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!