From behind, a side-saddle rider should be impossible to tell from an aside rider - she, or he, should sit squarely in the saddle, with the hips square to the horse's hips and shoulders, and the shoulders square to the hips. The rider's back, when the combination is viewed from the side, should be upright, without being stiff in the upper body. The head is held in balance over the neck.
As the rider is sitting approximately 4” higher than when on an astride saddle, the hands are held higher than 'usual' - without looking as if the rider is frantically knitting socks whilst sitting in front of the guillotine!
The right leg is in close contact with the top of the saddle, with the weight concentrated just behind the right knee, so transferring the weight from the hip bones and coxis, towards the centre of gravity of the horse, and so bringing the rider's weight towards where it is when riding astride.
The left leg hangs down from the left hip, with the weight of the leg being supported by the stirrup, rather than pressing down on the iron. Care must be taken to release the left leg from the leaping head - or lower pommel - to avoid cramping the left hip and twisting in the saddle. The rider should be able to slide the left hand between the leaping head and her leg at all times.
Remember, to be secure - right hip back - the shoulders will follow - and left hip forward - and weight into the right knee. Many instructors cry 'right shoulder back', but as those of us who can remember the twist (ooh!, dating, I know!!) know that the shoulders can rotate without the hips, and whilst the shoulders may be in the correct position, the hips remain incorrect. The shoulders can turn without the hips, but seldom do the hips turn without the shoulder following. nce the right hip is allowed to slip forward, the right knee rises from the contact with the saddle and the rider continues to twist round to the left - and out of the saddle.
Artificial Aids - the rigid cane. This is used as a replacement right leg. Some horses accept such an aid quickly, others need to be educated, when, instead of the usual cane normally used by side-saddle rider, a fairly firm schooling whip is used.
When first moving out of halt, it is best to go onto the right rein - or towards the right. Then centrifugal force will help you maintain your position. Even when riding horses in the show-ring when asked to judge - at whatever level, most judges proceed immediately onto the right rein.
For the first few times in the saddle, it is best to remain fairly unadventurous. That being said, I instructed 4 gentlemen riders from the King's Troup one day, and they, who had never sat aside before, were walking, trotting cantering and jumping - from both reins - within a short space of time. But they were exceptional. They were experienced riders, very fit, and very competent with good muscle tone and balance, so could adapt quickly and sympathetically to the side-saddle schoolmaster horses they were riding that day.
Most people are happy if they walk, trot on both reins, and canter on the right rein on the first day. Remember, muscles used are different from those used astride, and will start to protect quickly when first riding aside.
This is why many of us give only a 30 minute riding lesson for novice side-saddle riders. It is usual to be within a 60 minute lesson, as the explanation of the fitting of the saddle and demonstration of the position takes time to ensure proper understanding. As with novice horses, and feeding all horses - little and often.
There is a cry - side-saddles ruins horses backs. Well of course if the saddle doesn't fit correctly - or the rider is sitting crookedly. There is no reason, providing care is taken over the fit, flocking and condition of the saddle and the straightness of the rider. BUT - it has to be admitted, there are a great many crooked riders out there - aside and astride!
How long will it take to learn to ride aside properly - again the answer is variable. It depends greatly upon how experienced a rider the individual is, conversely, someone who has never ridden at all find it easier to accomplish the art than a novice rider. It must be remembered, that a competent or novice astride rider will soon achieve the same standard aside. Again, to improve takes work.
Cost - yes, the cost of riding aside is expensive. But then, so is any form of riding. Costs are increased if side-saddle is a second 'string' to a rider's expertise - as is the additional cost of concentrating on dressage, show jumping, eventing western riding or driving.
In England, there are possibilities of hiring side-saddles - either for a season, or some ''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 hen's 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.
It is doubtful you will need a habit straight away. Again, quality, second hand ones are often found. I will talk about habit and turn-out later.
So, have a go, try riding side-saddle. It is an enjoyable method of riding which is gaining in popularity every year, all over the world.
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1. Condition and fitting of side-saddles.
2. Side-saddle and disabled riders.