Friday, 27 June 2014

A Late Victorian Riding Habit

I love being a vintage clothing dealer and getting to handle all sorts of neat vintage treasures but it's also hard when you come across things that I absolutely love that you have to sell. It's either have lots of fabulous things and not pay bills or run my business and pay bills! One such item is a late Victorian riding habit from c. 1889- 1891 that I as very lucky to recently acquire for my vintage clothing website, Corsets and Crinolines.

It's made from khaki green nun's cloth (an itchy loosely woven wool) with "kick-up sleeves" and a double breasted styled front, both of which, were popular during this time. 

The inside of the bodice is lined in brown cotton and heavily boned with spring steel boning. 

The back of the bodice has the typical squared off peplum which were typical of riding habit bodices from the late 1860's right to when riding habit jackets became the norm.

The skirt is not a safety apron and is rather full with pleats all around the waist/hips to allow for the extra fullness for riding and is very long at 50". It is an older style of full riding skirt based on 1860's styles without any safety slit or opening to accommodate the pommels. 

The middle to bottom portion of the riding skirt has wear and fading form where it was pressed against the safe of the saddle by the right left and rubbed against it.

Here is a photo from c. 1885 of Florence Lewis in her riding habit probably taken in East Sussex at Upper Dicker. Although her bodice is styled slightly different to the bodice on my habit (same squared off peplum though!), the skirt is near identical in pattern, length and fullness to the riding skirt on my antique habit. The photo is an excellent example showing how the skirt would have looked and hung once mounted.

(Photo courtesy of Florence's great grand-daughter, Belinda Wilkins. You may visit the Wilkins' stand  at the SSA National Show.)

The habit was made for someone 5ft to 5'2" and is very petite in proportion as it has a 32" bust (so the wearer would have had a bust measuring about 30") and a 21" waist (so the wearer would have had an 19"- 20" waist to allow for ease of movement. For fun, I put it beside my own riding habit made about 125 years later in 2013 and on a dress form set to my height of 5'9" and my dress size of a UK 16 (so a 42" bust and a 32"- 34" waist). Although my riding habit isn't really representative of modern sizing as I'm still taller than most people (men and women) today and a larger dress size than what most women wear, I just thought it was a neat comparison between old and new and two habits at opposite ends of the size charts!

Although I love the styling of the antique habit, it makes me appreciate my modern habit even more for it's safety apron and the fact I don't need to wear a corset with it!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Up and up

Hattie and I had another successful showing day last Sunday at the Diamond Equestrian show coming 1st in  Best Turned Out, 1st in Style and Appearance and 3rd in Riding Club horse. Hattie is really going well in her new off-side side saddle and I was VERY glad to have it in the Riding Club Horse class when the judge whacked the jump up to 2ft!

The jumps are usually about 1'6"- 1'9" in Riding Club classes which I feel comfortable doing but 2ft is still a little too high for a weenie like me to do without poo-ing myself. I was panicking as each rider before me did their individual shows and took the jump in their stride (it seems that a lot of people who enter RC classes tend to be show jumpers so they do not seem to care what height the jump is set at, lol) and then it was our turn.

We did a nice walk, trot and canter on both reins with good rolling transitions and then let I Hattie have her head a bit as I didn't want her going to the fence in a full on collected dressage canter but still kept her motoring from behind (it's kind of like a rolling sensation from behind), said a prayer out loud and hoped for the best.

She went to hesitate but then thought better of it and popper the fence in a less-than-elegant fashion. It wouldn't have been so bad but everyone was standing around to see if the side saddle rider would make it. We did, and I didn't die so that is good.

The massive 2ft jump!!

Another thing that got "put up" this week apart from the jump, was the wykham pad in my Champion & Wilton. For the past 1-2 months of riding Possa in it, I have just felt that the saddle was dropping ever so slightly away from under my right thigh. I wasn't sure if it was just Possa as the saddler had originally been fitted to Hattie but I tried it on Hattie and it did the same thing so got the saddler out.

It had shimmed it up with new felt at the end of September/October so thought that it was probably just the new felt bedding down so he added another thicker felt shim to lift it up a bit more for Possa.

