Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Portrait of an Equestrienne

My husband won't let me collect side saddles so instead I collect antique photographs of women in riding habits, horses in side saddles or females riding side saddle.

Out of my collection, I would probably say this is the most unusual. The photo (a cabinet card) dates to the mid- late 1880's and is of a young woman sitting on her side saddle on a wooden stand. This photo was most likely taken for an artist to use when painting a portrait of the young lady.

I love her saddle, it looks new and just look at the little off-side horn and the little purse too! She has a typical 1880's habit with a tight fitting bodice although on the photograph itself (not so evident on the scan), you are able to see where the photographer took off some of her waistline (this was done on the negative with pencil before they printed the photo).

Monday, 25 January 2010

My Saddle

I have always wanted a side saddle ever since I was a little girl in the mid 1980's but it wasn't until January 2007 that I FINALLY was able to realize my dream and buy a RIDEABLE side saddle.

My saddle was found on Ebay and I ended up bidding and winning it within the last few minutes of the auction while my husband was on the phone to his sister: "Oh, Leila seems to have just bought a side saddle." There is nothing like an impulse buy!

After the fiasco with the broken antique side saddle I had bought previously, we ended up driving two hours to collect it just to make sure that the tree wasn't broken!

The saddle dates from the 1910's and is a Champion & Wilton copy. Local saddlers could order the trees from the big name makers and make their own side saddles on the tree. They were still every bit as well made as the "big name makers" (often having a few more luxury extras added to the saddles!) but would have cost less than ordering from the big names.

I'm the saddle's third owner as well! The lady who I bought the saddle from, told me how her father had bought it for her during the late 1960's when she was a teenager from an elderly lady (her husband had been a doctor), who was the original owner.

The seat size is 17 1/2" (measured the UK way from cutback to cantle) or 21 1/2" from the front of the fixed pommel to cantle. The lady who I bought the saddle off of was about my size and height (5'9" and about a UK size 14/ US 12) which leads me to believe that the original owner had been about my size as well in the 1910's as the seat length and the shape, curve and size of the pommels fits me perfectly.

My saddle needed work doing to it as it hadn't been ridden in since the early 1970's and was flocked up narrow. It fit a 14.1hh Arab that I rode at the time and I didn't really have the money to get the restoration work done until last year when I needed to have the saddle altered to fit my 15.3hh Thoroughbred instead!

I decided to have the old narrow panels taken off and a Wykham pad put on instead to make it wider and called Leo Alexander of Leo Wright Saddlery to do the work as he has always done an excellent job with my tack and is an experienced side saddler (that is my Hattie on his website advertising the Wykham pad!). The restoration work has been costly but I think it's been worth it.

Here are some before and after photos of my saddle...

When I first got my saddle, it was a shiny Newmarket tan color and had the original old linen and serge lined panels. The linen had yellowed and was becoming brittle, the serge had some moth holes.

Afterwards with LOTS of saddle soaping and oiling to restore the leather, the saddle has become a lovely mahogany brown color.

Off-side view showing the old yellowed panels,

And looking like a totally new saddle with the new sparkly white Wykham pad,

One of a "luxury extras" a local saddler could have afforded to add to his saddle whereas the "big name makers" would have omitted. It's a balance girth keeper on the over girth to prevent the balance girth from slipping backwards and becoming a bucking strap!

View of the old stained and moth holed panels flocked up to a narrow fitting,

The new Wykham pad made out of best quality felt and covered in English leather and Irish linen making the tree a generous medium/wide fitting now. Most Wykham pads are just made of plain felt but Leo Alexander made my pad to look like a traditional panel by covering it in linen and leather (which also makes it last longer). I still have the original panels incase I ever want them put back on if I get a narrow fitting horse.

Detail showing how the Wykham pad is slotted and strapped onto the saddle. The girth straps have also been replaced with new ones since the photo was taken.

Off side view of the Wykham pad attachments. I also had the over girth elastic flap strap replaced on this side along with the girth straps and balance girth strap.

And now, a saddle which the saddler said should last another 100 years!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Brown 1880's Habit

While going through the photo folders on my computer, I found some photos of my 1880's brown side saddle habit that I sold at auction recently, that I took for the International Side Saddle Organization's Aside Magazine a few years ago.

