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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Women and Sidesaddles

Women riders on horses, mules, and donkeys have been depicted through the ages, riding both astride and aside (sidesaddle). While the sidesaddle is generally believed to have developed in the 1300s and later, women rode sidesaddle long before that. There are ancient Greek images (right) showing women sitting aside, their feet on a board, as well as the gallo-Roman bronze that shows both feet of the rider on one side of the horse, clearly visible. Goddesses on horseback are frequently shown riding aside. Later, saddles were developed with a horn, which a woman could use to brace herself with one leg (image at right).
Because my latest release, The Tapestry Shop, takes place in the 13th century. Catherine, the heroine, rides both aside and astride. For serious traveling, as she does after joining the Crusades, I have her riding astride. At other times, she rides pillion with Adam, the protagonist.
Even after modesty dictated that women ride aside, some women chose to look askance at such limitations, and rode astride. Extant images of women astride show not only the mistress of Henry II of France, but also Marie Antoinette, and Catherine the Great riding astride. Catherine even commissioned a painting done showing her sitting astride the horse. Even then, she probably knew the painting would make a statement: I can ride, and command, as well as any man.
It’s interesting to note that there are examples of men riding aside, too. During WWII, men rode sidesaddle while laying field cable from the back of a galloping horse.
For further reading, and to see more images of riders in history both aside and astride, go to .


Donna Hatch said...

That's very cool! I had no idea side saddle had been used for so long, nor did I know woman rode astride so late in the 18th Century...obviously not commonly accepted as "ladies" though ;-) I gotta love those willing to buck the system a bit!

catslady said...

Sidesaddle looks horribly uncomfortable and surely it has to be harder to control the horse. You would think with all those long dresses it would have been modest enough. Personally, I just don't think men wanted the competition lol.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Donna: Was that a play on words by any chance? But yes, Catherine the Great obviously bucked the system. She knew what she wanted to project, and did it "her way". Thanks for stopping by.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Catslady: Actually, there's a medieval painting showing a peasant carrying water from the well, riding aside. I don't think she was modest, so maybe some of them just thought it was too much trouble to ride astride when going a short distance. About competition, I learned when researching this that they still have a category for riding aside in these horse show/contests. Glad you stopped by.

Joyce DiPastena said...

I've researched side saddles for the 12th Century medieval novel I'm working on and ruled them out for my heroine for that time period. (Actually fits my story better without it. :-) ) Very interesting about ancient Greece! Thanks so much for this post.

Donna Hatch said...

He he. No, "buck the system" was an unconscious pun. I guess I'm just unconsciously witty ;-)
I know women who compete side-saddle and they say you can do pretty much anything on side saddle that you can astride, give enough practice. Of course, that's using a modern-day English side-saddle, so that may be the difference. I can certainly understand that riding astride would feel more secure without a fancy saddle.