25 thoughts on “All Riding Aside: Sidesaddle in Frock Flicks

  1. Thank you so much! I am among those who’ve been wanting an article on sidesaddle! I don’t ride at all, my few times atop a horse were were carefully controlled walks with the gentlemanly horse on a lead controlled by somebody who knew what he was doing, but I’ve always admired sidesaddle for its grace and been annoyed by those who wrie as if it’s inferior to a manly astride posture.
    I’m totally not an expert and probably shouldn’t be venturing an opinion but QEI’s saddle with its horn rather than a back was probably meant to be ridden facing forward with a knee hooked around that pommel. No stirrup of course and nowhere near as secure as a modern sidesaddle.
    Medieval ladies seem as a general rule to have ridden astride for sport and travel and aside when when dressed for show in a procession and the like. Pillion was a lovely excuse to snuggle up to the gentleman of your choice, Henry VIII gave Anne Boleyn a pillion saddle for them to use while hunting probably for that very reason.
    There is btw an equestrian portrait of a seventeenth century Spanish Queen, splendidly attired and clearly riding astride.

    1. PS; searching for that equestrian queen of Spain I found a portrait of Maria Luisa, the Napoleonic era queen of Spain, very clearly riding astride, possibly in a divided skirt. Apparently it was acceptable for even the highest ladies in the land to ride astride in Spain up to the dawn of the 19th century.

      1. The author is correct for the UK, and of course English sources are most readily available for someone from Washington.

        But until the Victorian era, continental noblewoman could choose under many circumstances. They had to ride sidesaddle only if they planned to visit or ride to church/ chapel/ other religious event, because you had to wear skirts in a church and a drawing room.
        These continental aristocratic women rode astride for sporting pursuits, especially not for the socially important and very expensive Parforce hunt – because trying to do that with eighteenth- and early nineteenth century side saddles would absolutely get you killed. These hunts were common all over continental Europe, and noblewoman participated in them eagerly, as a sign of their high status. Very high status women organized their own hunts, and commisioned commemorative paintings.

        Here are a couple of eighteenth-century womens’ equestrian portraits, you can see that many noblewoman rich enough to organize their own Parforce hunts have a painting astride in trousers.
        Marie Antoinette astride: https://www.gettyimages.nl/detail/nieuwsfoto%27s/la-reine-marie-antoinette-1783-equestrian-portrait-of-nieuwsfotos/1137576555
        And, of course, Catharine the Great: https://getdailyart.com/22784/vigilius-eriksen/portrait-of-catherine-ii-on-the-back-of-her-horse-brilliant
        To show it’s not just monarchs, here is one of an aristocratic abbess: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beckenkamp_-_Equestrian_portrait_of_Maria_Kunigunde_of_Saxony.jpg
        Considering the attributes, I would guess that the Maria Luisa portrait is also associated with this type of high-status hunting.

  2. Thank you for the article. It brought memories of Rita Mae Brown’s Sister Jane series and is highly recommended for horse lovers. BTW do you fox hunt? I ask bc there are hunt clubs in VA and other Eastern states.

  3. What a great write up! Sometimes I get a hair to try sidesaddle with my mare remembering the member of the hunt I sometimes rode with as a teenager who just looked so nice aside. But then I remember how hard it would be find a saddle to fit, and I’d have to give up my nice cool mesh frock coats that are permissible in dressage.
    (Upperville is going to be muggy and muddy this year, I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, kind of like saying it will rain at Dressage at Devon).

  4. Stirrups figure in a lot of movies set in times and places that didn’t have them. Some of it may be safety requirements. “Gladiator,” for example has Maximus (Russell Crowe) to hop up bareback on a chariot horse in the arena scene, because Crowe could. However, those hundreds of cavalry plunging down a wooded hillside in iffy lighting conditions in the opening sequence have stirrups.

  5. Admittedly tangential, but I cackle every time I see stills from Glow & Darkness. Jane Seymour always looks like she’s having a ball. She’s generally pretty self aware, so I’m hopeful it’s meant to be a goofy cheese-fest rather than a serious arty film.

    Lovely write up of sidesaddle. My experience is limited to English astride, and I’m leery enough around horses that we’re all happier when I’m on the ground. I enjoyed the clip of sidesaddle jumping. Thank you for guest posting!

    1. There is an illustration of Elinor of Aquitaine riding side-by-side with the newly crowned King John—she endorsed him after Richard died—and she is definitely riding astride.

  6. Great post! Thank you ever so much for the context. It is fascinating. I love the image of the woman fallen off the donkey. I didn’t know that was a thing to do. At least I didn’t put inaccurate info in my Sanditon recaps. There is always more to learn.