Here is an interior photo of the bodice showing the blue floral cotton sateen lining and all the spring steel bones sewn onto each seam.

The bones would have helped smooth out the ridges created by the corset but there would have still been a corset and fat "overspill" ridge at the top where the bodice bones ended as shown on this 1885 photo taken of this side saddle rider. It was the Victorian equivalent of our modern day VPL (visible pantie line)!

A photo showing how the habit would look when worn aside, note how the skirt is shorter than what was worn in the 1860's and 1870's but still a bit longer than what was worn in the 1890's.

During the late 19th century, habit makers started to experiment with making riding habits safer so that women were not caught up in full skirts which wrapped around the pommels often causing a rider to be dragged. The skirt on this habit, although it is not "apron" in style, has an early safety feature. The skirt has a long slit which extends from the off-side of the right knee and extends down to the hem.

The this slit would enable the wearer to hook her legs around the pommel without the annoyance of excess material bunching up under her legs and seat (thereby creating a more secure seat) and if the rider fell off, there would not be anything to catch onto the pommels causing the rider to be dragged. I tried to show in this photo, how the pommels on my saddle insert neatly into the skirt's slit.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Antique Side Saddle Habits at Auction

Along with riding side saddle, I also collect side saddle memorabilia and with the type of business I am in, sometimes come across antique side saddle habits.

Late last year, I decided to declutter my life and made the hard decision of parting with some of my antique side saddle habits. I contacted Kerry Taylor with whom I have done much business with in the past, to sell my habits in her December 2009 Sotherby's Costume and Textile auction.

I decided to part with a riding habit which dated from the first half of the 1860's which was made by Wolmerhausen. It still had the original label sewn inside the bodice which said "Military Tailors & Habit Makers to her Majesty, the Prince Consort and the Royal Family, no 49 Curzon St, Mayfair."

It is made from finely woven black wool with flat soustache trim on the bodice. The inside of the bodice is lined in black silk but the skirt (not an apron!) is only partially lined in brown Silesia with Lady H-- (the rest of the name is illegible) written on the inside of the waistband.

It was made for a lady about 5'5" and would have fit a 38" bust. The bodice was too small and short for me as I'm 5'9" but the waist of the skirt fit me (it has a 30" waist) and I was often tempted to ride out in this long full skirt to see what it was like. I wish I had now!

Also in the auction was my pair of tiny and narrow sized late 1860's lady's riding boots which were lined in white cotton and pink leather. They are field boot in style rather than the typical dress boot (so all you historical re-enactors out there who ride side saddle, field boots WERE worn then for riding!) and have square toed straight soles with spur rests on BOTH boots.

There are three explanations why there were spur rests on both boots:
1) The lady rode astride.
2) As was the fashion to have straight shaped footwear then, shoes were always swapped over to prevent them from moulding to the shape of the foot, thereby, keeping them nice 'n straight. Having spur rests on both boots would have allowed the wearer to wear either boot on either foot.
3) She rode in a reversible or off-side side saddle.

I had bought these on Ebay a few years ago and they were literally as dry, stiff and flat as cardboard. To restore them, I saddle soaped them to restore the moisture so that I could start "remoulding" them back into a boot shape while at the same time, using Jeffries Fine Leather Creme to rejevanate them. I think I did a pretty good job?

They are also featured in Jonathan Walford's book on shoes called The Seductive Shoe and am now happy to say, they have now since gone onto join his collection!

My late 1880's riding habit for a young lady was also in the auction along with a pair of late 1880's young lady's riding boots and a side saddle whip hallmarked 1873.

The habit was made out of itchy brown wool (which always made me sneeze) with the bodice being lined in blue floral striped cotton and heavily boned. The riding skirt was partially lined in brown Silesia and was made as a "safety skirt" with a long slit on the offside to accommodate the pommels of the saddle yet allow the rider to come free if she fell off. The color, style and size of the habit means that it would have been appropriate for a teenage girl to wear.

The boots have right and left shaped soles unlike the earlier pair but interestingly enough, there is riding wear on the inside AND outside of each boot which means that the original owner rode in a reversible or off-side side saddle. The boots are about a tiny size 2 narrow which also leads me to believe that they were for an older girl or teenager's which would explain the wear on both sides of each boot as girls were taught to ride in reversible and off-side saddles to prevent (what they thought) caused curvature of the spine.

