Kilkenny Hunt Opening Meet 31st October 2008

The first time I ever hunted side saddle was with the Kilkenny Hunt at the opening meet in Gowran on 31st October 2008. I had used my friend Caroline’s saddle all that summer and had managed to buy my own saddle a couple of months before the opening meet! I can’t remember much of the day apart from that I LOVED HUNTING SIDE SADDLE! but I have a lovely article saved in my scrap book by Charlie Ripman that was published in ‘The Irish Field’, with the quote “Among the field was a young lady experiencing a first: Ciara Ryan, a primary school teacher, who, like all the young out, was thrilled that the opening meet fell during mid term break, was hunting side saddle for the first time and rode most elegantly all day. Her mare behaved as one would expect of one so well bred. By the thoroughbred Dyab, she is out of a King of Diamonds mare and will make a great breeding prospect”

This article made my week when it was published ! 

I had a saddle bag full of goodies and was followed around by the O’Donnell children from Gowran all day in the hope that I would open it up and share out the sweets! 

I have some nice photos from the meet that I’ll upload when I have a chance 🙂 

 

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Summer hack at Mount Juliet 26th May 2012

Following on from a throwaway remark that Kalindi made at the hunt in Laois that ‘a few of us should meet up some time for a hack’, I put my thinking cap on and came up with the idea of approaching Mount Juliet to see if we could have a group side saddle hack there. Jenny and her team were very agreeable to the idea and even made six hire horses available on the condition that I tried them all out with my side saddle beforehand to make sure they were ok. Needless to say, Prince; Dave; Bonnie; Chad; Caesar and Pippin all took to it like proverbial ducks to water, they are fantastic, well schooled and sensible horses!!

On Saturday 26th May, fourteen of us from the Side Saddle Association of Ireland, including Chairperson Georgina Galvin and myself Ciara Ryan (now O’Connell), met at Mount Juliet Equestrian centre to set off on what proved to be a tremendously enjoyable hack around Mount Juliet estate in Co. Kilkenny.

Alison Bennett and Emily Meredith tog out:

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Michael Morris helps his wife Susan

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Amy Fitzgerald almost ready!

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The back drop of the beautiful, stately house ‘Mount Juliet’ added greatly to the total enjoyment of the entire day. We all posed for photos in front of the house and of course, the hip flasks were brought out 😀

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(Yes- that’s me!)

The former ancestral home of the McCalmont family, (whose beloved Kilkenny Foxhounds are still kennelled on the grounds of the Estate) is a really special place and now home to a luxury hotel and top class golf course as well as a state of the art Equestrian Centre, stud farm and out door pursuits such as archery, fishing and clay shooting.

Once the photo shoot was over we headed off around the estate…

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Tex and I with Jenny Reid

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Georgiana Galvin enjoys her ride on Big Dave

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Lynne Hincks

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Mary Rothwell

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The ladies ranged in age from seventy five years young to thirteen years old and included in the company were ladies from a variety of different backgrounds: hunting, racing, showing, riding club, pony club, team chasing, show jumping and eventing fanatics with one thing in common- the love of the beautiful and elegant style of equestrianism that is riding Side Saddle. With a 62 year age range, it just goes to show one is never too old or too young to ride ‘sideways’ when paired with a good horse!

Ann Shouldice

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Ciara Mullen

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The riders included five complete beginners with an average of two lessons each and one who had never previously sat on a side saddle and still managed before the day was out, to jump a complete round of cross country fence- Esther O’Kane from Donegal!

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Jennifer Torrance & Susan Oakes

It was absolutely unbelievable to witness everyone attempting jumping parts of the wonderful solid cross country course! Led by the ring leaders Susan Oakes and Jennifer Torrance, the other ladies to their surprise were delighted to find that jumping aside in good company is actually quite easy on a well-trained, obedient horse!

A huge thank you to Jenny Reid, (manager of the Mount Juliet equestrian centre) and her staff Tara Monahan and Elaine Roche for preparing such fabulous horses and for ensuring the day ran smoothly. .

Photographs were taken by Jennifer O’Sullivan, Harry Reid and Radka Preislerova (Thank you!)

