I’ve always wanted to try sidesaddle. It seemed like one of those dramatically elegant, esoteric things that would suddenly transport you back to another time, full of tea parties and hunt cups. Several years ago, in a CANTER benefit auction, I won a lesson, but didn’t get a chance to use it because Cally bruised her coffin bone before I could get something set up, and then she was off for so long we missed our window to take it. So I was really excited to find someone who was actively competing sidesaddle and would give me a lesson on her horse, who has been there, done that, and knows what he’s doing. That’s probably the best way to learn anyway!
It was a good thing I did have a packer pony for the little lesson, because it was certainly an experience in adjusting balance and the way one uses their body on the horse. Even getting on was different, because you have to swing up into the saddle without getting caught on the leaping heads, then swing your right leg up and around them. Once I got my legs into position, and an explanation of how to sit and use my legs –no heels down!– we headed around the ring at a nice moseying walk. I felt like I was totally perched up on the top of the horse, and was actually realizing how much I use my legs to balance, steer, and just generally control the horse, now that I didn’t have use of them.
Then we trotted.
Looking far more elegant than it felt
That looks all nice and elegant and totally Lady Mary, right? Except in the video, you get a better idea of just how much movement there is to absorb with your body, and unlike sitting in a dressage saddle, for example, there aren’t your legs to help absorb the motion.
It felt like the whole world was bouncing as we went around! It actually wasn’t uncomfortable from a sitting perspective, because you can use your hips to follow the motion the same way you can in a regular saddle.
I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about cantering, but the horse I was on, Gideon, was being totally perfect for me, obviously new his job and was taking care of me and just enjoying getting to truck around and not working too hard. So I figured why not, we’ll give it a try. We went to the right first, so that my legs were to the outside, and this was OK, but it felt like I was bouncing a lot on my seat. And it was harder than at the trot to sit back and absorb it like I would by riding in a more dressage type posture. It was a bit easier when I was told to go a little more forward, because the motion sort of carried you. To the left, so my legs were to the inside, I totally felt like I was going to topple off the side due to centrifugal force, so we just skipped that for the day.
I was brave enough to say that I’d try going over a pole, and took Holly up on her offer of putting up a tiny half-crossrail for us to go over. I wasn’t sure what to expect from that, because just from the times I’ve seen sidesaddle, at Upperville and Harrisburg, the jumping has looked uncomfortable.
It wasn’t so much that it’s uncomfortable to jump from being positions in the sidesaddle, it’s more like I was missing the way you use your legs to be shock absorbers while jumping. Definitely none of that available, so it’s a bit more whiplashy on landing, even from a tiny fence.
Sidesaddle was definitely a challenge, because it forced me to use my body in a very different way than I’m used to, and made me realize how valuable my legs are in my everyday riding. Its something I’d definitely like to try again, just to see if it gets easier (I’m sure it does) and feels less crazy as you do it a bit more. I actually think it would be kind of interesting to try on Cally, one day. However, I have no idea how people thought that it was a good way to do anything intense, like foxhunting. That’s some badassery on a whole level I can’t even process. Going around the ring was enough of a challenge for me!