Monday, 6 December 2010

An Opulent 1860's Side Saddle

Despite the return to freezing temperatures today, Hattie and I managed to do a bit of schooling for our dressage test in my friend's outdoor school. The sand was frozen so we couldn't do anything more than a walk but we managed to get some good work done.

We practised 10m circles at A, E, C and B on both reins which helped to stretch Hattie and soften her (she seems to like doing them as she always goes a lot better after we do them) and then worked on the walking aspects of our test. I figure since we can't do much trotting at the minute due to the weather, we may as well practise the "easy" walking bits of our test to make them as perfect as we can, so we can scrape as many marks out of the judge as possible! Hattie was going in a nice soft outline and wasn't getting all strung out and heavy on the bit (I must remember to include some 10m circles in our warm-up on test day) so I was able to concentrate on my equitation.

Since my side saddle lesson on the simulator at Your Horse Live, I've been more aware of what my left shoulder is doing and now can catch it when it creeps up. It even does this when I'm riding my bike too!! I'm also trying to use my core muscle (my diaphragm muscle) to keep myself sitting upright and this is helping Hattie's way of going and also helping my right hip to stay back strangely enough. I just need to be able to do this at a trot but if I can get it down pat at a walk, then it will help me be more aware of my position when the weather thaws out and we can start doing some real work again.

Who ever thought side saddle riding would make you have to think of so many things!

Before I went to pick my son up from school, I popped into the tack shop which is conveniently located nearby to his school! I love this tack shop as it's a treasure trove of all obscure things. The owner buys all the oddments, end of lines, factory seconds, cancelled orders from the large British tack manufacturers as well as stocking LOTS of second hand items so you never know what you are going to come across when you go there.

I've found a number of side saddle things in there in the past (the owner tends to save them for me!) like three fold girths, sandwich boxes, ladies hunting whips but today I found a new canary wool ladies waistcoat for my riding habit by the riding outfit manufacturer, Matlock & Brown! It's a proper hunting one and will look perfect with my habit. I needed a new one too as the waistcoat I currently have, is a "bit" small for me having bought it when I was 30lbs lighter! I hate the feeling of knowing my buttons are straining open when I ride in it and my new one will be warmer in the winter as it's wool instead of satin like my old one.

I also found a new Mears County cutaway side saddle jacket (in my size!!) in lightweight navy blue polyester which would be good for summer shows for a CHEAP price. It's missing it's apron but the owner has saved it for me and is going to inquire at Mears to see how much it would be to have a matching apron made for it for me. I just about collapsed in the heat wearing my black heavy winter weight habit at the June side saddle show so it will be wonderful if I can get a lightweight habit at an affordable price for summer shows!

Following on from Lexie's photos of the ornately stitched 1860's side saddle she found at a local auction, and Jeannie's comment that it may have been an exhibition saddle, I pulled this saved photo from my side saddle archives on my computer of a saddle which was exhibited at The International Exhibition in London in 1863.

It looks near identical in shape and style to the saddle Lexie found at the auction house...

Here is the original 1863 description of the side saddle...


This embroidered saddle of which an illustration is given in this Number, and which is shown in class 26 at the International Exhibition, is produced by Mr. A Davis, of 33, Strand, and 72, Piccadilly, from a design supplied by Phillip H. De La Motte. It is a sidesaddle, made in the orthodox form, and of the material ordinarily used for the purpose, but enriched with scroll ornaments of about the fourteenth century, and worked in various coloured silks, which, we believe, were obtained expressly form Paris.

The ornamentation is graceful and judiciously distributed, and its adaptation to forms, which would seem unfavourable, is very ingenious. The colours, unlike those of many Oriental works of similar kind, are comparatively unobtrusive, being arranged in curved lines and spots rather than in masses. The lines of scrollwork are of yellow silk, leading the eye up to flowers of pink and white or blue, which whilst they are quiet and keep their proper place, gave been sufficient colour to relieve the monotony.

The large central pendant flower is enriched with various colours upon a maroon ground, and forms the principal point of this ornamentation. The flap of the safe of either side is covered in a manner agreeing with the general scheme, and, besides the scrolls, contains conventional flower blooms and a shield, which might be made to bear with heraldic devices or ornament.

The border round the sides consists of a chain of quatrefoils with pink flowers upon a dark green ground, and the whole is admirably set off by a braiding worked in chainstitch. The pommels are likewise done in a style corresponding with the other parts, and the seat is quilted with scrolls well adapted to the form they fill, and more elaborate than those usually enjoyed.

In our engraving, the side shown is that which in the exhibition is turned towards the spectator, but which when the saddle is in use is hidden by the rider: the other side which is far the more beautiful both in general shape and in ornamentation, is only seen as reflected in the looking glass which backs the case: nevertheless, owing to the way in which it receives the light, it looks exceedingly well, and claims the greater share of admiration.

Efforts to beautify articles of ordinary use are legitimate and praiseworthy, and we think that great credit to due both to the designer and the manufacturer.

Can you imagine how the off-side looked like and all the colors this saddle had!!! If only there were color cameras around so that this saddle could have been photographed. I wonder what happened to it?

I had a chuckle at the comment, "Efforts to beautify articles of ordinary use..." as it seems strange to use now in 2010 when side saddles are anything but the norm (and are just starting to make a comeback), that side saddles were thought of back then as normal every day items!

The saddler, A. Davis, was in business for many years after the exhibition saddle was made as I have seen Edwardian examples of Davis side saddles up for sale in the past and my own example of a 1901 A. Davis side saddle ad...


  1. Because your wonderful posts only serve to increase my side-saddle yearnings, if at all possible, could you please write something on the joys of fitting a very wide horse with a sides-addle? I realise that it would have to be custom made and that is my plan.

  2. Boy that would have been an amazing saddle to have seen. I wonder where it ended up. Sad that somebody put so much work into it and then it's disappeared.

    Kippen, you might be lucky and find a saddle that fits a very wide horse. Hundred Oaks saddlery sells a newer sidesaddle called "The Elan" and they have some very wide fitting saddles. I've also seen some old name saddles that fit wide horses. You never know what you might come across!

  3. Who knows, it may have survived into the 20th century only to be destroyed during the 2nd World War during the blitz of London as the Davis premises were in the centre of London. :(