Women riding side saddle

I have been watching a lot of movies and TV shows that depict life in the Western US during the 19th century. Sometimes it shows women riding side saddle, while other times it shows them riding the same way that men do.

For example, I was watching an episode of “Wanted: Dead or Alive” that included a nun in the story line and she was riding all over the place side saddle. As I watched her it seemed like an extremely risky way to ride a horse. It’s looks harder to keep your balance, since neither of her feet appeared to be in stirrups, and getting on and off the horse seemed particularly challenging.

I realize that during the Edwardian and Victorian periods women had to do lots of things that today they wouldn’t think of doing, and riding side saddle appears to be just another one of those customs.

My questions is why did some women choose to ride like men while other chose to ride side saddle? Did it depend on your age or rank in society? Given the limitations of riding that way I would think that most women who rode a lot would switch to not riding side saddle once they realized the benefit of having better control of the horse, especially if it takes off in a full gallop.

So what’s the SD on women riding side saddle in the old west?

One foot is in a stirrup and the saddle is actually designed differently, so your legs are holding on to the front of the saddle for stability. Gripping a saddle with your big strong leg muscles is pretty stable. I’ll see if I can find a pic.

ETA: Here is a saddle design for riding side saddle, so you can see how stable it can be. ETA: The added benefit for women in the days of yore is that they can use this kind of saddle with a full length skirt and still keep their sexy, man-baiting legs hidden from view in polite society.

It is difficult to straddle a horse in a dress, and unladylike to boot. I don’t recall many women riding horses in the Old West, as far as I know they would prefer to use a trap or other type of carriage or wagon (disclaimer – the “Old West” is not a time period I have given any interest or study to).

“Ladies” rode side saddle. Women could do as they pleased.

That’s interesting SMP, since in the show a man is riding the horse first, he gets off and the nun gets on. It’s a regular men’s saddle so her foot isn’t in the stirup in this particular case, but I see your point.

So is your contension that riding side saddle, with an appropriate style saddle, is as stable and safe as riding with both feet in the stirrups like men do? Even if the horse takes off running at a full gallop?

I assume the reason women rode side saddle was because they were usually wearing a dress. And when women started wearing pants there was no need to ride that way, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

And here is a pic from a jumping competition with a woman clearing a great jump in a side saddle. So it’s not just for dainty cantering around the yard. You figure your thighs have some of the biggest, baddest muscles in your body, it’s a pretty strong way to hang on.

I wonder about getting thrown off though. It looks like it could be messy.

I’m not sure if it’s more stable, but it provided a secure means for women to ride “modestly” without getting we horndogs all hot and bothered. If a woman didn’t have a side saddle, I would assume she would have not choice but to straddle a horse like a man (the harlot!)

ETA: Interesting, from wiki

It also mentions the riding crop/whip being used on the right to cue the horse, I guess since you can’t cue it with your right leg.

The idea of a woman wearing pants in the 1880s was pretty much incomprehensible to the people of the time. I was just reading about how in France of the time, a woman had to get a license from the government to wear pants, and had to prove that there was a convincing reason to do so. Even so, only about eight women had this right in 1889.

No wisdom about horses, but I’ve been in plenty of situations where I have had to ride on the back of motorcycle regularly while wearing skirts.

The side-saddle-or-not choice was usually about clothing. Some skirts simply can’t be worn while straddling something (and some made it difficult to get on and off without showing more than you’d like to.) I’d have to specifically tell my tailor to make sure my skirt was compatible with riding a motorcycle. Even full skirts can be a problem, because you kind of have to sweep them up before you get on, and it doesn’t always work out quite right. Often it’s a lot easier on everyone just to hop on side saddle and hope you don’t fall. On a motorcycle, at least, it is not as unstable as you’d think it is. Most motion is back-forward, not horizontal.

Radar O’Reilly: “Why do women ride side saddle?”
Colonel Potter: “Would you marry a woman who didn’t?”

So did/do men who wear kilts regularly also ride side saddle? Wouldn’t they have the same issue?

Don’t know about horses, but when I was in the navy, a female Lieutenant in my group was told that she was not allowed to ride a bike with a crossbar. Guess how angry that made her?
Add in the fact that she was American (on exchange to the Royal Navy).

