Riding side saddle a balancing act

MILLARVILLE, Alta. – Riding side saddle conjures up images from another era.

Riding in their side saddles in formal riding attire in a parade, Alberta riders Holly Hardman, Charis Cooper, Caitlin McLean and Michelle Chauncey gave the crowds a rare treat last month at the Millarville- Priddis fair.

“We are considered to be quite attractive. One man said to me, ‘that is the sexiest thing I have ever seen,” said Hardman.

“It is the ultimate icebreaker,” said Chauncey, who started riding side saddle about 18 months ago.

Hardman and Cooper have been riding side saddle for several decades.

“I could take a woman who has never ridden a horse and teach her to ride side saddle in an hour,” said Hardman, a certified horse trainer who has held clinics at the Bar U Historical Ranch at Longview, Alta.

Hardman will enter a dressage event this fall riding side saddle, making her the first Canadian woman to try it.

In bygone days, riding side saddle was considered more ladylike than riding astraddle.

“They thought it made women infertile,” said Cooper.

As a new rider, Chauncey recalled stiffening her left leg to hang on.

Riding side saddle uses four reins and requires balance and good hand control as opposed to leg and core strength, said Hardman.

Modifications for safety were introduced early on, especially for women interested in more intense sports that included fast riding and jumping.

The apron, which closes up the back and drapes over the front to cover the legs and saddle, was a major safety feature that retained their modesty and prevented long skirts from tangling if the rider fell. Without that release, the rider could be tipped over and risk dragging her head on the ground.

“Aprons developed when they rode in the hunt,” said Hardman.

Finding new side saddles is a challenge. Hardman owns five saddles, some of them nearly a century old. They come in English and western style and sell for about $1,500.

A left-sided saddle is known as the near side while the right style is called the off side.

To get on the horse, the rider faces the horse and pivots at a 90 degree angle to place herself in the saddle.

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