I found these boots at an antique shop in 1999 and they were dry and flat as the 1860's pair but I restored them the same way.

This was my FAVORITE whip! I never used it to ride in but it was so tactile and had a nice "feeling" to it. The inner shaft is made from baleen and then covered in catgut as was typical of the era. The upper part of the shaft is covered with smooth brown leather which took on a glossy appearance from years of use. The handle was real ivory and the silver collar at the bottom of the handle was hallmarked Birmingham 1873. Such a dainty lady's crop!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Side Saddle Dressage Videos

Just posted the videos in the Video Bar at the lower right side, of the three previous side saddle dressage tests Hattie and I have done at the Hinckley Dressage and the Leicester Dressage shows.

I need to work on my elbows (keeping them in!), make circles rounder, lines straighter, keep the impulsion at the walk (which will also help Hattie not go on her forehand so much!), try to keep her in an outline and right shoulder back!!!

In the Christmas video, I was dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus..

We won 8th place in our class (out of 10 so not too bad!) and we won 1st place for best costume whch was a box of chocolate for me and mint treats for Hattie!

I am terrible at sewing so most of our costume was cobbled together from thrift store finds. I found the red velvet blazer at a thrift which was two size too small (it had a double back vent so good for riding in!) and trimmed it up with white fleece cut off from a stained white polar fleece sweater bought from another thrift. The size problem was solved by wearing a corset and leaving the top buttons undone. I just wore my normal white show shirt and ratcatcher underneath. My "apron" is actually a large Ikea curtain (also found at a thrift!) which I pinned and sewed together while sitting on my side saddle on it's stand in the living room to get a proper apron like look to it.

My Santa Claus riding helmet cover, Hattie's reindeer ears and jingle bells were found on Ebay while her red velvet jingle bows were found at the supermarket in the Christmas section. They are actually supposed to be used on presents but with the wire ties they have, they worked perfectly with her braids.

Side Saddle Dressage, what test?

We've had a spate of bad weather here in the UK for the past month which has meant I have not been able to ride since December 12 as I don't have an indoor school and the field has been too icy and hard to ride safely in it. Everything has thawed out now this week (hopefully for good!) and was going to borrow my friend's outdoor school to try and get some riding and schooling done for the spring dressage shows.

I'm looking at the show schedule now and there is an Intro A (walk/trot) test on February 7th that we can do and then there is a Intro B (walk trot) test on March 7th that we can do as well. The March 7th show, also has an easy Prelim 1 test but this requires left lead cantering. Hattie's left lead canter isn't her best lead and it's iffy when riding astride and non-existent when side saddling. It is something that I had wanted to practice over the winter but with the rubbish weather and work, I've not been able to get the riding in that I wanted.

We have done the Intro A test three times side saddle before (I've gotten 7th, 6th and 8th places for that test) so I already know that test (I need to work on my circles and not letting Hattie get strung out and sluggish at the walk) so I reckon we could do that as a season opener so to speak. Then it leaves what to do in March....

A) Do the Intro B test side saddle and then switch tack and do the Prelim 1 test astride?

B) Just do the Intro B test side saddle to keep Hattie and my brain from getting fried learning too many things at once (I don't know the Intro B test and it has more circles and bends which I suck at anyways) but still keep practicing cantering when schooling?

C) Only do the Prelim 1 test (and forget about the Intro B) in March astride?

At first I was going to do "Option C" but thinking about it now, with the lack of riding I've been doing because of the weather, maybe we should just do walk/trot tests for now and just keep practicing left lead canters and aim to do a Prelim test with cantering in the summer.

Sounds like a plan?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Habit That Went Home.

As an antique and vintage clothing dealer, I am sometimes VERY lucky and come across old side saddle habits. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you are me!), at 5'9" and a UK size 14/16 (US 12/14), I'm often too big for the vintage ones I find so it makes it a little easier for me to part with a habit when I come across one.

