Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

How to look the part on a side saddle

Welcome back to a fashion that was on the verge of being consigned to the history books

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Beautiful ladies, fine horses, glamorous outfits -- it's no wonder riding side saddle is back in vogue. Once on the verge of being consigned to the history books, side saddle is making a big comeback and will feature in a special demonstration at the RDS Failte Ireland Dublin Horse Show this week.

The Concours d'Elegance -- competition of elegance -- will feature 14 horses and riders in traditional side saddle turnout, along with a commentary explaining the art of side saddle.

Kalindi Lawrence, from the Side Saddle Association of Ireland, says the Concours will take place on Thursday, which is very appropriate as it is also Blossom Hill Ladies' Day.

In fact, ladies' day originated from the fact that it was traditionally the day when the ladies' hunter classes were judged, classes which were always ridden side saddle.

As befits the glamorous sport, the demonstration is being sponsored by fine jewellery makers Boodles, a family owned business that was established over 200 years ago.

"It is Boodles' first time to get involved in this type of event and we feel there is a strong synergy between the style and glamour of Boodles' jewellery and the elegance and skill involved in riding side saddle," says Abby Comyn.

"There is a parallel between the intricate craftsmanship involved in making the side saddle and the design of the habit, and the creation of masterpieces at Boodles."

Each rider will wear a different outfit to illustrate the different styles of traditional side saddle clothing. If you think it was simply a matter of wearing what you like -- think again, because, as Kalindi Lawrence explains, there are strict rules governing side saddle turnout.

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Rider turnout

Riders generally wear a top hat or bowler, depending on the time of day. Bowlers are worn in the morning or at smaller, more insignificant shows, while top hats are correct for the afternoon and big shows such as the RDS.

Black silk top hats should be no shorter than 4.75 inches or taller than 5.25 inches, depending on the height of the rider and overall picture on the horse. The hat should sit just above eyebrows and be straight and level to the ground when mounted.

A plain cream four-fold silk stock and plain white stock shirt should be worn with a top hat, should be tied tight enough to stay in place, but still be comfortable, and secured by a plain stock pin placed just under the knot when tied. Cream gloves should be worn with a silk hat.

When wearing a bowler hat, it should be black with a navy or black habit and brown with a tweed habit. When a brown hat is worn, brown long boots should be worn also. A plain- collared shirt of a light colour, preferably white or light cream should be worn with a dark tie, tied neatly and tight up to the collar.

Brown gloves should be worn with a bowler hat, well-fitted and clean. Black gloves are a major faux pas because traditionally black gloves signified that you were in mourning and therefore shouldn't be riding.

The lady rider's hair should be tied back into a tight, very neat, small doughnut-sized bun, just touching the bottom of the hat. Riders with short hair usually wear a fake bun to create the illusion of long hair.

A black veil is usually worn with a top hat. It is worn crossed over the bun at the back and held in place with hair grips either side. There should be no creases or wrinkles in the veil.

A traditional habit is made up of a waistcoat, jacket and apron.

A well-fitting habit will make the biggest difference to your overall appearance, Kalindi insists.

Habits can be of navy, black or tweed in colour. A light- coloured waistcoat, plain or with light check, should be worn under the habit with the lowest button left undone. The jacket should sit just above the saddle when mounted. It should be straight and have sleeves of a correct length so that when the rider's arms are stretched, they are not too short.

The apron, which gives the impression of a skirt but in fact only wraps around the front of the rider, should sit straight and level with the ground when mounted. The back of the apron should sit just above the seat of the saddle all around. The length of the apron should sit around one hand on its side above the ankle of the boot.

Underneath the habit, jodhpurs should match the colour of your habit, particularly with a navy or black habit, although cream jodhpurs can be worn with a tweed habit.

Long, well-polished black boots, with a spur on the left boot, should be worn. It is crucial to clean the underside of your boots, as these are very visible when riding side saddle. A brown leather cane is carried in the right hand to act instead of the right leg.

The rider is expected to wear make up under the veil. This should be subtle but enough to define the features of the face.

Horse turnout

Your mount should be immaculately turned out with no marks or stains. The horse should be trimmed and plaited and, if needs be, chalked up to brighten white markings.

Make up, baby oil and hoof oil can all be used to enhance the appearance of your horse.

Remember not to use conditioner on the saddle area, as this will cause it to slip and slide. Tails should be pulled or neatly plaited.

Quarter markers can be used and will be different, depending on the size and shape of your horse.

In side saddle classes, horses are generally ridden in a double bridle, although pelhams are acceptable with double reins. All leatherwork should be well cleaned and oiled, with the bit and visible buckles polished.

Side saddles typically have a pig leather or doe skin seat for extra grip, and a white serge lining underneath.

Side saddles in use today are often antiques, explains Kalindi, so they require great care and attention to maintain them.

"After the Second World War, side saddles were often consigned to the attics and left there," she says.

"But you can find them on eBay and from specialist side saddlers like James Adair in Northern Ireland.

"In terms of price, you are talking about €1,200 upwards for an antique that might need some work, but you could get lucky and find a bargain.

"Saddler brands to watch out for include Mayhew, Champion & Wilton, Owen and Whippy," she adds.

For the Side Saddle Association of Ireland, the aim is to preserve the tradition of side saddle and bring it into the mainstream, with side saddle dressage leagues and jumping competitions on the cards for the future.

The Side Saddle Concours d'Elegance takes place at the RDS this Thursday, August 4, beside the Band Lawn where the ladies' day competitors will be gathered, at 2.30pm.

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