riding for pleasure
RIDING ASTRIDE - WRITTEN
REFERENCES - RIDING SIDE-SADDLE
women rode horses for domestic reasons- travel or taking goods
to and from market or for a purchase in a nearby town. Many women
in Chaucer's book, Canterbury Tales, also rode horses for
practical reasons, but women also rode for pleasure.
illuminations from the Manesse Codex of a couple out hawking
and the Duk Du Berry's Book of Hours illustrate- horse
riding was not limited to servants running errands and queens,
but was also the passtime of noble ladies.
Women usually rode astride as men did, sitting on saddles the
same way most women ride today. This was in no way indicitive
of whether a woman was lowly or high born.
The image at left from a French manuscript, Romance of the
Saint, from the 14th century, shows a woman clearly riding
astride like a man.
other manuscripts, like the German Manesse Codex, dated
to the early 14th century, also support women riding astride.
Seen at right, is a Lady and her companion out hawking on horseback.
The saddle is clearly visible and the folds of the surcote show
the woman's leg clearly. Hawking was the privilege of the upper
classes, and riding in this manner appears to be accepted practice.
Interestingly, the romantic image we often attribute to the middle
ages of the Lady with her long skirts or cloak spread out over
the horse's rump in a magnificent display seems to be nothing
more than fantasy. Art clearly shows us that women tend to ride
sitting on their gowns rather than spreading them out over the
There are only a few written reference to women's riding abilities,
but these include Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394), Queen Isabella
of Spain (1451-1504), Margherite Datini (14th century) and Catherine
de Medici (1519-1589).
Margherite Datini, the wife of an Italian businessman, writes
to her husband in a candid letter when he asks her to join him
on horseback on a certain day. She replies that at that time,
she will have her cramps, and will not be able to ride for a few
more days afterwards.
The Histoire de Guillaume
le Mareschal, written circa 1226 tells us:
While fleeing enemies, Empress
Matilda was riding cumme femme fait, en seant as women do,
sidesaddle. Her Marshal told her she would have to part
her legs and ride astride because they needed to get a move on.
Les jambes vos covient desjoindre e metre par en son 'larcum.
This shows us that although
it was the norm for a woman to ride with her legs at the side,
it was not unknown for a woman to ride astride when required.
Some other medieval women,
like Margaret Paston, regularly rode in her travels and according
to Frances and Joseph Gies book, Women of the Middle Ages, she
probably rode astride as women had always done rather than side
saddle which was just coming into vogue in the early 15th century.
It appears that this was
not considered unusual or shocking for a business woman who was
in need to travel quickly to ride this way.
Certainly, unless one was
a rural woman of lesser social standing, it is likely she would
have been accompanied by male or female staff who rode with her.
The Duk du Berry's Book of Hours in the month of May, pictured
at bottom right, shows us noble ladies with garlands in their
hair going a-Maying and out riding with their companions and dogs.
These ladies appear to be riding side-saddle, but not all women
Anne of Bohemia is believed to have introduced the earliest version
of a sidesaddle. Although not entirely not like today's saddle,
the medieval side-saddle was a basic chair-like saddle with a
small foot rest known as a planchette.
From 1300 up until 1900, side-saddles evolved into the one we