One day in 2007, I came across this EXQUISITE c. 1909- 1910 habit made from heavy weight navy blue wool by Edward Erl. The jacket was the typical longer length with a nipped in waist of the era and the apron was the "step in style". The jacket had a velvet collar and was lined in silk and still had the original maker's label with the address of 21 George Street, Hanover Square, London W.

The habit was in excellent condition but the heart breaker was that although the original wearer would have been my height (the length fit me perfectly), she was one dress size smaller than me so I decided to sell this beautiful habit.

I ended up selling it on Ebay to a lady named Kate that rode side saddle and didn't hear anything from her until a few months later when I received an email and some beautiful photos from her.

She told me that her horse was named Blue and that he came from a rescue charity. When the horse rescue charity came to visit and check up on Blue, she put on a side saddle display for them to show how well he was doing. She wore the beautiful antique habit while riding Blue for the charity.

If that wasn't wonderful enough, it turns out that Kate only lives one street over from where the habit was originally made!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Come on museums, do it right!

I'm always pleased when I visit a museum or a historical society (or their website if I am unable to get to the actual venue) and see a side saddle on display. Let's be honest, most people don't ride or have anything to do with horses and we can certainly state that most women have never ridden side saddle so it's nice to see these places exhibiting a side saddle and educating the public about this discipline. Queen Victoria's side saddle shown on the left (currently in the collection of The Museum of Leathercraft in Northampton, England, is one such display that does justice to side saddle riding with the saddle being displayed correctly.

However, there seems to be quite a few museums that don't quite get how a side saddle is supposed to look like and be presented. This is a shame as many people believe that side saddle riding is dangerous and wonder how we ever stay on! Well, all I can say, is it a wonder when saddles (especially the saddles on display for the public to try out) are being displayed incorrectly?

It seems to be the leaping head, what it's for and how it should be positioned, that confuses most people and museums! The most common mistake is having the leaping head turned upside down believing it to be some sort of "leg holder". Such as this western side saddle saddle held in the collection of the Las Cruces Heritage Museum (New Mexico, USA).

Upside down leaping horn on doeskin seated early Victorian side saddle at the California History Exhibit at the Bowers Museum:

A beautiful ornate doeskin covered western saddle with another upside down leaping horn at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center (Colorado, USA) although I have since read that they have corrected the leaping head placement):

The Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas, USA, doesn't seem to have educated the public properly with this western side saddle display that the public are allowed to try out with this lady using the leaping horn as a knee rest....

and this lady using it as a leg rest!

The Bowraville Folk Museum in New South Wales, Australia also needs to correct their side saddle display as well (looks to be a turn of the century english side saddle).

Although the lady looks comfy trying the Bowraville saddle out, can you imagine how dangerous it would be to ride with your leg wedged on top of the leaping horn?

The Manx National Heritage on the Isle of Man, has nearly got it right with the leaping horn on this late Victorian side saddle. They just need to turn ever so slightly to the right!

And finally, the legendary Belle Starr's western side saddle displayed at the Fort Smith Museum of History in Arkansas, USA. The leaping head just needs to be pushed down a little to be perfect!

Come on museums, do it right!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Owen Side Saddles in Museums

Our family enjoys going to museums and when we go, I'm always hopeful to see something horsey in them- especially something related to side saddle riding.

A couple of years ago, we visited Stamford Hall here in Leicestershire. The hall was built in the 1690's by Roger Cave and is still home to his very fortunate descendants. The grounds and the buildings are absolutely magnificent and each room is filled with original antiques and family heirlooms. One room has even been turned into a mini costume museum will glass cabinets showing ancestor's clothing which were found stored away in the attic of the hall. I remember seeing a beautiful silk taffeta 1860's gown on display, it was tiny!

Visitors are also allowed to walk around the grounds and we visited the courtyard where an old stable building was. You were only allowed to peer into the tack room, and it was dark and dirty in there but tack still remained in there from horses long gone. Old bridles, bits, horse collars were hanging up but the best part was, seeing an old side saddle on an old wooden saddle stand!

Although it was hard to get a good look at it as the building was so dark and dusty, when I viewed the photo later on, the flash allowed a better look at the saddle.

