Sidesaddle riding is a form of equestrianism that uses a type of saddle which allows a rider to sit aside rather than astride an equine. Sitting aside dates back to antiquity and developed in European countries in the Middle Ages as a way for women in skirts to ride a horse in a modest fashion while also wearing fine clothing and it has retained a specialty niche even in the modern world. The earliest depictions of women riding with both legs on the side of the horse can be seen in Greek vases, sculptures. Medieval depictions show women seated aside with the horse being led by a man, ninth century depictions show a small footrest, or planchette added to the pillion. These designs did not allow a woman to control a horse, in Europe, the sidesaddle developed in part because of cultural norms which considered it unbecoming for a woman to straddle a horse while riding. Further, long skirts were the fashion and riding astride in such attire was often impractical, awkward. However, women did ride horses and needed to be able to control their own animals, the earliest functional sidesaddle was credited to Anne of Bohemia. It was a chair-like affair where the woman sat sideways on the horse with her feet on a small footrest. The design made it difficult for a woman to stay on and use the reins to control the horse, so the animal was usually led by another rider. The insecure design of the early sidesaddle also contributed to the popularity of the Palfrey, a more practical design, developed in the 16th century, has been attributed to Catherine de Medici. In her design, the rider sat facing forward, hooking her right leg around the pommel of the saddle with a horn added to the side of the saddle to secure the riders right knee. The footrest was replaced with a stirrup, a leather-covered Stirrup iron into which the riders left foot was placed. This saddle allowed the both to stay on and to control her own horse, at least at slower speeds. However, not all women adopted the sidesaddle at all times, women such as Diane de Poitiers and Marie Antoinette were known to ride astride. Catherine the Great of Russia went so far as to commission a portrait showing her riding astride wearing an officers uniform. In the 1830s, Jules Pellier invented a design with a second. In this design, still in use today, one pommel is nearly vertical, mounted approximately 10 degrees left of top dead center and curved gently to the right and up. The rider’s right leg goes around the upright, or fixed pommel, the lower right leg rests along the shoulder of the left side of the horse and up against the second pommel which lies below the first on the left of the saddle
Woman riding in a modern English sidesaddle class.
An early 19th-century English caricature, mocking women who rode astride.
Equestrian portrait of Catherine the Great, as a young woman, riding sidesaddle. She also rode astride.