What’s Sidesaddle?

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The saddle is a type of equestrian riding style where the rider sits sideways on the horse, and a specially designed saddle called a sidesaddle is used for safety. The technique dates back to the 11th century and was traditionally used by women. The saddle has two knobs, and the rider must learn proper technique and balance. While no longer expected, some organizations promote saddle riding, and skilled riders can hunt, jump, and practice dressage. Sidesaddle riders wear traditional riding dress, including a full apron.

The term saddle is an equestrian term used to indicate both a riding style and a particular type of saddle. When mounting in the saddle, the rider sits sideways rather than astride the horse, meaning both legs are bent on the same side of the horse’s body, rather than positioned so that they straddle the saddle. To ride safely, a specially designed saddle called a sidesaddle is used.

The roots of saddle riding go back hundreds of years, even if the riding technique is limited mainly to women. In the European tradition, although women rode horses, it was considered improper for them to ride astride. As early as the 11th century, women rode on specially designed side stands that resembled armchairs, with a wooden plank to rest their feet on. These saddles probably lacked safety and the design was refined in the 15th century to make riding more comfortable and safer. The design has changed little since then, although most modern riders prefer to ride astride, due to the safety issue.

A side saddle has two knobs, one oriented slightly off-center and another below it. Traditionally, a side saddle is designed to allow riders to sit on the horse’s left side, although either side is technically correct. The upper pommel is also known as the horn, and the rider swings his upper leg over the horn, while the lower leg is hidden under the leaping horn, or second pommel, which is curved to enclose the upper leg. The lower leg is placed in a stirrup and the rider is ready to ride.

Learning to ride in the saddle requires some training in riding technique. The rider must carry a whip to use on the horse’s opposite side for signals, and must also learn to keep a balanced and even seat. The horse also needs to be trained to carry a rider in the saddle, as off-center weight can be an odd feeling to a horse accustomed to more conventional riding. The fit of the saddle to the horse and rider is also very important, as an improperly fitted saddle can cause saddle sores and other discomfort for both parties.

While women are no longer expected to ride in the saddle, some riding organizations exist to promote saddle riding, and many horse shows offer a saddle lesson or allow riders to compete in regular classes. A skilled rider in the saddle can hunt, jump, and practice dressage with ease, often to the amazement of conventionally trained riders. Sidesaddle riders also tend to wear traditional riding dress, which consists of a full apron to cover the riding breeches worn underneath. The apron isn’t actually a full skirt, but is designed to look like a skirt until the rider dismounts, at which point the open back will become apparent.

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