Monday, February 21, 2011

Critical Situations

No side saddle progress this week. Despite the fact that we had 3 beautiful, warm spring days... the kind where you simply cannot fathom the thought that winter will return... winter is back. Saturday morning's weather was every bit as miserable as last Saturday's. Cold, HIGH winds, blowing snow, slippery roads, poor visibility. Completely demoralised, I dragged myself out of bed and to the barn with as little baggage as possible, leaving the armloads of side saddle and gear on the rack in the living room.

After puttering around the barn for a bit while Grey thundered around the tiny indoor, I finally mustered enough interest to get out a cold bridle, and catch the wild thing for a bareback ride. It was apparent, even before I got him to the mounting block, that this was not going to be a leisurely waddle around on the fuzzy couch. As Mom put it he had "too many bats in his belfry" and she decided to linger in the barn "just in case you fall off". Thanks for the vote of confidence.

The 50 mph winds were howling in the trees outside, creaking the walls, and banging the doors. Even though we have four and a half foot solid gates in the back, the actual sliding door is hopelessly frozen open affording a clear view of fresh-snow phantasms blowing down off the roof. After a monstrous spook which didn't unseat me, but did tweak something in my right side and lower back, I decided this was one of those moments: Give up and get down, or toughen up and ride. I wiggled out of my comfy quilted barn jacket, and traded it over the gate for the dressage whip.

Deciding to avoid going past the back door, we instead did trot figure eights in the safe 2/3rds of the 50x50. Since Grey was channeling his inner park horse and could only be trusted with about 18" of rein, it did not resemble elementary dressage work, but instead a satirical farce based on a saddle seat equitation class... bareback. I tried posting (usually easy) to save my back, but that loosened the all important connection of fanny to horse so I opted instead to concentrate on which seat bone my weight was in. After awhile I finally got him settled, ahead of my leg, and listening well enough to do an elementary leg yield, amd then cantered both ways without incident. So, as it turned out, conditions were not conducive to learning to ride aside. Which, begs the question, what does a lady do when her horse misbehaves?

To bring today’s entry back to a side saddle theme, I went flipping through some pdf copies of the old books to see how ladies were expected to handle naughty horses, and I must say, I wish I had more time to devote to sitting and reading these books cover to cover because there were some real gems.

Principles of Modern Riding for Ladies by John Allen (1825)
The author refers to these as “Critical Situations” and gives the usual advice on rearing and bucking horses but also tackles some indelicate terminology… “Accordingly, when he lifts his forelegs, your breech must be thrust out behind, by which you are prepared if he rears.”

Belle Beach must have been quite the gutsy rider, as she was a professional, and certainly was put in all sorts of hairy situations. “Many claim that the cross-saddle is safer than the side saddle in case of a rearing horse falling over backward. I do not agree with this (of course she wouldn’t)for, in the first place, many good men have suffered shocking accidents in this way and, when riding in the cross-saddle, unless the rider succeeds in throwing himself clear from the horse, he is almost sure to have one leg broken. On the other hand, with a side-saddle, if the horse comes down on his off side, there is no danger of a broken leg, and when the horse starts to rear a woman can usually make him fall on the off side by pulling his head to that side with all her strength, so that on this point the ease of clearing oneself from a cross-saddle is more that offset by the ability to throw the horse with safety and make him fall on the off side.” Now, I’ve thrown a few horses over, in my rougher youth, and you should actually pull the horse’s head left, not to the off side, but I think this method falls squarely in the “do not try this at home” category.

I didn’t take the time to relate all of William Alexander Kerr’s advice in Practical Horsemanship and Riding for Ladies (1891) but I did spot this interesting illustration. The trainer looks pretty determined doesn’t he? If I ever got my legs in that position… I don’t think I’d be getting off on my own.

Ladies on Horseback by Mrs. (Nannie) Power O’Donoghue (1881) provides not only the most exhaustive advice on bad actors, but by far the most amusing. She starts with very practical advice, then ventures off into wonderful stories of personal experiences.

"You must not lose sight of the fact that a bird flitting suddenly across, a donkey’s head laid without warning against a gate, a goat’s horns appearing over a wall, or even a piece of paper blown along the ground, may cause your horse to shy, and if you are not sitting close at the time, woe betide you! "

"Should your horse show temper and attempt to back with you, leave him rein, touch him lightly with your heel, and speak encouragingly to him; should he persist, your attendant must look into the matter; but a horse who possesses this dangerous vice should never be ridden by a lady. "

"Should your horse at anytime rear with you, throw the reins loose, sit close, and bring your whip sharply across his flank. If this is not effectual, you may give him the butt end of it between the ears, which will be pretty sure to bring him down. " Oh my. How unladylike.

