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Thursday 8 December 2016

Swotting up on the history of Side saddle

Published 02/08/2011 | 05:00

The earliest depictions of women riding on the side of the horse are in Greek sculptures and Celtic stones.

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Medieval images show ladies as passengers, sitting sideways on a horse being led by a man or sat on a padded seat, called a pillion, behind a male rider.

By the ninth century, a small footrest or planchette was added to the pillion.

In Europe, side saddle riding developed because, in the upper classes, it was seen as unbecoming for a lady of wealth to straddle a horse while riding. In addition, the long skirts in fashion were both impractical and awkward for riding astride. However some women ignored convention and rode astride, including Marie Antoinette and Catherine the Great.

Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394) is credited with the design of the earliest functional side saddle. It consisted of a chair-like structure with a small footrest.

In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici introduced a more practical design, in which the rider sat facing forward, hooking her right leg around the pommel of the saddle with a horn added to the near side of the saddle to secure the rider's right knee. The footrest was replaced by a slipper stirrup for the left foot.

In the 1830s, Jules Pellier's revolutionary new design added a second, lower pommel to the sidesaddle that gave the rider additional security and allowed them to gallop and jump.

This design, still in use today, has one pommel mounted around 10° left of top dead centre and curved gently to the right and up. The rider's right leg goes around the top (fixed) pommel, which supports the right thigh of the rider when it is lying across the top centre of the saddle.

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The lower right leg rests along the shoulder of the left (near) side of the horse and up against the second pommel (called the leaping head or leaping horn) which lies below the first on the left of the saddle. This pommel is curved gently downward in order to curve over the top of the rider's left thigh.

The leaping head immediately opened the doors of competition to lady riders, as proven by Australian rider Esther Stace, who cleared 6ft 6in at the Sydney Royal Easter Show in 1915. Closer to home, lady riders like Mrs Binty Marshall swept the boards at the Dublin Horse Show against their male competition.

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