MULE CROSSING: Riding Side Saddle
By Meredith Hodges
Today, the concept of elegance has been greatly compromised by the fast pace of our open-minded society. Few of us have neither the time nor the inclination to do what is necessary to cultivate this concept as a major part of our lives. Women today have far too many jobs and responsibilities with which to cope without worrying about being elegantunless she lives in a densely populated urban area. There are just not a lot of places where a woman can practice being elegant. One of the places she can, however, is in the growing number of Side Saddle classes offered at many of the different Breed Shows across the country. The equestrian art of Side Saddle is currently being revitalized among the different breeds and one of the most enthusiastic groups is our own Longears lovers! But elegance is not necessarily the only reason our Longears Ladies are riding aside. The lady equestrians of today like to get a more well-rounded education in the art of Horsemanship riding astride, and the perfection of their balanced seat when riding aside only enhances their existing abilities.
Mules can be lovely, obedient and secure Side Saddle mounts when they are brought along correctly as has been exhibited nationally by Crystal Elzer and her mule, Final Legacy. I also fondly remember Ann Hathaway and her Dressage mule, Baby Huey, exhibiting Side Saddle in the Bishop Mule Days parade years ago. I judged the A.D.M.S. Nationals in Austin, Minnesota, and again, I witnessed a sprinkle of elegant Side Saddle riders on mules. In the state of Colorado, there was a surge of Longears Side Saddle riders beginning in 1983. The Side Saddle class for mules at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado previously had no less than 10 entries in the Side Saddle Class since its beginning in 1983 when an entire mule division was brought back after a long absence from the show.
Generally speaking, people are quite impressed with the ladies who ride aside, and a common question often arises, “You sure look elegant, but how on earth can you stay on that way?!”
Actually, riding aside is much more secure than riding astridebecause of the grip you can achieve with your legs around the pommel and leaping horn of the Side Saddle. This was demonstrated clearly at a Side Saddle clinic given by Patti Chadwick at the Bitterroot Mule Company in Bennett, Colorado on March 23rd of 1993. Six beginning Side Saddle riders of various equitation skills proved to be quite secure in their seats and no one had any real problems to speak of that day! All levels of riders were jumping cavalletti by the end of the clinic! So you see, it isn’t as insecure as one might be inclined to believe. And with an instructor like Patti Chadwick, it was a snap! The name of the game is “balance,” and whether riding aside on a horse, mule, pony or donkey, it is always a rewarding challenge to finally be able to master this art.
My daughter, Dena and I truly enjoyed riding aside both in shows and in parades. Dena was thrilled to be able to finally best seasoned Side Saddle rider, Crystal Elzer in the Bishop Mule Days Side Saddle class. Crystal was a practiced Side Saddle competitor from California at Bishop Mule Days that had bested her for the previous three years.
Side saddles come in three distinct categories: English, Western, and Period side saddles. The English side saddle is probably the best one in which to learn, since the seat is better balanced over your animal. The Period side saddles are the worst, since most are built and balanced incorrectly for our contemporary riders and equines. The older side saddles were built to fit the smaller framed riders and larger animals of yesterday and just don’t fit the conformation of the animals and the size of the ladies of today. Although most side saddles today are bought used, there are saddle companies that are making them again due to increased demand. If you buy a side saddle, make sure it fits your equine as well as yourself to assure the best ride.
Fitting the side saddle to your body is relatively simple. While seated on a chair, measure along the bottom of your thigh from the back of your bent knee to just beyond your hips under your tailbone. The saddle is measured from pommel to cantle and should exceed your leg measurement by no less than two inches. You can ride in a side saddle that is a little too large, but not on one that is too small! Consider the width of your saddle to avoid excessive overhang on each side.
The training of your equine for Side Saddle should be accomplished fairly easily if your animal has a good foundation to start, and those trained in Dressage will convert the most easily. The absence of the leg on the right side gives problems most often during the left lead canter and during the leg yield left. Though many ladies will use a whip as a substitute for the right leg, it is not necessary. The animal at the higher levels of training (1st Level Dressage and above) have learned to follow your seat, and will do quite nicely staying under your seat as you move through the patterns. If your animal needs additional support, it can come through supportive indications through the reins. To achieve the left and right lead canter, for example, a slight push with your seat and a squeeze/release on the indicating directional rein will tell your animal the correct lead to take. It’s that simple!
There are quite a few existing Side Saddle organizations today that are available to those of you who might be interested in taking lessons and participating in shows and award programs. You can check your local area for one near you or you can contact the International Side Saddle Organization, 75 Lamington Rd., Branchburg, New Jersey, 08876-3314, (706) 871-ISSO (4776), firstname.lastname@example.org. The United States Equestrian Federation can also help you to find qualified instructors in your area. They can be contacted at U.S.E.F., 4047 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, Kentucky, 40511, (859) 258-2472, FAX (859) 231-6662.
If you think you might be interested in learning to ride aside, contact one of these organizations to find out what people you should contact in your area to help you and others that share your interest. The feeling of elegance and accomplishment is unmatched. Our world could use a little more whimsy and romance to help the modern woman to enjoy her dignity and elegance in this fast-paced world. Hats off to the lovely ladies who ride aside!
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
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