She then goes on to relate a runaway situation that rather amused her, but not so much as the fact that a gentleman “actually attacked my servant in the most irate manner because he had not clattered after me during the progress of the mare’s wild career. ‘How dare you sir,’ cried this irascible old gentleman, ‘how dare you attempt to neglect your young lady in this cowardly manner?’ Nor was his anger at all appeased when informed that I, as a matron was my own caretaker, and that my attendant had strict injunctions not to follow me in the event of my horse being startled or running away.”

She then goes on to relate a story of being runaway with in a hunt and of jumping a 6’ 6” wall (which she set her horse at to stop him) and landing in the middle of a farm yard, creating a “considerable disturbance”!
“Such a commotion amongst fowl was surely never witnessed.” Finding the gate locked, she did the only thing she could… led her defeated horse out through the kitchen, startling an old woman who was knitting in the chimney corner. “And she was still shrieking long after I had mounted the big bay and ridden him back to inform his owner of how charmingly he had behaved.” Who could think a lady could have such adventures?
She must have been quite the character. I'll have to spend the time to read that book more thoroughly, as well as the Riding for Ladies published in 1887. All the above books are available in their entirety in Google Books.


  1. With Hattie, I can feel when a buck is coming so I can prepare myself and yank her head up straight away and do my safety grip on the side saddle. I can usually sit them out except with my old saddle when it slide forward onto her shoulders, causing her to buck and I was unable to stay on as the saddle was unbalanced. That hurt!

    Sometimes Hattie gets into this "wound up" mood where she wants to buck and bolt off and her head goes up real high and she starts wanting to go sideways so she can take off.

    I HATE when she does that so I've got to point my right toe right down, keep my left leg off of her, make sure that right shoulder is RIGHT back incase there is any spinning and sit real still talking to her in a deep "man" voice. It's hard enough in an astride saddle but in a side saddle I've got to REALLY make sure I stay square.

  2. It's been our experience that windy days seldom equal good riding regardless of the temperature outside. I believe Melissa and I would have made bad Victorians ! I hate to admit that the first thing to go in critical situations in our house is the PG language filter. Strong language won't right a bad situation and it sure won't help the horse find itself, but it helps make ME feel better and that's good enough !

  3. I declined to ride the other day when the winds were topping 55 mph. Windy weather is bad enough, especially if you ride a hot bred horse, but when horse eating debris such as shingles and bits of electric fence are whistling by, it's time to head back to the barn.

    I did try to ride in the sleet today, but the weather made Owen revert to his saddle seat days. When a horse misbehaves aside you absolutely MUST keep your right shoulder back and your right leg pressed against the safe, otherwise you will pivot around the pommels and pitch off backwards on the right side. Turn him sharply to the right and do not let him spin to the left.

    Those ladies had been riding aside all of their lives, so it was second nature to them.

  4. Love the stories!

    The bucking isn't so bad but riding a rearer sidesaddle scares the heck out of me. Belle has an interesting theory but I sure wouldn't want to be in that situation where I'd have to try it. EEEeek!

    I have to say that gentlemen's "grip" with his legs looks most uncomfortable!!

    I'm always amazed at how secure a sidesaddle is. I've been on my mare in the middle of a field while she was having a tantrum and felt secure (and annoyed! lol). She spooked at a clinic last year and did the full 180 and tried to run away and it was no big deal. The only time I've felt slightly unseated was when my mare chipped & popped over a fence really hard.

  5. I'll have to try to practice turning to the right. I instinctively one rein stop any horse to the left because my left leg is stronger and I'm less likely to spin off. I have had to vary that with this horse, and try to alternate which rein I use because it happens often enough that I didn't want to teach him to spin out counterclockwise when he gets naughty. Once they learn that dirty trick, its pretty hard to untrain.

  6. Good post. I liked the excerpts from the books. I've never ridden side saddle, don't really know if I could. But I don't think I'll be trying something new at my age although I think it must be an interesting way to ride. Sorry I never thought of it when I was younger.

  7. Could you please post links for the books that you wrote about? I couldn't find them.

  8. I added links to the titles in the post above to make it more efficient. I should have taken the time to do that before. When you search Google for a book, enter the search, and then when the results come up, go to the tool bar on the top, where you would filter your results by image, or shopping, and look under the "more" category. "Books" will be there.

    You will also want to filter the book results further by going to the left margin and choosing only the results with "preview available" which will give you the out of copyright books that Google has scanned in their entirety. Very useful.


  9. This comment has been removed by the author.