Friday, April 8, 2011

Saddle Up!

First invented in the 1380's as a means to protect the virginity of aristocratic girls while riding, the primitive sidesaddle was chair like with a padded seat and a crude plank stirrup large enough for two feet. By the turn of the century, riding sidesaddle became a social expectation, an expression of women's modesty. However, the streets were not crowded with side saddling women, as most women couldn't afford a horse of their own. Besides, what woman would want to soil their dress or evening gown riding open when one could sit comfortably in a carriage? None the less, women who did ride often had special clothing for the occasion.

How does a woman sit on sidesaddle, anyway?
After being hoisted on the saddle by two men, the rider's right leg hugs the top (fixed) pommel, which supports her thigh and the leg then rests along the shoulder of the horse. The lower pommel, or the leaping horn, curves over the top of the rider's left thigh. The leaping horn pivots slightly to adjust to the rider. There is a single stirrup for the left foot. The lower pommel, which gives women more security and movement, was a revolution to the sidesaddle added in the 1830's. This simple addition allowed women to stay on when the horse was in gallop, or jumping. Women then began to take up sporting such as fox hunting and competition.

Our side saddle dates to 1880's and was originally used by Margaret McKenna at the McKenna Ranch in Cedar, Colorado near Disappointment Valley. While Mrs. Eva Daniels, a school teacher, lodged at the McKenna Ranch, she rode the side saddle to the San Miguel Schoolhouse approximately thirty miles to teach.
It is a western style sidesaddle determined by it's square double skirting and fleece lined underside. The flat seat also gives away it's western origin, and allows for the rider to have more freedom of movement. Something a woman needs on a working ranch, or long rides.

When did the sidesaddle go out of style?
The single biggest movement that extinguished sidesaddle usage was Women's Suffrage. Mobility was synonymous with escaping a male dominated society. Women desired to escape the social institution that classified women as a lesser gender. Suffragettes rode into the voting booths on sidesaddle then rode out astride to attest their independance. So saddle up, ladies! Declare your independance and ride both sides of life, or celebrate your unique elegance and sidesaddle it with style!

Famous Women who rode sidesaddle:
Catherine de Medici
Marie Antoinette
Queen Elizabeth II
Catherine the Great (until she had a portrait painted of her riding aside wearing a male officers uniform!)

This photo came to me from the Wilson family. That's Goldie sporting the side saddle and her owner Gladys Wilson enjoying a sunny Telluride afternoon.

~ Cameo
Exhibit Manager
Telluride Historical Museum