Magazine article The Spectator

Side-Saddle Is Sexy

Magazine article The Spectator

Side-Saddle Is Sexy

Article excerpt

It's safer and more elegant than riding astride

These days there are more than 1,000 members of the Side Saddle Association. Well, of course there are. People go to Bisley to shoot muzzle-loaders with black powder instead of modern rifles with laser-sights; people prefer Bugattis to brand-new electric cars. And of course it's a bit mad. We mustn't go around criticising things just because they're mad; that would leave us all terribly vulnerable.

I once rode side-saddle with three members of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. No, seriously. They were all saddlers, fascinated by this unexplored aspect of their craft. I joined them at an event hosted by the SSA, expecting to find it horrible and unnatural, and it was nothing of the kind.

Because you're not actually sideways. Your shoulders are above your hips and square-on to the horse, just like normal. True, your right foot is more or less on your left knee, but I often sit like that. The point is that you can control your horse. If you can ride, it's easy.

I'd always thought that a side-saddle was an instrument of subjugation and that its revival was like bringing back the chastity belt. That's got it precisely upside-down. The invention of the two-pommel side-saddle in the 1830s was a liberation: at last a woman could take control of her horse and gallop and jump with the best.

It's not remotely insecure. It's actually harder to fall off a side-saddle than a conventional one because your right leg is anchored. It allowed women to hunt, to compete and to ride round the countryside without needing someone to lead the horse. Queen Victoria was nuts for it when she was young; so was Florence Nightingale. This was freedom.

Before the invention of the side-saddle, women just sat sideways, perched awkwardly, twisted, precariously balanced and unable to control their mount. The greatest technological advance they knew was a little plank - the planchette -- to rest their feet on. With the side-saddle, women entered the kingdom of the horse, seized it from men and made it their own. These days women dominate the horsey world, to the extent that many people think riding horses is effeminate -- though best not tell the King's Troop.

Even when riding astride became acceptable for women, ladies rode side-saddle. …

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