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.