I rode her in it on Wednesday again and the saddle is a good fit but she is generally weaker on the right rein (polo ponies don't really do the type of schooling dressage and showing horses do) and she tends to drop away from me on the right rein, especially on bends.

I found after working her on circles and doing lots of transitions so she was using her back more, that "dropping sensation" on the right rein, virtually disappeared at the end of our schooling session so think we need to work more on that. 

In this case, the dropping away" sensation I felt was caused by the saddle AND the horse but at last now that I know the saddle is fitted perfectly to her, I can work on Possa's schooling to build up the muscles more on the off-side.

Thursday, 12 June 2014


No, my saddle isn't going rusty but I have rust on my legs!!

For those in the UK who aren't familiar with the North American obsession with rust breeches, it was a popular colour for hunter/jumper riders to wear until "puke green" breeches took over in the late 1980's. Rust is making a comeback in the USA and Canada but the UK has been resistant to this particular colour, although why is anyone's guess as it is flattering for all figure types and for women AND men as well!

It is a very traditional colour and always thought would suit side saddle riding but hard to find or non-existent in the UK, so was VERY happy when Sarah Parry, from a Bit on the Side Saddle, contacted me to let me know that she had brought out a rust coloured breeches line into her product range!

I used to wear rust in the late 1980's and early 90's as a teenager so when my pair arrived in the mail, I felt like a kid again! The Bit on the Side Saddle ones are made from that woven stretch cotton that is really popular with the more expensive breeches (and which I really like!) and they have full clarino seats which are useful for side saddle riding, especially if you have a leather seated side saddle. They aren't the side saddle specific line of breeches that they do with the clarino on the outside if the right leg but normal full seat breeches. This is fine as I ride off-side any ways and you can use them astride too.

I ordered the UK size 16/18 and fit well in the hips and thighs and are long enough for me too. I REALLY hate when breeches end mid calf on me, not comfortable AT ALL but these are perfect. I've been wearing mine for two days straight to school Hattie (rust doesn't show the dirt so you can get a couple of day's wear out of them!) and have had good grip in the saddle and not been constricted at all!

Just need a rust habit now ;-)

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Hattie Does It Again!

We had our second South Kilworth Riding Club show of the season on Sunday (two more to go!) and Hattie once again, pulled out all the stops. We came 2nd in Best Turned Out, 6th in Prettiest Mare (we decided to do a Fun Showing class as he had a huge gap in the day between Best Turned Out and then our afternoon classes), 2nd in Ridden Veteran, 1st in Style and Appearance and then we did two rounds of Clear Round Jumping. The at the end of the day, we ended up being Ridden Champion in the showing ring and then Reserve Supreme Champion!!!

The show was VERY busy and it was a long hot day so am thrilled how we performed in the huge classes as we had stiff competition. There are a few things that we need to work on, namely our transitions as they were a bit sloppy and not instant on the day. I think that is a bit of laziness on the part of Hattie and then complacency on my part, some schooling in the paddock should cure that and sharpen us both up. As much as it is lovely having a soft school to ride in, I find it does make you go "soft". Our performances at shows are always better once we've schooled in a field and it helps with the jumping too.

Hattie was good jumping at the show, more forward than usual but still lacking a bit confidence which I think she picks up from me. We were working on jumping in the school but again, Hattie equates the school with work and therefore the laziness comes out so you're always pushing her on. Again, some jumping in the paddock will increase both our confidence and sharpen us up.

I think horses have taught me not to get too comfortable and complacent as even if you come home with champion rosettes, there is always something to work on for next time or something your horse will throw into the works just to "shake things up" a bit!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Get into The Groove

No, I'm not going all 80's nostalgic on you singing Madonna lyrics but talking about girths and girth grooves.

Most of the fit issues Hattie has had with saddles (astride and aside), has been her forward girth groove and her VERY round mare barrel. With the help of my saddler, we've managed to get around her conformation faults by adding point straps to her saddles (attached onto the very front of the tree points) and using a narrower girth that is forked at each end to allow for the "swell" of her barrel.

