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Friday, April 10, 2015

Riding in Style in the Regency

By the start of the 1800's one of the biggest innovations in horse fashion had arrived--the Thoroughbred.  Three founding stallions--the Darley Arabian "Manak," the Godolphin Barb, and the Byerley Turk--had been brought to England in the early 1700's.  When these light, fast Arabians were bred with the larger, cold-blooded English mares, the cross produced a horse with size, speed and stamina.

With the Thoroughbred established as a breed, horse racing also became a more popular, and a better regulated, sport.  In 1711, Queen Anne had established regular race meetings at her park at Ascot.  Gentlemen also organized races for themselves, often "matching" particular horses against each other, and by 1727 a Racing Almanac began to be printed.

Around 1750, the gentlemen who regularly met at the Red Lion Inn at Newmarket started the Jockey Club.  By 1791, the Jockey Club had issued the "General Stud Book", and by the early 1800's Jockey Club stewards attended every racing meet and race, including the Derby, first held in May of 1779, the first Derby was held.  Racing now became a fashionable and expensive sports.

Assize-week was the time for races, for that was when the gentry came into the chief town of the shire for trials and selling harvest.  Meets sprang up, and still run, at Newmarket in April and October, York in May, Epsom, Ascot in June, Goodwood, Doncaster, Warick, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Cheltenham, Bath, Worcester, and Newcastle.

Flat and jumping races were also held for women only.  Mrs. Bateman wrote in 1723, "Last week, Mrs. Aslibie arranged a flat race for women, and nine of that sex, mounted astride and dressed in short pants, jackets and jockey caps participated. They were striking to see, and there was a great crowd to watch them.  The race was a very lively one; but I hold it indecent entertainment."  Some women--such as the infamous Letty Lade, who reportedly swore like a coachman--rode and drove to please themselves, and made their own fashion statement by bucking the trends for demure ladies.

But racing could be a ruinous expensive sport, as stud fees increased in price for the most successful sires.  Before the Prince Regent quit the racing scene in 1807, his racing stud farm cost him an estimated 30,000 pounds a year.

The less wealthy, however, could still enjoy equine sport through presence fox hunting.  For while expensive Thoroughbreds hunters might also be seen in the hunt field, farmers also rode their heavier draft horses, such as the Suffolk Punch, and children might well be mounted upon handy Welsh Cobs or Welsh Ponies.  The hunt field was where skill mattered more than social position, and even a man in trade, such as Gunter, the confectioner who ran the famous London shop which sold ices, could ride next to lords--and a few ladies, too.

By the 1780's, fox hunting had replaced the more ancient sport of stag hunting.  The Enclosure Acts of the 1700's had also changed the sport from its early form of gallops across open land into races over fences, ditches and field.

November to March was, and remains, fox hunting season, starting after the fall of the leaf, when the fields lie fallow, and ending after the last frost, just before the first planting.Hunt territories varied widely.  The fifth Earl of Berkely hunted an area from Berkley Castle to Berkley Square, stretching 120 miles. There were two methods for being able to hunt with a pack.  One could hunt by invitation of the hunt master, or one could pay a fee to hunt with a subscription pack.  By 1810 there were 24 subscription packs.  However, this would double, so that by the mid-1800's hunting had become more a matter of subscribing in exchange for the right to hunt with the pack.

The golden age for hunting in Leichesterchire is considered to be 1810 to 1830.  During this time, there were as many as 300 hunters stabled in Melton Mowbray--with some gentlemen keeping up to 12 hunters.  A gentleman could hunt six days a week with the Quorn, the Cottesmore, the Belvoir, and the Pytchley, and to do so would need at least two mounts every day to keep pace with the master and the pack of hounds.

Ladies, while not generally found in the hunt, also rode to hounds.  Mrs. Tuner Farley hunted for 50 years.  Lady Salisbury was master of the Hatfield Hunt from 1775 to 1819.  She hunted old and blind, in her sky blue habit, with a groom leading her horse and yelling at her to, "Jump, damn you, my lady."  From 1788 to 1840, Lord Darlington hunted his own hounds four days a week in Yorkshire and Durham, with his three daughters and his second wife, all in their scarlet habits.

However, between late 1700's to about mid 1800's, when the jumping pommel was invented for the side saddle, ladies were more likely to be advised to "ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite."
It should be noted that a few ladies chose to ride astride. This was not common, but it was done, particularly by those who didn't really give a fig about what anyone thought of them.
Prior to 1835, a side saddle had only one or two pommels.  One turned up to support the right leg, and some had a second pommel which turned down over the left leg.  The 'jumping' pommel did not exist in Regency times.
A lady's riding habit also had to be cut so that it draped down over the horse's side, covering ankle and boot in a lovely flow.  This drape required that a loop be attached to the hem, so that, when dismounted, a lady could gather up the extra length of skirt.  The fabric for a habit was usually a heavy cotton, twill or wool.  Due to its cut, a habit provided any woman as much freedom as breeches did for a man.
Riding habit styles often copied military fashion, with close cut coats, cravats, and military shakos.  Ladies always wore gloves, both to preserve their hands, and to improve their grip upon the reins. The side saddle requires the rider to sit with a straight back and with hips and shoulders absolutely even.  Slightly more weight should be carried on the right hip to compensate for the weight of both legs on the left.  Any tilting to one side, leaning or twisting eventually results in a horse with a sore back.
Side saddles have a broad, flat and comfortably padded seat.  The right leg goes over a padded leather branch which turns up (the top pommel).  The left leg is in a stirrup that is short enough to bring it firmly up against a second pommel which turns down.  If the horse plays up at all, the rider must clamp both legs together, gripping these pommels.
On a comfortable horse, riding side saddle soon begins to feel a bit like riding a padded rocking chair.  It's far less tiring than riding astride for the only effort is to sit straight and still. The important factor in riding side saddle is the horse.  A comfortable stride and good manners are essential.  This does not have to be a placid horse, but should not be a horse with a rough or bumpy stride.

Betty Skelton, author of Side Saddle Riding, found that...."As a teenager in the 1920's, side saddle riding was second nature to me.  I found it comfortable and I did not fall off as often as I had done from a cross saddle."  In teaching side saddle, Ms. Skelton has found that a beginner rider can often be comfortably cantering during her first lesson, which is far more progress than most can manage when riding astride.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Who would have thought that there could be advantages to riding sidesaddle? :-) Interesting drawing showing a young lady about to mount on the off side rather than the usual near side of the horse. Obviously a lot I need to learn!

Thank you for the fascinating post.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. I first read about the creation of the Godolphin Arabian in Marguerite Henry's "King of the Wind" when I was a very little girl. I got my first horse when I was six and have had many horses over the years - both for serious competition and pleasure. Some have been Thoroughbreds and I can attest that even these hundreds of years later, when it's chilly and the wind is up, Thoroughbreds can behave an awful lot like their Arabian forbears...

Unknown said...

The Arabian horse only contributed 6 per cent DNA to the TB; the principal contributors were native British Galloways and Hobbies, who were the running horses in Britain LONG before any of the other breeds arrived. They weren't big, either! The other input was primarily Turkoman, not Arabian. Why do you think the TB developed in Britain? Because we already had a formal tradition of racing dating back in the case of Scotland to the 12th century under William the Lion, and in the case of England at least to Chester in the first part of the 16th century.

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vaschafer said...

I think that print got reversed. The pummels should be on the other side and so should be the mounting