The latest attempted American revival of a bygone tradition: sidesaddle horseback riding.
The Washington Post's Caitlin Gibson recently visited the Loudoun Hunt's 49th annual Point to Point Races, held at Oatlands Plantation, for the very first Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational Side Saddle Race:
The all-women race was the first of its kind to be held in the United States since the 1930s, organizers claimed — but probably not the last. Sidesaddle riding is making an unlikely comeback in the United States, greeted by many nostalgic equestrians as a delightful revival of a long-lost skill celebrating feminine modesty and elegance.
You can see pictures at the event's Facebook page.
But of course, sidesaddle is right up there with the required corset and acres of petticoats in the Women's History Fuck That Shit Hall of Fame, and our proto-feminist forerunners put a lot of effort into overthrowing the convention that it was the only acceptable way for a "lady of quality" to ride. (My God, somebody might suspect that your legs weren't literally welded together!) And it wasn't just the principle of the thing, either, Gibson points out:
Historically, the practice placed more value in a woman's appearance than her autonomy or safety; more than a few fallen riders wound up dragged to their deaths by petticoats tangled in stirrups and saddle straps.
Author Susanna Forrest pushes back on that stereotype, though: "Women were steeplechasing, they were performing in circuses, they were playing polo and traveling," she told the Post, adding that, "Horses were a respectable way to do things that were quite unfeminine." Which changed her initial impression:
Rather than a means of suppression, Forrest began to see sidesaddle as a uniquely female art. "It can be disparaged because it's largely been assigned to women in the past," she said — but so had other traditionally female skills or roles that have nonetheless claimed a place in modern feminism: knitting, sewing, stay-at-home motherhood.
Nevertheless, I can feel the hives rising all over my body at this explanation from one of the Virginia event's organizers: "I think there's a real craving for glamour and the sense of tradition, kind of a return to elegance and a return to the way things were done." There's no rules forcing you to ride sidesaddle in 2015, and I'd probably pay good money to watch a particularly talented horsewoman play polo from a sidesaddle. (Sounds more interesting than your average dudely match, anyway.) But let's not let the Downton Abbey cosplay cloud our understanding of history too much.
Photo via Getty.
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