Full list of riders:

Georgiana Galvin (Meath) Our Chairperson
Ciara Ryan (Carlow) Organiser
Susan Oakes (Meath)
Jennifer Torrance (Galway)
Verity O’Mahoney (Laois)
Amy Fitzgerald (Kildare)
Emily Meredith (Laois)
Alison Bennett (Laois)
Lynne Hincks (Waterford)
Mary Rothwell (Wicklow)
Esther O’Kane (Donegal)
Ann Shouldice (Dublin)
Iseult O’Cleary (Dublin)
Ciara Mullen (Dublin))
Susan Morris (Waterford)

Laois Side Saddle Hunt, March 2012

No sooner was the Meath Hunt over, than the Laois Hunt decided to hold a special side saddle day. It took place at the gorgeous ‘Shanahoe House’ by kind permission of Mr and Mrs Denis Connolly, who also treated everyone to a special hunt breakfast that morning! Tex stayed there the night before in another luxury stable (she could get used to the 5* treatment), There were quite a few riders at this special hunt too:

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(I am 2nd from the right)

Tex was much better behaved on the day now that order had been restored to her grain rations! I stuck with Kalindi (on the big grey Irish Draught), it was her horse’s first day hunting and here they were, side saddle!

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There were lovely cross country jumps on Lionel Foot’s farm, I had a pop around some of the smaller ones. Jonnie Wragg from Tipperary jumped all the big ones of course, and made in onto the cover of the ‘horse world’ supplement in the Irish Field 🙂 

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Meath Side Saddle Hunt, February 4th, 2012

I was one of ten ladies who rode side saddle at the hunt in Meath that year. The meet was held at Carlanstown, Kells, Co. Meath and I was lucky enough to be given a stable at Kiernan’s pub where the meet was to take place, and accommodation just outside the village- after a 4 hour drive, (and a €200 fee for a tyre replacement on the way!) I finally deposited Tex in the lovely stable and made my way to a dinner party where we were all entertained until the early hours of the morning. I was so sick with nerves that I hardly slept that night at all! The morning dawned, and down I went to feed and plait my horse. There were loads of people and photographers milling around so no end of helpers to help me tack up , and to leg me up. Tex had only been clipped a couple of days before and I did a VERY dodgy job of it 🙂

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Within a few minutes after mounting up, we were all lined up in front of Kiernan’s pub.

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L-R: Jonnie Wragg (my idol!), Ciara Ryan (as I was then!), Kalindi Lawrence, Antoinette de la Boullerie (France), Jennifer Kennedy Bray, Jennifer Torrance, Rebecca Holland (U.K.), Susan Oakes, Elizabeth Oakes

My stirrup leather came away from the saddle as we were trotting up the road towards the first fields and a very kind man got down to retrieve it for me (something about side saddle makes them all very gentlemanly!)

This is the first field we went in to:

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Hounds found almost immediately and the whole field took off after them. Tex jumped a tractor tyre rut and I honestly do not know how I didn’t fall off, my arms must have been at least 2 inches longer from trying to hold her all day. I had NO brakes whatsoever. There was only one fly fence which we jumped (not very stylishly), then we had a fast one hour run over very demanding country (banks and drains which I was well used to from my days hunting in Kilkenny!).

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There was a very large field, which can be daunting some times, but all of the Meath members were fantastic and really made way for us side saddle riders!

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It was an absolutely fantastic day’s hunting, huntsman Kenny Henry had 17 and a half couple of dog hounds out and they really hunted hard all day. Great sport!

I decided to head home afterwards instead of waiting for the hunt ball as I was absolutely wrecked. That day was really special, it got me back riding seriously and I’ll always be grateful to Susan for making it happen. When I got home I told daddy that Tex had been a handful to which he asked “oh would oats make her be a bit bold?” turns out he had been topping up her cool ‘n’ cooked feed with an extra scoop of oats morning and evening “to put more flesh on her!” It’s a wonder I wasn’t killed off her 😀

Back in the saddle- a brief history from Summer 2010- Winter 2012!

A horror fall off a young horse in June 2010 resulted in a broken bone in my back and I spent a LONG time in hospital followed by months in a brace from my chin to my hips, I was out of action for 18 months!

