As mentioned earlier, the majority of side-saddles in use today are
between 50 and 80 years old. Careful consideration needs to be taken
over the condition of these saddles, visible, and more importantly,
invisible parts. Do not be deceived into thinking that just because
a saddle is old it is an antique, and so it is valuable.
Unless it is exceptional - a donkey side-saddle; or one with a tapestry
seat and safe etc.; many of the old type of side-saddles
are worth a few hundred pounds at most, particularly the old-fashioned
type with 3 horns, a solid front, and a backwards-sloping seat, and
- worse and worse - a narrow gullet. All this must be taken into consideration
when offered a saddle in need of a lot of restoration, as the restoration
can be a lot more than such a saddle is worth.
Horses are now wider and softer - due to keep and working conditions,
type, fitness, etc. resulting in difficulty obtaining well fitting side-saddles
which were generally built for leaner horses and less muscular women.
Todays horse usually needs a medium/wide tree side-saddle to accommodate
this, and finding such side-saddles of certain lengths, 15 1/2 - 16,
can be difficult. Having said that, small, childs saddles of a
modern type can be as rare as hens teeth, often children
have to make do with inferior saddles, which can give a child a poor
start in the art of riding side-saddle, and the pony more chance to
be non-complaining of the discomfort.
c1840. Tree shows two long points, a long
fixed head and a roller bar leather fitting. This fitting needs a safety
stirrup if used for demonstration pruposes. Not suitable for modern
c.1880. Again, two long points. The fixed head and the intorduction
leaping head (lower). As with the former saddle, a roller bar.
It is true, some astride saddles were adapted to side-saddles - as
with Admiral Horatio Nelsons saddle for his daughter Horatia.
But generally, the side-saddle was made specifically for the individual
lady and took into consideration hers and her horses conformation
and weight. This is why is can be difficult to obtain a good fit and
comfort for both, the horse as already said, for the lady - due to the
difference in lifestyle between both periods.
Nowadays, ladies are much fitter due to being more active, carry more
muscle in their legs and arms, and where their posteriors may be larger,
ladies of earlier times wore more fulsome skirts - well, until the late
1800s, that is. Some ladies had their saddles on interchangeable
pads - Wyckham pads - of different widths, so she could keep the same
top which fitted her perfectly, and have a varied width
of panels which meant she could use her saddle on a variety of different
sized horses. I cannot understand why modern saddles do not use the
same method, it makes sense, especially those of us who teach a on a
number of different types of horses - it would cut down on the number
of saddles we have to take around with us to our clients!
The types of saddles - Owen, Mayhew, Champion and Wilton, Whippy are
the major ones. Basically - as with shoes - the same size saddle of
a different make will fit differently - horse and rider - so will be
more or less comfortable - for both!
A rule of thumb is the Owen has straighter points from the front arch,
so is more suited for a cob, the Mayhew is curved, and the Champion
and Wilton comes straight from the beginning of the arch then curves.
The Whippy is usually on a Mayhew tree, but with adaptations. When fitting,
I always try to take a variety of types which gives more scope. The
length of the off-side or long point is important.
Points of the side-saddle:
So, you have found a saddle that fits, it is old. Question: how do you
know it is sound? As I have said, the external features are easily identified,
the condition of the leather, buckles, bends of leather, stitching.
The important bits are those you cannot see the tree, the metal strengthening
the tree, the metal inside the fixed and leaping heads.
Check: the condition of the leather, buckles, bends and stitching.
The condition of the seat, the condition of the panels underneath. It
can be costly to have either or both replaced or mended. Small, round
holes in the seat - this may be burrowing insects wanting to lay eggs
in the flocking, or attacking the wood of the tree. The only way to
check the tree is to have the saddle striped. - EXPENSIVE.
If you run your fingers between the join of the panels and the gullet
- be careful of hidden tacks - do your fingers come away with white
talcum powder type dust? This indicates the metal has been replaced
with aluminium, which is disintegrating into dust - so dangerous.
Obviously, the external condition of the saddle can give good indication
of the internal condition - checking front-to-back and side-to-side
play - and creaking - if there is any, it could be an indication the
tree is broken or cracked. Any play at the junction of the fixed head,
if it rocks, it will mean the metal has broken - a very expensive repair,
and never very satisfactory.
Check the leaping head - the screw is anti-clockwise for a near-side
side-saddle. A normal thread may indicate an Asian saddle.
How dippy is the seat - if it has a big dip and is soft, this means
the webbing is slack, again these will need tightening, and can be expensive.
The seat of the saddle should be flat - front to back, without it being
raised at the withers. Without a rider, from side to side, the saddle
should be raised slightly on the near side, to allow for the riders
weight when mounted, giving support to the riders left hip, becoming
level when the rider is in position.
The saddle should be of the correct size for the horse. This brings
into consideration the length of the horses back and the length
of the riders thigh. A saddle which is too short for the rider
is uncomfortable, and give the impression of falling off the back all
the time. If the saddle is too long for the horse, painful and undue
pressure is put on the loins and kidneys.
It is a good practice to question your instructor on how to put a saddle
on and where and how it should fit..
In England, there are possibilities of hiring side-saddles - either
for a season, or some instructors have a stable of saddles
with which they use for teaching purposes. I would advise any rider
wishing to try this elegant and exciting form of riding to hire a saddle
- from a reputable person - first before going to the expense of buying.
The cost ranging from (rarely) £400 to £3,000. The most
popular saddle, and so the most expensive, is the wide, 15 1/2
to 16. Having said that, good, modern side-saddles
for smaller people are about as rare as hens teeth. The best advice
is - ask around from those who fit side-saddles successfully and well.
Most side-saddles on the market are second hand. The modern ones made
today are still undergoing tests, but are available. They range from
£950, and can be synthetic, to £3,000. But do not be put
off, not all saddles are that costly.
Next - fitting the saddle.