Aside or Astride
Aside or Astride? When in history did riding sidesaddle become the norm for woman? The sidesaddle has been around a long, long time…ninth century Pict and Celtic women were some of the first documented to ride astride. The Roman-Celtic goddess Epona, the goddess of the horse, is typically depicted riding sidesaddle.
But clearly, equestriannes have ridden astride from ancient times through the Middle Ages, and social customs did not demand a woman ride aside until the late 14th century. A sort of sidesaddle for noblewomen was popularized in England by Anne of Bohemia in 1382. She rode aside, in a padded chair facing to the left, with her feet resting on a platform called a planchet (see image; not a particularly stable way to control a horse).
In the 15th century, Catherine de Medici rode with her shoulders facing forward and her leg hooked over the pommel of the saddle. She is generally credited for popularizing this side saddle style. Again, not a secure way to sit, and soon we see the attachment of the “leaping head” to the saddle. The design of the leaping head is attributed to one of several men who claimed to have come up with the idea in the late 1700’s. My take---a woman probably came up the “leaping head”…her life depended on it.
By the Victorian era, most women of quality would not be seen in public riding any other way than riding aside, although I have seen magazine prints from the late 1800’s advertising riding habits which split up the middle for the “Victorian Amazon” who defied convention and insisted on riding astride.
The sidesaddle hasn’t changed much since beginning of the 19th century. Equestiranne etiquette dictated ladies of quality ride through the 1930’s. Yes, the 1930’s! The sidesaddle is enjoying a resurgence, and the basic design of the leaping had has pretty much remained unchanged.
On my next post, we’ll take a quick look at women’s riding habits, and just “what’s under the skirts.”