Between the two world wars, as it became socially acceptable for women to ride astride while wearing split skirts and eventually breeches, the side saddle fell out of use for several decades. Sadly, thousands of beautiful saddles and habits were thrown out or burnt, all over Ireland and Britain. The rise of woman’s suffrage also played a role as women rejected traditional restrictions in their physical activities as well as seeking greater social, political and economic freedoms. However, there remained a place for side saddle riding in certain traditional and ceremonial circumstances and aficionados kept the tradition alive until a revival began in the 1970’s, when, (after a phenomenal response to a letter lamenting the decline of side saddle published in ‘Horse and Hound’ magazine), a small group of ladies set up a Side Saddle Association in the U.K. to gather together instructors and side saddles, determined to keep the art of side saddle alive. Ladies in Ireland followed suit in 1981, and set up The Side Saddle Association of Ireland to promote and assist side saddle riders. Patricia (Trish) Hanson was the moving force, she was also the vice president of the U.K. Society. Increasing numbers of ladies have gone back to the habit, and in 2013 a world record was set in Co. Meath when fifty ladies hunted side saddle on a specially organised hunt. The Side Saddle Association of Ireland now has more than 100 members , while there are over 1200 members in the British equivalent and thousands more across the globe.
The elegance and splendour of side saddle riding has made a huge comeback in Ireland, the U.K., Europe, America, Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand and beyond in recent years, and authentic saddles and habits are in great demand. It is an expensive sport in terms of equipment needed, so if anyone here has their Granny’s side saddle sitting in their tack room or attic, they may well be sitting on a little gold mine! It is extremely important if thinking of taking up the sport to get expert advice on saddle fitting and lessons. Cheap newly made saddles can be found but these are usually not good quality, and unfortunately a lot of ladies who are desperate to start, rush out and end up buying these unrideable saddles and are turned off the idea for life! Several saddlers in Britain beyond are now training in side saddle restoration as well as making new saddles, which are much more desirable than some which can been seen for sale on line. Anyone interested in renting a saddle or getting advice on where to buy one is advised to contact the Side Saddle Association of Ireland where expert help and advice is available.
There are four ‘big name’ saddles which are coveted by every side saddle rider. These are Owen, Mayhew, Whippy and Champion & Wilton. In America, the ‘Martin &Martin’ side saddle is also popular. Most of these saddles date from the 1920s and 30s, the golden age of side saddle riding. They are expensive and can be difficult to source however our Association has a selection of beautiful saddles for hire and also has expert saddle fitters who will help you to find and fit a saddle on your quest for the ‘holy grail’… a saddle that fits both you and your horse!
We have a very active Side Saddle Association in Ireland and we are always looking for new members to help promote the side show to the main stage! We organize outings such as ‘have a go days’, hacks at stately houses, special side saddle hunting days, displays, pony camp style weekends and training clinics, along with affiliated competitions at shows all over the country. We have a fantastic website www.ssaireland.com along with an active Facebook page, where our members can interact, help each other with any queries and share our events & photos.
The Side Saddle Association of Ireland also became affiliated to Horse Sport Ireland in 2013 and looks forward to a long and successful relationship with them.
Below is a picture of the first side saddle hack I organised back in May 2012, at Mount Juliet estate in Co. Kilkenny (www.mountjuliet.ie)