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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), email@example.com. 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.
© 1993, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Roll is standing quietly as he usually does while I was speaking to a tour group with the gate wide open, but this was not always the case with him. He used to hide behind Rock and snort at me when he first arrived with Rock in December of 2010.
Behavior Modification is a reward system of training that requires that the trainer has the ability to distinguish between good and bad behaviors, to reward them promptly and appropriately…and, to do it politely with respect for the animal. The oats are a reward that is both safe and enjoyable for equines, and is something that they will continue to work for.
When dealing with an equine that is easily ten times your own weight, it is hard to imagine that the way we talk, touch and interact with our equine would really need to be ultra considerate, light and reassuring. However, if you want their complete cooperation, that is exactly what needs to happen. For instance, when applying fly spray talk gently and calmly, and be careful not to get the spray in their eyes…or it will burn and they will be less likely to comply the next time!
The same consideration hold true when bathing. Be careful not to get water in the ears, eyes and nostrils…and accustom the equine to cold water by spraying the feet and front legs first and work your way up to the face.
When you are kind and considerate, and give the equine time to adjust, even mechanical equipment like a massage thumper for muscle relaxation, or an equine vacuum cleaner used not only to clean but also to promote better circulation, can become a real source of pleasure and enjoyment for your equine.
When the equine is relaxed and accepting of the equine chiropractor, veterinarian and farrier, they are better able to do their jobs with maximum efficiency and successful outcomes.
And jobs you have to do like clipping, bridling and taking off the bridle all get much easier, preserving the trust between you. Now at 26 years old, Roll is a NEW draft mule!
After being off last week, Roll was more than happy to come with me today. The air was brisk with a bit of a breeze and Roll was even a little snorty walking up to the work station. We spent a good amount of time with the Goody hairbrush getting the undercoat loose and I then went over him with the shedding blade to get the excess on top. He was still shedding hair all over, so I decided to go ahead with the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner serves a dual purpose: it pulls the remaining loose hairs from his coat while stimulating the capillaries to come to the surface of the skin. This increased circulation makes for an extremely soft and healthy coat. He still has a lot left to shed, but his hair now feels silky to the touch. I then put Roll in his surcingle, Eggbutt Snaffle bridle and “Elbow Pull” for his core muscle, postural leading lessons.
Roll practically pulled me down the alleyway to the dressage arena, but was very well behaved when we stopped to give Augie and Spuds a treat of oats. Roll was okay with sharing as long as I gave him more oats, too!
Roll and I then walked to the gate and he went through beautifully as always.
We marched along the pens and gave treats to all the mules who would be his audience.
Roll launched into the hourglass pattern on the lead rope with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He squared up easily, but was still reluctant to put all the appropriate weight on his right hind foot.
He kept an upright balance through the turns and was markedly better in balance over the ground rails.
He even trotted a bit along side of the pens once I got out in front of him, but when I asked him to trot back to the gate, he was too tired! The chiropractor had come out to see him last week and said that he was locked up in his right hip, so it may be he needs another chiropractic visit this week as well.
At any rate, I was pleased with his progress and even though he missed his lesson last week, he still did better than in prior weeks. The hind feet were no longer twisting after his trim on May 19th.
It may very well be that he can graduate to the round pen soon for bulk muscle building. His core is solid now and after his workout, he was much tighter in the abs and filled in nicely over his topline.
Roll is carrying just a little more weight than I would like to see, but he did look less obese after his lesson and when we begin the bulk muscle building, it should disappear rapidly as the fat evolves into muscle. At twenty-six, Roll is doing so much better than I ever would have expected given his questionable history.
Roll was a muddy mess when I went to get him today. He had been lying down and decided to roll in the wet dirt and pea gravel. Thank heavens it wasn’t all mud! I did my best to get most of it off of him, but clearly, the vacuum cleaner was not going to work for anything but getting the hair off the floor. I first went over his body with the hairbrush, then the shedding blade and afterwards, the dandy brush. Then I baby-oiled his mane and tail, put on his gear and we were good to go.
Roll seemed happier today than he had been last week. Roll was walking better and appeared to have gained some core strength back.
Instead of being really off behind, he was only slightly off and did not want to bear weight on the right hind in his squaring up…until the last one when he finally weighted the foot entirely.
Roll’s rein back was much better than last week. I had him checked by our resident farrier, LTR Ranch Manager Chad in case he was developing fungus in that foot (after his bout with White Line in his left hind). better to be safe than sorry, but he showed nothing but a packed-up foot, and that very well could have been the culprit since we just had a really good rain and everything was muddy in the arena where we were working.
It is truly amazing how slight, but visible his improvement has been from week to week. His whole body looked much more symmetrical this time. It is awesome to be able to celebrate each of Roll’s “little victories” along the way at 26 years old! However, Roll wasn’t too sure if he wanted to share his rewards with Sir Guy!!!
Roll decided that celebrating with a friend is probably okay and back to the work station we went to untack and then it was time for turnout!