Riding and Driving for Women
by Belle Beach
"In these days of “advanced” ideas the advisability of women aping men in yet another way, by riding astride, is the subject of general discussion. Many “authorities” upon riding – “mere men”, it is needless to say – speak with enthusiasm of the day when all women will ride in this, for most of them, ungainly and unbecoming fashion, Personally, I deplore this tendency and believe that it is a mere passing fad and that, except under peculiar conditions which I will mention, most women ride best and look best in the side-saddle.
The average woman is not built for cross-saddle riding; her legs from the knee up are too short; her thighs too thick; her hips too big, and she is cushioned too high to enable her to keep close down with the required firmness on the saddle. The side-saddle certainly insures a stronger seat, especially in the cases of pitching forward, as, for instance, with a stumbling horse or a kicking one, or on landing after the jump.
In riding, women are very generally accompanied by men, and there are few occasions when a woman has it in her power to look better – or worse – than when in the saddle. It is only those women who are built like men and very young girls who look at all well astride. A woman with merely a normally developed figure looks both ridiculous and immodest in this position, and in an English saddle thoroughly ill at ease."
Little did Belle know, within a matter of decades, the world of riding would have changed so drastically from her predicitons. I can't say I even agree with her opinions. But she was certainly entitled to them.
Born in 1875, Miss Beach spent her life riding professionally and teaching the young ladies of society's elite to ride. A search of the NY Times pdf archives reveals pages and pages of articles mentioning Belle's exploits in the show ring and the details of her society life in NY and Newport. "Mrs. Beach and Miss Belle Beach closed their Newport season to-day, and went to New York for the Winter" Oct 08, 1902.... She died in 1927, destitute and suffering from cancer, rumored a suicide, having outlived the world she made her living at.
Besides her wonderful book, which can be read in it's entirety on Google Books and even downloaded in pdf form and printed, there are few materials available on this fascinating woman. There was a book in the works, mentioned here, which has not been finished. But time has not completely forgotten her. How would she have felt if she understood that nearly a 100 years later there would be a woman, sitting at an office desk, searching this modern wonder, the Internet, for clues on how to keep her thick thighs, big hips and too high cushioning on a side-saddle although she finds a cross-saddle so much more comfortable and secure? My how the world has changed.