It appears to be a c. 1920's Owen with a nice flat seat but sadly, the leaping horn is missing and the fixed pommel has been bent badly backwards. It's a shame that such a desirable saddle has ended up in this way. I wonder if it was ridden around the vast grounds of Stamford Hall and hunted in? Oh the stories I bet it could tell!

In contrast, is the mint condition early 1930's Owen side saddle currently in the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

This saddle has been on display in the museum for several years and when I lived in Montreal, I always used to go and admire it! I was lucky enough to go back to Montreal to visit my family and took some photos of the saddle before the museum took the display down and the saddle was put into storage again.

It's a small size saddle (I got as close as I could to try and measure it) and the seat was about 16" (UK measurement from cutback to cantle) or about 20" from front of fixed head to cantle. The museum dated it to the early 1930's and it was imported from England for a well to do young lady.

I wonder if she rode with the Montreal Hunt Club which during the 1930's, would have still been based on the island of Montreal or if she rode on Mount Royal, the mountain in the middle of the city, on the vast hacking trails that used to be there until the 1960's...

Mount Royal is where all Montreal's Society rode and drove their horses to see and be seen.

Oh, if side saddles could talk!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Live and Learn!

Before I found my current "for keeps" side saddle, I bought what I thought was an absolute bargain off of Ebay. It was a c. 1900 side saddle with a £250 Buy it Now which was being sold by a saddler dealer with good feedback (but was not a side saddle specialist), the seat size was right for me and the tree width was a generous medium/wide which fit my horse, Senara (an Arabian), that I rode at the time, so in my excitement I bought it.

As is obvious in the auction photo above, the saddle needed some work doing to it and as soon as it arrived, I took it out of the box and tested the tree points by trying to spread them and tested the tree by putting the cantle against me and trying to pull the pommel to me (as you do with an English astride saddle). The billet straps looked like they had been recently replaced as well and the serge lining was in good condition. So far so good.

First things first, the leaping head needed a new washer put on it to keep the head the right side up and the over-girth needed re-attaching so I took the saddle to my local saddler who was trained as a master saddler. She tested the tree the same way I did and said it seemed fine. Although the saddler had no experience with side saddles, she said that re- attaching the over-girth and putting a new leather washer on the leaping head would be simple for her and that she would not charge me as she just always wanted to be able to work on a side saddle!

With the job done, next came the reflocking and fitting to my horse and I rang specialist side saddler, Laura Dempsey to come out.

Laura came out (and who by the way, is a REALLY, REALLY nice and patient lady!) and looked at Senara, took all sorts of measurements and templates off of her, asked me questions about Senara and what we planned on doing, my experience, etc. All very thorough even before she looked at my saddle. Then it came time to look at my saddle.

She started telling me about how it was late Victorian, and how the slightly dished seat it had would have been comfortable to ride in. She examined the stitching, tested the tree points and then tested the tree in a way I had never seen done before....

She held the cantle against her front as you would a normal saddle when testing the tree, but instead of grasping the pommel, she held onto the fixed pommed and tried to pull it towards her. Well, the saddle moved like I had never seen it do before!!!

Laura explained that she suspected that the tree was broken and that when a side saddle is tested like this, that there is not supposed to be any movement (I tested my current saddle like this and there is no movement whatsoever). She said that the saddle was unsafe as the fixed head is what gives you purchase when riding and that I wouldn't want to be riding and have it give way completely. Laura explained that the damage may not have been necessarily caused by the saddle being dropped or stepped on, but that the old glues and materials used to make the saddles, just give away and break over time, especially if a saddle has not been stored or taken care of properly.

Interestingly, when you tried to wiggle the fixed head, there was no movement but when the saddle was tested like the way Laura showed me how, there was ALOT of movement.

Sadly, Laura said that the saddle was best suited to being a collectible to look at and told me what sort of saddle I should be looking for AND how to test it. This knowledge came in handy when I came across a seemingly pristine 1930's Champion & Wilton saddle for a good price at an antique fair and tested it the way Laura showed me how, and I'll be darned if that fixed pommel didn't wobble around!

Lessons learned here? Caveat emptor on Ebay, test your trees before buying if possible (or make sure you can return a saddle if it is found to be broken) and take them to a specialist side saddler.

Oh, and that old side saddle is now "rustic decor" in a pub somewhere here in England!