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Flea Market Treasure: A Vintage Side Saddle

Updated on April 1, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.


Some years ago while vacationing in the mountains of West Virginia I bought a vintage side saddle. I found it at a flea market and paid $25.00. It was from the turn of the 20th century, with tooled leather and a red velvet seat. When I got it home and began to clean it up, it soaked up oil like a sponge. But other than being dusty and dry, it was in fairly good shape. I had a few minor repairs done by Mr. Rudolph Smith, owner of West Mount Saddlery in Rocky Mount, NC, after which it was in good usable condition. I later sold my side saddle, which I now regret, even though I made a very healthy profit.

It is said that Catherine rode side saddle to show off her shapely legs.    [Georg Christoph Grooth (1716-49). Equestrian portrait of Grand Duchess, Catherine the Great]
It is said that Catherine rode side saddle to show off her shapely legs. [Georg Christoph Grooth (1716-49). Equestrian portrait of Grand Duchess, Catherine the Great]

The history of the side saddle goes back as far as 500 BC. Drawings show women riding both astride and sitting sideways.

The "modern" side saddle was used in the middle of the twelfth century. It is believed that Queen Anne made riding sideways "fashionable" in Britain in the thirteen hundreds. The saddle had a plank to support the feet.

The side saddle with a pommel was said to have been introduced by Catherine De Medici about 1500 AD. Historian, Pierre Brantome, says she wanted to show off her shapely legs. This form of the saddle became very popular and many of the sixteenth century saddles still exist today.. After that women were not seen riding astride again until the twentieth century.

The side saddle today is made in Western and English styles. It is designed with two pommels or projections on the left side. The lady rests her right leg over the top one and her left leg is positioned under the lower pommel. These days we will most likely see the side saddle at a horse show. Several breeds, such as the Arabian, have side saddle classes, sometimes with western, hunt and saddle seat divisions. with saddles being made for all three disciplines. The horse must have a quiet temperament and be very smooth gaited. It should respond especially well to light hands and body movement. Sometimes a whip is used to cue the horse on it's off side, since both of the riders legs are on the near side.

Many old prints depict ladies hunting and jumping fences while riding side saddle. I imagine it didn't seem so difficult to them, since it was the norm of the day. But, now, whenever we hear of someone following the hounds and riding side saddle it provokes comments of awe.

My saddle probably was used to "parade" a fancy horse in the park on Sunday afternoons. I can picture the first owner, dressed in period attire. A stylish hat, decorated with a black ostrich plume, is perched on her head at a jaunty angle. Green velvet skirts drape over her legs. Her jacket matches her skirt, fitting her trim waist and then flaring out . It is fastened with little black buttons. She nods to friends and neighbors she passes along the way and is accompanied by a handsome gentleman who is totally charmed by her beauty and her horsemanship.

Next time you see a Courier and Ives print look carefully, you might see her riding in my flea market treasure on a beautiful prancing, "park horse."


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    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

      When I was a teenager, my mother went with my godmother to clean out her old family home. My mother came home with a sidesaddle. It had been well stored and was in pretty good condition but needed a little bit of repair work. Once it was in shape to ride, I did ride with it several times. It was remarkably easy to use and comfortable. :) It was quite balanced and secure. Voted up and interesting.

    • westernlifestyle profile image

      westernlifestyle 7 years ago from The Beautiful Pacific Northwest!

      I wonder how they were able to balance if the horse did something unexpected - like spook and jump to the left!!!

    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Like it!

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 9 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      A lovely article. I like how you tied in the art and history aspect!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

      I always wondered how they balanced and stayed on those things. Seems like it would be too easy to slip right off. I wonder if the horse feels uncomfortable.