Friday, February 12, 2010

Of Sidesaddles & Riding Habits: Part Two

Friday, February 12, 2010

Susan reports:

Today the Nerdy History Girls welcome back Robin Scarborough, DVM, MSFS, for part two of her guest blog. Dr. Scarborough is a veterinarian, re-enactor, living historian, and sidesaddle equestrian who is sharing her knowledge about sidesaddle riding and ladies' habits.

Imagine the freedom that women of the past experienced when allowed to go out on horseback. Once mounted, they were equal to men, sometimes able to leave them in the dust if the lady were seated on a better horse! Plus, they were able to leave nagging mothers and chaperons behind, often accompanied only by a groom or servant, whose primary obligation was equitation and safety rather than propriety. Riding habits were so frequently similar to men's wear that the tomboy of yesteryear could feel free to leave her demure side at home and escape outdoors without excessive lace, frills, or frills.

To many men, skill and daring on horseback only served to make a woman more attractive and desirable. Historical references state that "a woman appears to her best advantage on horseback," and a good deal of thought was given to style, cut, and color of habit.

The habit, upper right, is a copy of colonial American original made for local riding and hacking. It would have been worn about forty years after the green Baroque habit shown yesterday. This habit was designed and draped with the assistance of Mark Hutter, master tailor of Colonial Williamsburg, and it's indicative of what a southern colonial lady would have worn out riding or visiting. Made of cotton denim and paired with a straw hat, this habit would have been comfortable even int he steamy Virginian climate, and, while this can't be appreciated in the photograph, it's authentic right down to the undergarments: handmade stays, shift,
stockings, and period buckle shoes. Our model is International Sidesaddle Organization treasurer and instructor Jeannie Whited, riding Midas, my retired 25-year-old Morgan horse gelding at the Sidesaddle at Woodwind event.

The red habit, lower left, is a copy of an American Civil War turnout. While most habits of
this period were subdued, conservative colors, those made for riding in town or "husband hunting" were sometimes made of flashy colors or fabrics. Ladies who could afford it stayed abreast of changing habit styles, which like the rest of fashion varied from year to year or even seasonally. Similarly, American ladies pored over books of engravings showing the latest habit fashions from Paris and London, always desiring to be on the cutting edge of style. This picture is of Kathleen Bowman, riding Shadow, a Tennessee Walking Horse gelding at the Sidesaddle at Woodwind event.

Many, many thanks for sharing your expertise and your photographs, Robin!

All photographs copyright BHS Photography, and used with permission.

For more information about sidesaddle riding in general and in particular about constructing a colonial habit in a workshop with Colonial Williamsburg tailor Mark Hutter, see this issue of Liberty Sidesaddle Network magazine. (The magazine is a pdf file, and the article about the colonial habit workshop begins on page nine.)


Emma J said...

Oh, that red habit is to die for! I bet you'd do prime "husband hunting" it that one.

Rowenna said...

Thanks for posting about sidesaddle! I've always wanted to learn...but lacking a horse I'll put it off a few more years. Making a riding habit, however--that I could do sooner :)

ConnieG said...

I used to ride (Western, not sidesaddle) once upon a time, and I have to say these are truly lovely-looking horses. What a pleasure they must be to ride! Thank you for this post and the pictures.

Hungarican Chick said...

Very nice indeed. Adore.

Jane said...

Just the pictures to make me forget all this snow here in Baltimore. Beautiful!

LorettaChase said...

In The Illustrated Book of the Horse, the author refers to women riders as Amazones--and these pictures beautifully express the term.

Victoria Janssen said...

This is awesome. Thank you.

ILoveVersailles said...

This is so amazing. I didn't know anyone still did sidesaddle. Thank you for such pretty visions.

Anonymous said...

Baltimore, eh? These pictures were taken just across the reservoir in little ol' Finksburg.
We're digging out as well, and two of the horses (the bay and the palomino) are absolutely going stir crazy.
If you ever want a closer look at sidesaddles, give me a holler (but please wait until spring!).
And if anyone wants to see more of those pictures, here's the gallery:

Robin Scarborough, DVM

hannah bevan said...

the red riding habit is stunning! is there anywhere that sells the pattern for it? ive been looking for a riding habit pattern for some time and this is exactully what ive been looking for! any info would be greatly helpful

Anonymous said...

Do you happen to have the source documentation reference on colors other than the standard dark black/blue/green options? The red dress is breathtaking!

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