To be honest, I am a fan of forked girths for all horses, aside and astride but my saddler and I have worked out that narrower girths seem to work best for horses with a forward groove and a very wide barrel and wider girths for those narrower barrelled horses that also have a forward girth groove.

As an experiment, I compared Hattie and Possa who both wear my Champion & Wilton saddle. It fits both horses who have similar builds well and both horses need the point straps as both mares have forward girth grooves.

The photos of Hattie taken in the Champion & Wilton side saddle, were taken after an hour and a half long hack which consisted of trotting, cantering and galloping over ridge and furrow fields and up and down hills. Despite all this crazy action, the saddle was still sitting 2 fingers width behind her shoulder blade.

Although the saddle has stayed put, you can see that the girth has gone forward and settled into her groove. When I take up, I am always careful to pull both legs forward to get out any loose skin and to help move the girth back onto her belly but at the end of our rides, this is where it ends up.

With the flap up, you can see how the girth has really arched forward to settle into Hattie's very forward girth groove. Thanks to the forked ends of the girth, the girth can arched forward to where it wants to naturally settle but not take the saddle with it. You can see how my saddle pad has ruffled back from the girth moving forward. My saddle also recommended to NOT use a separate balance girth but to use an attached one, so there is less drag on the saddle caused by her wide barrel.

A good view of Hattie's WIDE barrel. With a narrower girth, there is less leather for her big belly to push forward and with a combi girth, the balance strap just lies quietly on top of the barrel rather than being wrapped around her mass like a separate balance girth is.

Remember how I used to post about my saddles shooting several inches onto her shoulders just after a few strides of trot? Well, look at the scurf mark that lines up with the top knuckle of my index finger, that's only about 1"- 1.5", a MAJOR improvement over our fit issues of old.

A narrower girth with two buckles (this one measures about 3" as opposed to the traditional 4" wide three buckle side saddle girths), allows the girth to curl back from Hattie's shoulders without too much bulk. Keeping Hattie's  girths soft is a must to allow them to curl back so as not to gall her.

Possa on the other hand, can use a traditional 4" wide three buckle girth with the same saddle. This photo was taken after we had rode. Her barrel isn't as wide as Hattie's barrel so she is able to wear a separate balance girth but she does have a forward girth groove. She is a fit polo pony so her forward groove isn't due to being unfit or fat either. You can see that the girth has settled into her girth groove but the saddle has not moved. The first two branches of the girth's fork have kept the saddle in the correct place over her girth groove and behind the shoulder while the last branch of the fork, has kept the saddle stable over her barrel.

Although I have not had to deal with a saddle going backwards or that rolls, I should imagine that in those cases, the 4" wide three buckle girth, would also be useful so that the forks can be spread out over the girth straps to help keep the saddle more stable.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Hattie and The Megan- A Winning Combination! Part Two

You know when you get a saddle that just clicks and everyone is happy, horse AND rider? Well, the two shows we've gone to this month with our new saddle have proved that Hattie really likes it and that it was money well spent.

We went to the Diamond Equestrian show on May 4 and Hattie did brilliantly coming 2nd in Best Turned Out, 2nd in Riding Club Horse and 1st in Style & Appearance.

Note look of terror on my face as we jumped. We really aren't jumpers but if we can get over the small jumps in the Riding Club Horse classes at shows, then I am happy. It would have helped if I had hooked down the flap too!

(All Diamond Equestrian photos courtesy of JKC Photography, Leicester.)

Then on May 11, we went to the first South Kilworth Riding Club show of the season and Hattie was amazing once more!! We came first 2nd in Best Turned Out, 2nd in Ridden Veteran and 1st in Style and Apperance. She did lovely rolling transistions that were dead on, worked well across the back and was working softly on the bit. We also did Prettiest Mare in the fun showing ring as we had a long gap between classes where she came 1st again and did two rounds of clear round jumping at 1'3"- 1'6". The first round we got one pole down but the second round, we went clear so that was good. I wasn't really expecting much at the jumping but just did it to kill some time.

