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.