Thursday, February 11, 2010

Of Sidesaddles & Riding Habits: Part One

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Susan reports:

After a recent NHG blog featuring a picture of Loretta sitting on a sidesaddle (but not on a horse!), we were contacted by a reader with far more expertise in this area than we. Robin Scarborough, DVM, MSFS, is not only a veterinarian, but also a re-enactor, living historian, and sidesaddle equestrian and knowledgeable in the history, horses, and habits connected to ladies on horseback. When Dr. Scarborough offered to write a few words for us, we were honored and delighted to accept.

Sidesaddle riding is alive and well and not a relic of a bygone era. It is experiencing a resurgence, and sidesaddle riders can be found all over the world doing all forms of riding. These ladies are far from the manor born, but are ordinary women enamored with the past. Any Google search will unearth multiple sidesaddle organizations, with a heavy concentration right here in the USA. The members are more than happy to share their knowledge with those who are interested, and there are many clinics and demonstrations that welcome beginners and auditors.

Sidesaddles, habits, and indeed horses in general change markedly throughout history, so
research that gleans equine details about 1620 will not be accurate 60 years later. Styles of riding, event he horses themselves, changed rapidly depending on the current style of warfare, government, and otter societal forces. The advent of gunpowder in particular eliminated the use of plate armor, resulting in a lighter, more maneuverable, type of horse. And believe me, horse people know if an author has done the research, and we appreciate it when we see it.

Above left: This habit is based on a French baroque style that first came into popularity during the reign of Louis XIV. It is a soft muted color trimmed with ivory and gold, very rococo, and suitable for the musical carousel horse ballets that were popular at court. This habit is designed for court riding, not for hunting or traveling. The photo is of me and Owen, a Morgan horse gelding, taken at the 2010 Horse World Expo.

Below right: This habit is a copy of a Victorian habit from the mid-1880s. It is very tailored and slim-fitting, similar to the dress styles of the day. The habit jacket is not only worn over a corset, but has additional boning both for support and to accentuate the hourglass shape. Habits at this time show a masculine influence with no lace, frills, or trim and were worn with a plain top hat. This hat is an original, dating from 1887. Once again, me and Owen, taken at the Sidesaddle at Woodwind event in 2009.

All photographs copyright BHS Photography, and used by permission.
Please return tomorrow for Part Two!


Vanessa Kelly said...

Fascinating! I love the idea that specific habits were designed for specific settings, such as court riding. I wonder how many habits the average wealthy lady would own during the Georgian or Regency era?

Abby said...

WEE! So excited you have this post! My mother and I just purchased our first sidesaddle to learn how to ride aside! However, I have so many projects on my plate right now, I don't even want to think about making any sort of habit.

:) I'm so excited for the next post!!!

Monica Burns said...

GRRRR Blogger ate my post. Redo...I LOVE the sight of a woman in a side saddle. Pure Elegance!

I've a book on courtesans and one of the famous ones from the 1800s, Skittles, was allegedly sewn into her habit when ever she rode. Rumors said she wore nothing on underneath and that the dress was form fitted. She had an incredibly tiny waist. The picture of her in the book shows an exquisite form on a horse, beautiful.

I've heard it's more difficult to ride side-saddle than astride. Wonder if there's truth to that.

Hungarican Chick said...

I am about to start working on getting my horse accustomed to the side-saddle so I can start riding in a Regency period habit. :)

I've done side-saddle since my teens... I am in the process of acquiring a new sidesaddle and looking for a good pattern for a habit.

Thanks for this post. ;)

Hungarican Chick said...

As for difficulty... that's not necessarily true--it's not quite as hard as you think. Your center of balance is the same than if you were astride... if you look at the women on the horses, their bottoms are fully centered on the back. Your leg is propped up on a little arm on the saddle. You are far from just 'clinging' on.

I think that going from a Western saddle to sidesaddle might be challenging.. but those who ride English already shouldn't have too much trouble making the transition.

Lady Ellen said...

Such beautiful animals, and such beautiful dress! I don't know how difficult side-saddle-riding is, but it is very romantic to see.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post! Do you have any pictures of women in habits not on horses?

Michael Robinson said...

For some photographs of the sidesaddles themselves, see lower portion of site page:

For photos of a recent wedding on horseback prior to a hunt, with the bride riding sidesaddle:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say learning to ride aside is very difficult, provided that the saddle fits you and your horse properly. I've even heard from some sidesaddle instructors that it's actually easier to teach a lady who has never ridden at all to ride sidesaddle versus one with astride experience. Of course, a cooperative equine makes all the difference in the world!

Robin Scarborough, DVM

Katy said...

Lovely! I adore the brown habit!

Loretta and Susan, I have a blog award for you here:

I love all of the wonderful period details you talk about on this blog. :)

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