Because we came first and 2nd in our classes, we were automatically entered into the Champion class at the end of the day against all those who had received 1st and 2nds as well and again,. Everyone had to go around together at a walk, trot and canter and then do an individual show and Hattie did not disappoint with her rolling transitions and we won Champion!

Hattie taking a break between classes and eating her banana...

A successful day!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Hattie and The Megan- A Winning Combination! Part One...

Anyone who has read this blog for the past four years, knows how many side saddles I have been through, bought, tried, sold in the quest to find the perfect saddle for my temperamental mare. My dodgey right hip has also thrown a spanner in the works as I need an off-side side saddle now as it's too painful to ride on the nearside for any length of time and we all know how un-plentiful off-siders are!!

When I found out that A Bit on the Side Saddle was able to offer new custom made off-side side saddles, well, I put name down to order one! When I posted about Zaldi being able to make off-siders two years ago, I had been disappointed to hear later about the poorly made trees and fit problems people had been having with their Zaldi Lady England's so glad I never ordered one from them.

Hattie quickly recovered from the kick she received in April (thankfully it was on the fleshy part of her bum and not on the hip area) and I saw that she was galloping across the field again and kicking up her heels, it was work time once again for the May shows.

Armed with my new off-side Megan saddle back from the saddler after getting the panels tweaked and flocked up, we started back into heavy duty work with it.

Us messing about in our new saddle...

Cantering around without reins...

Hooning about on a loose rein, all good fun.

We've been doing all sorts in the Megan, dressage, jumping, hacking, going out galloping and even during our schooling mishaps, like the day Hattie was heavily in season and didn't feel like doing anything, let alone jumping, the saddle stayed rock solid. It did not move, roll, shoot forward or anything and I stayed safe and secure. The sweepy seat that I had it made with, REALLY gives me A LOT of support.

You can see how square I am in the saddle despite Hattie being a little s**t and refusing. There was NO REASON for her to refuse that fence. We had a good rolling canter which wasn't on the forehand, wasn't a high jump and a good line but she just gave me the proverbial finger and told me where to go. Jumping isn't really for me any way but as long as we are able to do the small fences in the Riding Club Horse class, I am happy.

The sweepy seat really did come into it's own this past Sunday when we were out galloping and Hattie shied at some Cow Parsley she saw and slammed on the brakes. If it wasn't for the sweepy seat keeping me anchored and allowing my left thigh to slam down into it, I would have come off the nearside over the front of the saddle. With flat seats, I don't find they give me much leverage for my thigh.

I took some photos of my saddle as I know everyone has been dying to see it so here they are..

Reverse Mayhew fitting for an off-side saddle....

Beautiful soft European posh leather covered panels:

                 The fixed head is the perfect set for me, I don't need a queen with this saddle...

Good generous medium tree, clears Hattie's withers and the bursitis bump on them caused by the ill-fitting Manorgrove saddle. 

You can see the sweep of the seat in this photo really well.

 Comfy pommels...

My saddler agrees that these wide panels are best for Hattie as they distribute the rider's weight better than the old "rolling pin" panels often seen on old antique saddles. They are very similar to what you see on modern dressage saddles. I can feel Hattie using her back more with these panels too.
                        Nice wide gullet so nothing is pressing on her spine. I need to get some new numnahs made up for this saddle as it's too big for any of my current pads and its off-side so can't exactly go out and buy ready made pads. My saddler remarked yesterday how even the saddle's flock is bedding down and how well fitting it still is with no rolling or anything.

Hattie hasn't bucked once in this saddle, nor has it shot forward onto her shoulders once. It just sits there on her back, unmoving like a saddle should do. I just plonk it onto her back and off we go without having to use all those non slip pads, special girths, risers, etc that we've had to use with past saddles. I think Hattie has given this one her stamp of approval!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Our Little Hack

Hattie is starting to get better, her walking is becoming more freer and forward and she actually trotted the fence line today in the dirt paddock without any head bobbing or limping. She is going to stay in the dirt paddock until Monday and then I will see if she is ready to go into the summer paddock with the rest of the mares. I don't want to put her in there too early, get excited when she sees the new grass, starts galloping around like a loon and injures herself. Fingers crossed that she is def on the mend.

