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 Рeven 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 derri̬re!
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…

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