Thread on boys’/men’s vs/ women’s/girls’ bicycles. I think I’m the only person who drew the connection to sidesaddle horse-riding, but it remains relevant.

Kilt’s can be a lot shorter. My hunting tartan is about knee length. Ladies of polite society would wear skirts that kept their ankles covered. The social rules are different: We manly men can let our asses hang out and it’s “manly”. A woman who exposes her legs is “skanky”.

ETA: Also, Scottish calvary often wore trews rather than kilts. They are much more pant-like.

Pants were invented by the ancient Scythians, mainly because they spent so much time in the saddle out on the steppes. They were also the people who invented horse riding. Scythian women were warriors too, wearing pants and riding horses.

The fashion next caught on with their neighbors the Persians, who introduced pants to the rest of the Middle East. Again, traditional Persian village women wear pants (under their skirts), perhaps following the example of the Scythians. In Europe, the Celtic and Germanic peoples went for it first (hence trews). The Scythian country of Sarmatia was their neighbor in ancient times. But the ancient Greeks and Romans thought pants were only for barbarians. Somehow the

For the Scythians, pants weren’t a gendered garment, but a practical one for both women and men riding horses. European women couldn’t sit astride horses because they weren’t allowed to wear pants.

There’s some side-to-side motion on a horse, but it’s not a rolling motion such as one experiences on a ship or plane. The horse’s back drops a bit to one side or the other as the legs on that side move, but it doesn’t push the rider from side to side - it’s more like a hula-hoop feeling.

On a well-behaved horse, you gain more control by keeping your butt firmly in contact with the horse’s back than you do by hanging on with your legs. A properly fitted sidesaddle lets the rider do that, because she doesn’t really face sideways. Rather, she brings her right leg forward and over the top of the saddle to rest in the upper pommel of the saddle. The rider faces slightly to the left. It’s pretty stable even at high speeds.

On a horse determined to misbehave, your legs ain’t gonna help anyway. :slight_smile:

Not what we generally mean by sidesaddle, but here’s some footage of Joop Stokkel (Warning: 16 seconds of ads before the video), a one-legged dressage rider, training. Stokkel’s right leg was amputated at the hip, but he has no problem staying on.

I have never ridden side-saddle, but I just wanted to chime in and say that a good rider (which I never really was), won’t use the stirrups that much to “hang on” to the horse. They are useful for stability and form, but riding is more about balance and grip. I only ride about once a year now, usually simple trail rides, and I find I actually prefer to pull up the stirrups and cross them over the saddle and just let my legs hang, since I feel more stable that way. I’ve had horses bolt while I was bareback or without stirrups and it wasn’t any harder (or easier!) to stay on than for the horses who bolted when I was using the stirrups.

I’ve ridden side saddle and IMHO I found it to be more stable. If the horse was to shy you’ve got your leg behind the thing in the middle (I may have ridden side saddle but that doesn’t mean I know it intimately) which acts in the same way the blocks on Australian stock saddle do, preventing you from being thrown forward over the pommel. I would imagine it wasn’t just the popularity of pants that made the conventional saddle popular but that I think you’d put stress on your back and the horses back by sitting in such a way that you didn’t evenly distribute your weight. There is no real rising trot in a side saddle either so it’s only really comfortable to walk or canter in one for any length of time.

Sidesaddle is definitely NOT as stable as astride, it is quite dangerous and limiting … there is a reason it went out of fashion!!

As far as I can see, it only had social conventions … as in … women had to wear long dresses and were prevented from showing leg at various times in the past - therefore to ride a horse there was a method invented to enable them to do this and meet social customs. There were also the sexual beliefs at the time ie. that women who opened their legs were considered socially unacceptable, that women might get pleasure from riding (yes, that type of pleasure), lose their virginity and of course it would display women in a position of strength vs vulnerability.

Should add … to actually answer the OP …

Why would women choose to ride side saddle? I’m not sure individual women had much choice … their social/financial status would have influenced not only their dress code but the horses and tack available to ride. There would have also been an influence from the reason for riding … pleasure vs transport vs farming. Women who were working the land would have been less likely to be wearing big skirts, have a side saddle, have access to a horse trained in side saddle, less social conventions and more reason to stay on!