The elegant art of side saddle riding enjoys a growing popularity both in New Zealand and in many other countries. One of the first organisations to foster and encourage the resurgence of aside riding was founded in England in 1974, when Janet Macdonald and Valerie Francis wrote a letter to "Horse & Hound" Magazine, hoping to gather a band of like-minded enthusiasts to keep alive a dying art. From that beginning the original "Side Saddle Association" was born, and over the years has become respected throughout the UK and abroad. Just seven years later, in 1981, the New Zealand Side Saddle Association was formed in Kaukapakapa, Rodney County, just north of Auckland, to preserve and encourage the art of side saddle riding in New Zealand.

The first objective of the Association is to promote and encourage the art of riding side saddle and to further the interests of side saddle riders. Membership of the Association is open to anyone interested in this elegant style of riding. For more information, visit the New Zealand Side Saddle Association's website at or email the Secretary at [email protected].

The history and development of side saddle is a fascinating study that can be traced back as far as the 9th century. While women throughout the ages have always ridden astride as and when necessary, there is evidence from the decorations on ancient Greek vases and on Celtic monuments of the first millennium AD that women sometimes rode sitting sideways even earlier than this time. Little by little the design of the side saddle has been improved upon, but in the process it created difficulties for riders that took several centuries to overcome. After the invention of the leaping head early in the 19th Century, ladies finally had a saddle that enabled them to ride as securely aside as astride. The re-introduction of the flat seat towards the end of the 19th Century enabled the rider to sit elegantly upright, square to the front of the horse, with the full control and balance that we expect today.

The paramount qualities of a side saddle horse are suppleness, obedience and even, comfortable paces, but above all it must be a safe ride for a lady. Breeding and conformation are considered to be of secondary importance.

Elegance, neatness and ideally an appearance of true unity are the three essentials that all side saddle riders strive for. Tradition plays a strong part in a rider's turnout and the NZSSA has strict rules and guidelines for turnout and saddle fitting. Today's side saddle costume, which is known as a habit, evolved during the 19th century and was made for safety, as the long and full skirts previously worn were liable to catch on the pommels if a rider should fall from her horse. Today, the habit skirt is a backless apron beneath which matching breeches are worn.

Side saddle has been included in the Horse of the Year programme since 2001, and always draws great interest and a large number of spectators. Classes included at HOY are Concors d'elegance - for the most elegant combination; side saddle mount - for the most suitable side saddle horse; side saddle rider - for the best side saddle rider; and Horse of the Year Unity Title Class, which is judged on the horse, rider, turnout and overall combination.

Sarah Gault (Gisborne) and "Sweet Afton" winners of the HOY Side Saddle Unity Title Class, 2007
Photo courtesy
[email protected]
Horse of the Year Side Saddle Title holders:
2001 - Sarah Gault on "Lady Astor"
2002 - Wendy Donaldson on "Joe Bolido"
2003 - Wendy Donaldson on "Joe Bolido"
2004 - Sarah Gault on "Sweet Afton"
2005 - Bronwyn Woodhead on "Fleeting Chance"
2006 - Sarah Gault on "Sweet Afton"
2007 - Sarah Gault on "Sweet Afton"