In the beginning when humans and horses began their long partnership, ladies rode with both legs on one side, both to preserve their modesty and their long robes.
Most women rode side saddle into the early 20th century, when suffrage led them to reject numerous bonds, including the curved horns of a side saddle that hold your legs in place. Side saddle riding became more of a curiosity, or perhaps a niche within one of the only sports where men and women compete against each other.
But now, practitioners say, it’s making a comeback, as evidenced by the first ever side saddle racing at the High Hope Steeplechase on Sunday.
“Since Downton Abbey, we’ve seen a big resurgence of side saddles,” said Michelle Primm, High Hope president, with people taken with the elegant vision of Lady Mary in her riding habit. The recently ended television series Downton Abbey depicted early 20th century aristocratic life on a country estate in Great Britain. “It brings back a lot of tradition.”
Primm herself took it up a few years ago. She noted that it takes a lot of balance and a horse who doesn’t mind the unorthodox ride.
“People think it’s dangerous, but the side saddle is designed to hold you in place,” Primm said. If you are in a fall, the stirrup comes off, so the rider isn’t trapped.
Sunday’s races arrived thanks to Devon Zebrovious of Middleburg, Va., who was part of organizing a side saddle race series in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
“It’s completely natural for me,” she said.
Zebrovious and her friend, Bernadette Boland, who won the flat race on her horse Reddington, went to Ireland this past winter to fox hunt in side saddles there.
“I like the challenge of it,” Boland said. “Not a lot of people do it. It’s beautiful and elegant.”
Primm said she expects the series to continue next year and win more fans. “It’s really taking off like wildfire,” she said.