  7. For those that don’t know, the wonderful Melton Cloth was created in the town of Melton Mowbray (midlands of England) in the 1820s so is very much a 19th century fabric.

    Was wool originally but now can be found as polyester and viscose mix (shudder).

  8. One thing I do think is worth mentioning is that it’s only in Britain that riding astride seems to have been a complete no-no for women. As you and others have mentioned, it was acceptable for royal ladies in France and Spain, and I have seen depictions of ladies riding astride from the 18th-century Austro-Hungarian Empire; such as a ceramic figure of a lady riding astride in an ankle-length redingote in a museum in Budapest.

  9. I don’t know squat about riding, but this was fascinating! I particularly loved the look at that illustrated book by Lady Diana Sperling– it’s something I have to track down now.

    This overview also reminded me of the scene in AUNTIE MAME where Sally Cato was trying to embarrass Mame by pulling her into the fox hunt, and Mame– who doesn’t actually ride– tries to get out of it by saying she didn’t bring her “ridin’ togs,” but Sally brushes it aside by saying that Mame can just wear some of hers, since they even both have size “3B” feet (as Mame lies).

    Then she sees an out when Sally asks, “You do ride astride, Mame, dear?” and claims that unfortunately, she only rides side-saddle– because “Daddy, the Colonel, insisted that I learn it. He said it was the only way for a true lady to ride. So graceful. Silly of him, of course, because nobody rides side-saddle these days, but it’s the only way I know how!”

    And then Sally floors her by saying, “Now isn’t that grand! I just happen to have a little old side-saddle that’ll do you fine.”

    So Mame gets stuck with riding a horse for the first time in borrowed boots that are too small– and on a side-saddle!

  10. Thank you for this! I’ve ridden aside only a couple of times but I love it. I don’t like to disagree with the expert, but in the Tres Riches Heures image, I have always thought that lady was aside, based on how the back of her garment drapes. But the really funny thing about that image for me is that in one of my books, the description says that the rider is obviously the Duke, notwithstanding the wimple and the possibly riding aside.

    1. I agree with you, looking closely the lady seems to be riding aside on an astride saddle, probably with her offside knee hooked around the saddle horn. There are various images suggesting this wasn’t an unusual compromise between being ladylike and and a secure seat. It was impossible for a lady to either face forward or control her horse in a chair saddle. She could do both sitting aside on an ordinary saddle.
      QEI’s saddle in the engraving below looks like it could be ridden both completely sideways and facing forward as the Queen pleased.

  11. Even though horses and I do not mix (although I admire them as beautiful creatures), this is a fascinating article, and I shall send the link to my equestrian daughter.

  12. Slightly off topic, but recall reading in Lord Mountbatten’s diaries that when QE2 first became queen, she wanted to troop the colour astride (and thus by extension in jodhpurs and boots) as this was the way she had ridden her whole life, and had to be persuaded to learn how to ride sidesaddle for it as her advisers deemed it improper for the Queen to be riding astride in uniform in public. (Don’t ask). It did not stop Her Maj from complaining about how dumb it all was while she was practicing at Mountbatten’s estate.

    1. I’m aware that this is weapons-grade pedantry, but: HM does not troop the colour. It is the ensign carrying the regimental colour who ‘troops’ it down the ranks of his regiment in the presence of Her Maj. The original purpose of this exercise was to familiarise the troops with their regiment’s flag, so they would recognise it on the field of battle and know to rally to it.

  13. “Pray, Sir, is this the way to Stretchit?” Snicker!

    Thanks for a great write-up – extremely interesting.

  14. Thank you so much for all this information! This will help me when I snark at frock flicks and tv shows. There are times when I see something and think “That doesn’t look right”, but I’m not very knowledgable about horses, so again, thank you :D

  15. Thank you for an interesting article. One little nitpick: Punch magazine didn’t exist until 1841. During the regency, humourous drawings were most commonly sold separately, from print shops.

  16. “Secret pants!” I cried when I read the paragraphs about safety skirts and safety aprons.

  17. About Bonnie Blue’s velvet habit: it is supposed to be inappropriate because it’s true to the book (Walter Plunkett was a stickler for accuracy.) There’s a whole bit in the book where Scarlett says blue velvet is only for evening gowns and little girls should wear black wool, but of course Bonnie threatens to have a tantrum and Rhett backs her up, so she gets the blue velvet.

  18. Definitely not a Punch cartoon – the magazine wasn’t founded until the early 1840s, and this is very clearly a style of the Napoleonic Wars period. Lots of great cartoonists from that period sold individual prints, often coloured in like this one.

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