Meanwhile Possa has been doing some more side saddle work. We went for a little hack down the lane yesterday as it was gorgeous weather, too nice to school really. I've hacked out with her but never hacked her out on my own but apart from a few moments when she saw her shadow and then later on, a coffee cup on the floor, she was fine. We even had a couple of short canters on the grass verges. Towards the end of the hack when we were heading home, Possa starting accepting contact and quietly chomping the bit rather than going around with her head up like polo ponies do. She was using her back and bringing her head down and staying on the bit for short periods at the walk. As long as I have known her, she has never worked on the bit, it's always been "go fast after the ball". We have been doing suppling exercises to help her with polo so it seems that we are on the right track and that she actually likes the side saddle!

I decided to change girths and not use Hattie's combination girth and Possa does not have any problems with saddles sliding around or moving on her. Instead, I used a separate three buckle three fold girth and balance girth and she was fine with it. Although the saddle fits her quite well despite not being fitted to her, I find with the separate girths, it just keeps it that little bit more stable and perfect until the saddler can come out and fit it exclusively to her. It just needs lifting up ever so slightly under my right thigh, maybe one shim, that's it, other than that, it's perfect! Hattie has 3 saddles already, Possa can have the Champion & Wilton.

I have also discovered that I ride better with a Queen on my Champion & Wilton when it is on Possa than when it is on Hattie. I don't know why, maybe because it needs lifting slightly under my right thigh? It will be interesting to see if I still need the Queen on my C&W after the saddler puts a shim on the wykham.

Unfortunately, we couldn't do any side saddle work today as yesterday afternoon, Possa got bit in the field on the back by another horse causing a large welt to come up on her back. It's quite raw at the minute so we'll have to wait now until that heals up!!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Side Saddle How To's

We didn't end up going to our show this past Sunday as Hattie got kicked in the field by another horse Saturday afternoon and was lame from it. Luckily, it just seems to be muscular and she is getting a bit better each day but it was VERY disappointing as we had prepared so much for it and won't be able to go to our next show, which would have been this coming Sunday. Sarah from A Bit on the Side Saddle, had come down form Lancashire to ride Hattie in a couple of classes too so it was disappointing for her as well.

In an attempt to find something else to do to salvage our weekend, Sarah suggested taking photos for the "Side Saddle How To" guides she wants to make for her website. Since Hattie is out of action for the time being my friend Paul, let me use his polo pony named Possa as our model.

Although I've schooled Possa astride, it's only been to keep her supple for polo and she has never had a side saddle on her before but Paul thought it was a good idea, so off we went to make Sarah's first instalment of her How To guides....How To Introduce A Horse To Side Saddle.

Possa is pretty much the same height and build as Hattie, but probably a bit more leaner since she is a fit polo pony who is exercised everyday and who plays nearly every weekend. Hattie's tack and saddles fit her really well so the next time the saddler comes out, I'm going to have him look at fitting my Champion & Wilton exactly to Possa since that one seems to fit her that little bit better than my Beck.

I was really surprised how well she took to side saddle since polo riding is completely the polar opposite to side saddle riding! Here is us going for it down the long side of the school. Go Possa!

Friday, 11 April 2014

A Less Than Regal Queen

At the last side saddle show I went to, the judged suggested that I add a queen to my Beck to get my left leg over a bit more over to the nearside. Although I already have a queen on my Beck as it has such a tiny pommel, I never realized still how far over to the off-side my leg was. Over the past few weeks, I have been experimenting with different "queens", ones made from foam, gloves, anything really and then I tried Hattie's eye wiping towel folded up several times.

I have it placed a bit further back from the front of the fixed head so I can still get my left leg around it comfortably yet it still supports my thigh. I don't exactly have the smallest thighs on the planet so it's surprising that I need a queen on the saddle but there you go!

Unfortunately, my new queen doesn't live up to it's regal title as it's rather stained with purple spray stains, Hattie eye gunk and goodness knows what else off that horse! Still, it will make it's appearance underneath my habit at our next show on Sunday.