Have you been competing or spectating at the County Shows and seen the Ladies parading around before a class looking absolutely splendid on their horses, they are wearing the most beautiful, fitted outfits, they just look from another era, maybe with top hats and veils on and their horses look immaculately turned out, and you’ve thought to yourself, I wish I could try that?
The good news is you can?
Horses have been ridden side saddle for centuries, as the side saddle was, for a long time considered the only way for a lady to proceed ‘properly’ on horseback. The 1930s were its heyday, with the emphasis as much on elegance and style as on technique, horsemanship and courage. Ladies were not alone in practising the art as grooms rode side saddle to train and keep their ladies’ horses fit.
The 1939 – 45 War meant shortages and the emergence of a less affluent society. Many who might have inherited side saddles and habits from previous generations now chose to ride astride.
However, riders and spectators began to miss the beauty and elegance, which side saddle riders had contributed to the pre-War equestrian scene. Conscious that the side saddle rider was becoming extinct, in 1974 Valerie Francis and Janet Macdonald formed the Ladies’ Side Saddle Association (now known as the Side Saddle Association) to recapture and preserve the traditions of the earlier years, when riding side saddle was in its heyday and daring and elegance its chief characteristics.
How to join
The Association is divided into areas in the UK which offer everyone the help they need and the opportunity to compete, attend clinics and learn the elegant art of side saddle. There is a structured exam system and registers of approved instructors and judges to ensure standards are maintained.
Contrary to popular belief, riding side saddle is as safe, if not safer, than riding astride. Most equestrian disciplines are open to side saddle riders, and few horses fail to adapt to side saddle. Aspiring side saddle riders find the skills are different, but no harder to acquire.
You will find that most breeds and types of horses and ponies are willing to carry a side saddle, but you are recommended to seek specialist advice from a qualified Side Saddle Association Instructor to get your horse or pony properly introduced to side saddle.
Seminars and training sessions are run throughout the year to enable our members to continually develop their skills in order for them to take part in a wide range of disciplines including Equitation, Hunting, Hunter Trials, Ridden Hunter Classes, Retraining of Racehorse Classes, Team Chasing, Dressage, Show jumping, Quadrilles and demonstrations to name a few of the activities our members participate in.
The National Side Saddle Show, the pinnacle of the Side Saddle Association year, takes place every August. There are over 70 classes for side saddle riders. These include showing, dressage, jumping, a HOYS Ladies Hunter Qualifier, and the coveted and much sought-after Rider of the Year Title is awarded.
New members, both riding and non-riding are very welcome; local help, advice and encouragement is readily available. The annual Members’ Handbook contains everything you need to know including competition rules and details for local contacts, qualified instructors, judges and events in each Area, grade tests and examinations. SSA Area officials are always happy to help.
Where to Start?
Depending on where you live, you will find that there should be a Side Saddle Area.
Run by a small dedicated Committee, they will run clinics and ‘have a go’ days. These are ideal if you have your own horse and want to try riding side saddle. You would be allocated a time and come along with your horse and they provide the saddle.
The knowledgeable team will make sure they fit the saddle to the horse and then your lesson will be with an Approved Side Saddle Instructor.
For more information, go to www.sidesaddleassociation.co.uk