So in the blink of an eye I went from eventing (albeit at a very low level)…

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… to lying flat on my back for a long time 😦 

During that time, Tex went in foal by A.I. to a beautiful 14.2 hand Connemara stallion called ‘Burning Daylight’ 

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and on 1st June 2011 produced a gorgeous colt foal called George 

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George is now two years old and will start his education next summer when he is three and I’m hoping he will make a nice hunter/eventer/side saddle horse in a few years time.  

I had completely lost my nerve but my  sister Emma encouraged me to get back in the saddle, I have to admit that this photo also helped!

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I rode my pony Becky first, this is me on Becky- she’s small so at least it was only a short distance to the ground if I had to bail out 😉  … 

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And before I knew it, George had been weaned off Tex. I was back on board my lovely mare that December. 

Next thing I knew, Susan Oakes from Co. Meath rang me to let me know that there was a special Side Saddle Hunt organised for the coming month! I had originally bought my saddle from Susan and she knew that I had hunted side saddle for the 2008/2009 season as well as the 09/10 season with the Kilkenny Foxhounds. She gave me the motivation to get back up and riding properly to get hunting fit for the occasion. Before I even knew what I was agreeing to , I had signed up for the hunt! I didn’t sleep for days in the run up to it!!! 

Riding Side Saddle in Ireland- Present day

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)

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Development of the side saddle

In Europe, the side saddle developed as it was seen as unbecoming for a woman to straddle a horse while riding, there was also a fear that the lady’s reproductive organs could be damaged! Long skirts were the usual fashion and riding astride in such attire was also impractical and awkward. The earliest functional side saddle was a chair like affair where the woman sat sideways on the horse with her feet on a small footrest. She would have had no control seated like this, so the horse would have to have been led by another rider, usually a man astride his own horse. This type of saddle was used merely for transport, certainly not for the pleasure of riding.

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A more practical design was developed in the 16th century where the rider sat facing forward and hooked her right leg around a pommel, while the footrest was replaced with a slipper stirrup for the left foot. This saddle allowed the rider to be able to control and steer her own horse, at least at lesser speeds. Sometimes they had a rail around the rider too

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Another type of pommel was then added on to the right of the rider’s thigh, while the rail fell out of use- these saddles are known as ‘cowhorn’ side saddles. The rider now had a pommel curved around her thigh from each side. 

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In the 1830s, a side saddle was invented with a second, lower pommel called the leaping head. In this design, one pommel (the upright ‘fixed head’) is nearly vertical and curved gently to the right. The rider’s right leg hooks around this pommel. The left leg hangs normally with the foot in the stirrup, while the leaping head curves gently down over the left thigh. The impact of the second pommel was revolutionary, woman could now stay on at a gallop and even while jumping! The balance strap was also invented around this time, helping to keep the saddle firmly centered on the horse’s back. The saddle below has three pommels- the ‘cow horns’ and the lower, leaping head. 

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Horse riding for ladies however, was still considered unseemly behaviour. In the latter half of the 19th century, Elizabeth, Empress of Austria rented a house in Co. Meath in Ireland and hunted side saddle here for two seasons, out riding all around her and finally making horse riding fashionable for ladies. She was a real trend setter and woman all across the British Isles took to the hunting field in their thousands  to emulate her. 

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Portrait of Elizabeth riding side-saddle on the horse ‘Merry Andrew’, which still hangs in the Royal Dublin Society. (Gerard Whelan, RDS)

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(note the diagonal ‘balance’ strap)

Eventually then, the pommel to the far right fell out of use and the seat became a bit flatter…

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And by the time the ‘golden age of side saddle riding’ and fox hunting came about in the 1920s, hunting saddles looked like this: 

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The saddle above is my pride and joy (and life savings!) It is a fully rebuilt ‘Owen’ , known as the Rolls Royce of side saddles. It has a very flat seat, a cut back head (to allow for the horse’s withers) and is an absolute dream to ride in. Modern (and by modern I mean no later than 1940s!) English side saddles have three girths- a wide ‘three fold’ girth, which girths normally and can be tightened on the off side, over which goes the balance girth (which comes diagonally over the horses belly from the balance strap on the offside of the saddle, loops through a central keeper and then lies on top of the main three fold girth back up towards the girth straps on the near side of the saddle- the balance strap should be snug and should not be able to slip backwards), then on top of this goes the ‘over girth’ which stops the off side saddle flap from flapping!