The Business of Sidesaddle

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Sidesaddle riding has evolved over several hundred years to become very secure and comfortable, creating a practical style of riding. This makes sidesaddle an intriguing way to expand your business.

Originally, ladies rode facing sideways on a padded seat, with both feet resting on a footrest called a planchette. This precarious position made it difficult for ladies to control their mounts, so they were simply lead around at a walk on small, sedate horses. Eventually, a stirrup replaced the planchette. Then the addition of an upright pommel, or horn, allowed women to face forward by hooking a leg around the pommel. This gave them the ability to control their own horses. During the early 1800s, the leaping horn was added. With a leaping horn, a sidesaddle rider can perform an “emergency grip” by pressing her thigh into the leaping head and her right calf against the saddle. Although this position is tiring and cannot be held long, it provides a very secure seat when needed. This allowed women a more secure seat over jumps or when riding horses who misbehaved.

Despite these advances, sidesaddle riding almost died out by the mid-1900s. Liberated women began riding and competing astride. But a few traditionalists clung to the elegant art of sidesaddle riding. They organized the International Sidesaddle Organization (ISSO) and the World Sidesaddle Federation. These two organizations, which merged in 2005, promote sidesaddle riding and strive to educate equine enthusiasts about the history and the art of riding aside.

Each year more women become interested in learning to ride aside. However, sidesaddle instructors remain scarce—in many areas of the country, there are no qualified sidesaddle teachers. By investing the time to learn about sidesaddle riding, you can expand your training and lesson business, reach new clients and be part of the fun movement to promote sidesaddle riding.

The first step is to learn about sidesaddles and riding aside. Maggie Herlensky, who teaches several sidesaddle riders in Ohio, advises that you read everything you can before you purchase a sidesaddle or climb aboard a horse. If you join the ISSO, you can borrow sidesaddle books through their interlibrary loan program and you will receive a quarterly newsletter with information on sidesaddle topics. If you have Internet access, join the sidesaddle discussion list. The e-mail list is full of information on how to identify a good sidesaddle, notices of upcoming sidesaddle events and helpful advice for newcomers to sidesaddle.

Once you have learned everything you can from books and the discussion list, start riding. Maggie and many other sidesaddle riders originally learned without the benefit of an instructor, but that is a difficult way to start out. Check out the ISSO’s website for a list of certified sidesaddle instructors, or attend a sidesaddle clinic or camp put on by a local sidesaddle group. Even if you have to travel some distance to attend a clinic or camp, they are well worth it. In addition to learning about sidesaddle topics and riding, you will meet other sidesaddle enthusiasts who will support your desire to learn to ride aside.

When you are confident enough in your sidesaddle abilities to offer riding instruction, consider becoming certified as a sidesaddle instructor through the ISSO. Many instructors say that they’ve gained many new clients after becoming certified, and that makes the process worthwhile.

And it is a process. Potential instructors complete an application and submit three reference letters. Applicants attend a two-day educational session put on by ISSO and take a written test that covers their knowledge of sidesaddle riding history, proper attire for showing, how to correctly saddle and fit the saddle to the horse and rider, and sidesaddle equitation. Certification also involves a riding test that applicants may perform in front of an ISSO judge or via a videotaped ride. Potential instructors also give a 20-minute lesson in front of a panel of judges and make a short presentation on some aspect of riding aside. All instructors must remain members of ISSO and recertify every five years.

Once certified, it’s time to spread the word. The ISSO helps by listing your name and contact information on its website. You can also promote your new business by putting on a sidesaddle clinic or mini-camp at your barn. Jeannie Whited, a sidesaddle instructor in Virginia, does at least one clinic each year, and says they give attendees a chance to see other sidesaddle riders. Whited also takes her sidesaddle to shows, which garners a lot of curious questions. It also helps to advertise in local feed and tack stores—many women are fascinated with sidesaddle riding and will leap at the chance to take lessons from a qualified instructor.

Sidesaddles also offer unique opportunities for disabled riders. Often, women and men who have lost a leg or suffered debilitating injuries which limits their ability to use a leg can continue riding without problems in a sidesaddle. Lillian Chaudhary, a sidesaddle maker in California, has even created “offside” saddles for women with disabilities. An offside sidesaddle lets the woman ride with her legs on the right, rather than left, side of the horse.

Ultimately, even if sidesaddle doesn’t bring in a lot of new business, it creates visibility. Sidesaddle riders are popular in parades as well as costume classes at horse shows. Learning sidesaddle provides another avenue to show off your horses and gives you something fun to try with your regular clients. And riding aside gives your students more to do with their horses.

So enjoy sidesaddle riding—and enjoy promoting and preserving an important part of our heritage as riders and equine enthusiasts.