slightly between my shoulder blades which spoilt the elegant line when viewed from the rear, so I only got a fourth place. This will be remedied; we found a seamstress who is altering it to fit.

So my next adventure will be going all the way to the top - the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead for this same class; and a week after that, the National Side Saddle Association's own show at Addington Manor, Buckinghamshire.

Wish me luck!

Part Six

July – August 2010

July found us in a traffic jam at the Dartford Crossing. The journey to the All England Show jumping Course, Hickstead for the Royal International Horse Show is usually no problem. Road works and an accident delayed us for over an hour.

Ace had his own “accident” in the back of the horse box. As we were going to be staying overnight I had all the essential equipment; mucking out tools, his feed and a bale of hay – which toppled over, split open and scattered all round his feet. Ace is such a baby: “Monster! Dragon! Get it off!” Stamp, snort, kick. So there I was hanging on to a partition raking cuts of hay from under his feet with the handle of my mum’s walking stick! Fortunately we were only doing 5 m.p.h.

I’ve jumped at Hickstead since I was 15 but this was my first top level aside class - the Costume Concours d’elegance, wearing my green velvet Kings Royal Rifles outfit. We were assigned a stable and I settled Ace in.

There is a wooden bridge from the stables to the show ground. After dinner, I rode Ace down to the exercise area. He did not like the bridge. I tried convincing him there were no trolls lurking underneath, but he did not believe me. Fortunately, a security guard came to my aid and led him over.

As everything was quiet I rode him to River Lawn where we would be competing the next day. He eyed a dried-up muddy patch, then shied at a leaf. Sigh.

Up early Sunday morning. Showing and greys are not a good combination. Mum and I had been giggling the night before because I used one of those stretch cover-alls for him. Mum called it his baby-gro batman outfit. Needless to say all the bits that weren’t covered were filthy. Just as well they have facilities for washing horses at Hickstead!

There were about 20 ladies in the class, all looking very elegant and beautiful. Ace behaved himself as we walked, trotted and cantered under the gaze of the judge, then we lined up ready for our individual show. Problem. It was a hot day, River Lawn is called that because it runs beside the river. Rivers = flies. Ace hates flies.

He was fidgeting and fussing, gave a half rear, kicked out. He did a superb individual show, but I was not called out to join the ten who would go forward for final judging. I was terribly disappointed but in the collecting arena the judge apologised and said she would have placed me but couldn’t because Ace had been kicking out. She said how fabulous my costume was, and then told me I probably would have been in the top three. I didn’t know whether to smile or cry! I opted for smiling, and on thinking about it realised that getting a rosette wasn’t everything. The judge had liked me, Ace had done well, so I was content. Shame about the possible prize money though.

One exciting thing finished the shoe nicely; Mum and I bumped into Martin Clunes of Doc Martin fame. He is President of the R.I.H.S. for the next three years. Lovely man!

The following week we were at Addington Manor, Buckinghamshire for the National Side Saddle Show. What a fabulous event!

I entered the historical costume class but made a mess of it. Opting for something Medieval in theme my costume was nowhere near good enough. Still, it was an experience. In the evening we watched the Pas Seul: dressage to music, in costume. I’m doing this next year - good fun!

A quite night despite rain drumming on the horsebox roof. Mum got up early and fed Ace, then all hands on deck to prepare for the same class as the R.I.H.S. Only there were more entrants and the standard was very high. I felt nervous as I rode into the arena. Please, no flies! There was a wasp instead. Ace was getting agitated but the steward called me forward for my individual; phew, crises averted. Ace performed well, bless him. When you think, I had bought him just after Christmas, he had no muscle tone and went with his head stuck in the air. Now, here I was riding aside with him going in a beautiful, relaxed outline. I halted, saluted, and went back into line. I didn’t care about a place. We both looked nice, Ace had gone well and we had enjoyed ourselves at a quality show where top aside riders competed. That’ll do.

I’ve enjoyed writing this diary, but there’s not much more I can say. I will continue riding aside, learning more as I go along and I will be back at the R.I.H.S. with gallons of fly repellent, and the S.S.A. show next year. Photographs of my costume and Ace are on my blog, or if you want to chat I’m at Brook Farm T.C. most Tuesday evenings helping with course building.

I hope some of you will be encouraged through my diary to have a go at side saddle – it is not as hard as you think! So, farewell and happy riding aside!
Oh, how did I do at Addington Manor in the costume class? I came third. Well done Ace – you’re ace!