Riding sidesaddle or astride — change in women’s fashion of early 1900s | PostIndependent.com

Riding sidesaddle or astride — change in women’s fashion of early 1900s

A man riding astride and a woman riding sidesaddle, along the boardwalks of Rifle. This is what the Victorian fashion of the time dictated.
Courtesy of Rifle Heritage Center |

Throughout the Victorian era of the 1800s, women’s fashion dictated they be seen in public wearing a long dress, usually down to their ankles. This meant transportation could be difficult with the choices available at the time, meaning mostly riding a horse or being pulled by a horse.

While riding in a buggy in a long dress was usually not a problem, riding horseback was another matter.

To accommodate this issue, the sidesaddle was invented. This allowed those in a long dress to ride a horse with both legs draped over the left side of the beast. A couple of curved horns allowed the lady to clamp on with her upper thigh and allow both legs to be together off one side of the horse while sitting on top of it.

Compared to the astride method which men in pants did with a leg on each side of the horse and stirrups to help with balance, the sidesaddle was an uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous method of travel, at best. My great grandmother rode all the way from southwest Nebraska to Oregon and back on a sidesaddle in the late 1800s. She had to be “one tough cookie” to endure that.

The early photos of pioneers in Rifle show the ladies all riding sidesaddle. To accommodate this, the Rifle saddle maker, Thompson Saddlery, made the finest of sidesaddles.

They were often well known for their astride saddles. Soon after 1900 and the end of the Victorian Era, women became embolden and started wearing riding pants, which allowed them ride more comfortably in the astride position.

As the era transcended, the photos reflected the change in riding styles, and the end of the uncomfortable and occasionally dangerous sidesaddle.

Alan Lambert writes Western Memories, a monthly look at history stretching from Divide Creek to the Grand Valley. He can be reached at dividecreek@sopris.net.

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