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.
As 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, 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 an 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 palfrey's rump in a magnificent display of costly fabric seems
to be nothing more than wishful thinking on our part. Art clearly
shows us that women tend to ride sitting on their gowns rather
than spreading them out over the horse.
It is possible that when
travelling in wet weather, an outer cloak might have covered the
saddle and rump, but I have seen or read nothing to support this.
It just seems extremely practical for wet weather.
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 together at
one side, it was not unknown for a woman to ride astride when
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
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.
images in medieval art show a large number of women rising astride
like men, there are a few images which clearly show the lady riding
with both her legs on the same side- side-saddle.
Pictured at right is an image
from Chaucer's canterbury Tales showing the Prioress riding side-saddle,
unlike the Wife of Bath who is clearly shown astride.
A second image from an illuminated
manuscript of Arthurian Romances dated between 1275 to 1300 from
France, and now held at the Beineckel Library, MS 229, folio 329r,
(below) shows a humerous picture of a woman jousting with her
spindle and staff.
the image is clearly not a representation of real life, we can
note that the women has been drawn riding side-saddle with her
legs away from the viewer.
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