Side Saddle History & Use

From its humble beginnings as little more than a pad for equestrian pillion riding in medieval times, the side saddle has endured many changes of style and construction over the centuries.

Some were more for decoration than function but all of them part of the rich heritage of side saddle riding.

When women first rode horses independently, rather than just sitting behind a man on his horse, they sat facing sideways in a saddle with a footrest called a planchette.

This was first introduced into England in the fourteenth century by Anne of Bohemia and it gave little control over the horse.

The Side Saddle

The first side saddles possessed a single pommel or horn in front.

In the sixteenth century, Catherine de Medici is credited with being the inventor of a second horn, between which a lady placed her right leg, and so faced forward for the first time.

The lady rider than had independent control of her horse and was able to ride at a faster pace.

Once the only fitting way for a lady to be seen on horseback, side-saddle riding is enjoying increasing popularity around the world today.

Apart from its secure seat, its very uniqueness and sheer elegance of style appeals to the modern equestrienne.

The two-horned side-saddle remained, in various forms with just a side rail, slipper stirrup and ornate stitching …,

  • Then in the 1820’s there came the invention of the balance strap.
  • In the 1830s the third pommel, the leaping head, was devised. Arguably by Frenchman Jules Pellier.

These additions gave a far more secure side saddle seat than any previous design and allowed women to enter the hunting field.

By the 1850s the three-pommelled side saddle was fashionable everywhere, often with an offside handkerchief pocket.


The Modern English Side-Saddle.

The Modern Side-Saddle

Gradually the offside pommel diminished in size and by the 1870s/80s it had mostly disappeared.

The dipped seat of the nineteenth century also eventually gave way to the level-seated side-saddle of the early twentieth century, and the doeskin-lined seat and pommels made by the well-known saddlers of the 1930s and 50s are regarded as the classic styles.

Other countries often have their own particular styles, such as the western side-saddle of America and the Charra side-saddle of Mexico.

Regrettably the older antique side saddles are generally not suited to modern side-saddle riding: the designs are not safe to ride in nor do they fit the well-fed horses of today.

If you have never ridden side saddle it is never too late to learn.

Riding side saddle means you and your equine friend will feel elegant poised and very, very special. But consider all your saddle options and make sure you choose the correct size and type for the sort of work you want your horse to do.