A step back in time reveals the thrill of riding aside–as well as a very sore tush the day after!
Top hats. Lace veils. Male companions at your side to shield you from prying eyes should–gasp–your habit become disarrayed. Aside from, you know, that whole discrimination-against-women thing, sidesaddle seemed pretty intriguing.
Jaye Younkers is a sidesaddle rider and the proprietor of Hi-Horse Farm, which has been in Potomac, MD for nearly 50 years. Her claim to fame is trying any discipline she can in a sidesaddle, from eventing and jousting to competing (and winning) at Madison Square Garden during what she calls her “point-chasing days.”
Jaye talks a mile a minute and was happy to explain everything I wanted to know about riding aside. First things first–the saddle itself, an Owen.
Of course, the main difference between a normal saddle is those two giant pommels sticking out of the top–the upper one is called the fixed head, and the lower one is called the jumping head. The seat is VERY flat, with plenty of room to sit, and the bottom of the saddle is covered in linen rather than leather. Imagine keeping that clean, especially since judges of the appointments classes at shows once frowned upon using a saddle pad!
Jaye gave me a little demo on Shamus Brown, her Connemara pony/TB cross. She showed me how to hold the double reins (which I promply forgot), how to keep the hips pointed forward equally (no easy feat without nearly toppling over the off side) and how to do an emergency grip–in which everything I had learned about staying secure in the saddle suddenly no longer applied. “Heels down” was no longer a virtue, since if you stand too much on the stirrup you could tip the saddle sideways! Instead, sidesaddle riders point their left toe and grip the pommels with their thighs, hanging on for dear life if their horse acts up.
Seems safe. But Shamus seemed like a good sport, so I hopped on anyway.
Surprisingly, sidesaddle riding feels very secure–especially to the right, where it was easier to keep my upper body straight rather than twisted to the inside. Other than the fact that I had no leg on one side, it really wasn’t that different from normal riding, especially since Shamus was very responsive to seat cues.
We even got in a little cantering and jumping! But how in the world do you jump sidesaddle? There are two ways–one, to sit far back and just hang on (not terribly comfortable for horse or rider):
And the other, more modern way is an adapted forward seat.
Note the difference in Jaye’s jumping style from mine. Rather than sinking down in the heel, pushing UP with the left heel to lock your leg in the jumping head gives the most security.
You actually want your heel to come up when jumping sidesaddle, with your toe on the stirrup pushing your left leg up into the leaping head while your right leg pushes into the horse’s shoulder to counterbalance. Perching like this keeps you out of the saddle, so you don’t thump on your horse’s back upon landing.
In contrast, for my whole life I’ve learned to keep my heel down and leg on over a jump. That, coupled with not enough pressure on the right leg, just made my body weight push the saddle a little too far to the left.
After a little practice wearing a schooling apron (a sort of faux-skirt) I dismounted grinning ear to ear.
Would I try sidesaddle on any horse? Absolutely not–I shudder to think how some horses would react to the flappy apron and the uneven weight. But thanks to saintly Shamus, I felt safe and excited to try it again! Why don’t more people ride aside? I wondered. The next morning, of course, I paid for my adventure with a very sore right seatbone–oh. That’s why.