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Female Riding Styles through History 1
Sir Edwin Landseer - Queen Victoria on Horseback c. 1840
I set out to write an article about women riders 'how it was', but a lot of the information I collected was intertwined with ladies of royal blood or of good quality and the sidesaddle. What happened further down the scale is unclear, possibly some ladies would have riding pillion behind the man, or travelled in a carriage or cart, or maybe they just walked!
The early sidesaddles were little more than stuffed platforms, the lady sitting at a complete right angle to the horse's spine, with her feet resting on a platform called a planchette. Some women probably rode ponies (under 14 hands), even when sitting sideways, they would have had adequate control, but often a servant led them.
In the Middle Ages, ladies were considered passive, helpless creatures, dominated and protected by a Knight. To enable the Knights to prove their chivalry battles and tournaments were organised and the popularity of hunting grew. Woman wanted to see their menfolk in action, and therefore had to be transported to various locations
It was also said that ladies had difficulty riding astride because they had rounded thighs, but they would ride in the same dress that was worn for everyday wear. So maybe it was due to what we would now consider today to be very the unsuitable dress for riding.
Probably a 17th century sidesaddle from the Hermes Museum in Paris
For many centuries, sidesaddle was considered the only way for a lady to proceed 'properly' on horseback. The 1920's were its heyday in Britain, with the emphasis as much on elegance, style, and 'propriety' as on technique, horsemanship, and courage. Ladies were not alone in practising the art: their grooms rode sidesaddle to train and keep their ladies' horses fit.
In 1382, Richard II married Anne of Bohemia, who brought her a sidesaddle. She rode with her body facing forwards and with only the left foot on the planchette. Soon ladies who had previously only ridden pillion behind a man or, in some cases, astride in a split skirt, began to adopt the new fashion.
Details from Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry
By the 15th century the padded seat had developed a central horn in the front and signs of a cantle at the back, but still had the footrest and remained unchanged for 200 years.
Lady Conway - her Spanish riding horse by Wootton
Details of Queen Elizabeth's I saddle from the Booke of Venerie by G. Turberville, 1572
In 1564, Queen Elizabeth I ordered a travelling wagon to be drawn by six great horses. In this, she journeyed from London to Warwick, but so it was reported, was unable to sit-down for a week afterwards.
Nevertheless, she persisted, and on her famous processions became accustomed to moving about the country in wagon trains drawn by 400 heavy horses. Only heavy horses with their great strength were capable of hauling over, or rather through, the abominable road surface of the period.
Elizabeth also loved to ride; she would spend many hours riding fast through the Palace grounds. Her love for the riding terrified her Councillors, who feared that she would be seriously injured, or even killed. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was defiant, and continued to ride long distances and at great speed until the end of her life. In her sixties, a courtier advised the ageing Queen to take a carriage, but undaunted she rode a distance of ten miles.
Elizabeth would tire out her ladies by riding hard, and early in her reign, Robert Dudley, her Master of Horse, had to bring over some new horses from Ireland, as the Queen's own horses were not fast or strong enough for her. Elizabeth and Dudley would ride together often. He was probably the most accomplished horseman in England, and could match the ''s speed and vigour. In the summer of 1560, Elizabeth and Dudley rode together almost everyday, while some of her ministers bewailed that the Queen was neglecting matters of state.
In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots whilst 6 months pregnant fleeing with Darnley from the Palace of Holyrood, rode pillion behind Lord Erskine though the night to Dunbar Castle, a journey of 25 miles.
It is difficult to date the development of the pommel accurately but it is known that Catherine De Medici invented a second pommel in about 1580. Both were still positioned on top of the saddle, the rider wedging their knee between them to gain a little more security. Catherine may have been the first to have hooked her leg around and over the high pommel and been facing more or less in the same direction as the horse. This was a break through for the rider giving them more control over the horse. Catherine loved hunting and rode until her sixtieth year.
16th century Lady from Horses in Shakespeare's England by Anthony Dent
During this, century paintings show elaborate bridles, breastplates, and saddle clothes on the horses and in the case of Isabella of Bourbon they are gilded and embroidered, as is her gown. Queen Christine of Sweden rode a white horse for her official entry into Rome in 1655. The queen was first thought to be riding astride, because although sitting on a side saddle, she was so straight and erect and stiff that she gave that impression.
By the 18th century, the sidesaddle was in general use, some still having a rail at the side and velvet covered slipper stirrup. About this, time ladies started carrying little whips often made with whalebone and with daintily carved ivory handles more for decoration than for use on the horse.
The Marchioness of Salisbury (1749-1835) claimed to be the first woman Master of Foxhounds, and hunted her own pack, the Hertfordshire Hunt, from 1793 until her 70th year in 1819.
Queen Anne, (1665-1714) established the Royal Buckhounds Kennels at Ascot and hunted enthusiastically, driving herself in a chaise with a fast horse. At her command in 1711, the racecourse on Ascot Heath was laid out.
Lady Lade in 1799 was present throughout 'the run of the season' that lasted two hours and forty minutes with the Royal Buckhounds.
On to the 19th century in part 2...