A Sideways Look At Classical Dressage - why side saddle?
Alice and I have been back from the Veronika Buhn clinic a week now and it's been a blur of dentists, massages, grazing walks and a short hack for Alice - work, mucking out and trying to avoid the corona virus for me!
Alice's dentist, Keith Evans was delighted with her teeth. Every time he visits he waxes lyrical about her 'text book mouth', which is a massive relief. Luckily, all three horses have excellent mouths. Keith is always so kind and patient when doing their teeth.
Next came the massage with Maisie Wake. Maisie has nearly completed her training as an Equine Physio and is already a qualified Equine Massage Therapist, so the horses are in good hands there. Alice absolutely loves a massage, and I'm really keen for her back to be checked regularly to ensure the unavoidable asymmetry of side saddle riding isn't doing any damage. The photo below shows Alice enjoying a good post-massage inside leg scratch - something she has trained my husband to do on her command! She has him wrapped around her not-so-little hoof!
One thing people always ask when they discover I ride side saddle is 'why?'
A reasonable question but I used to find the answer a little embarrassing. Nowadays I'm quite open about it because I hope that my openness might help someone else in my situation. You see, I have an autoimmune condition called lichen sclerosus (LS). It's a disease that's quite uncommon and tends to affect woman over 50, although anyone can develop it at any age. In my case, luckily I have it under control at the moment, but it means I can no longer ride astride as LS is a malfunction of my 'lady parts'. During a flare up it feels like someone poured itching powder in your underwear, and as LS and the steroid creams (the only available treatment) thin the skin, your skin in your 'delicate area' is very prone to bruising and tearing. So horse riding, cycling, and too much Barry White music in the bedroom is a very bad idea!
I discovered I have LS in 2013, just as I met my now-husband on an online dating service. Great timing! As we got to know each other online (he was at sea in the navy so we didn't physically meet for a few months), I decided to be honest before we even met and explained the condition. Luckily for me, he is an amazing man and married me anyway! Over the next few years I came to the realisation that horse riding was a major trigger for flare ups and faced a choice - never ride again or try to find a way around it. Personally, I hate to be told I can't do something so finding a way around it was the obvious answer. I tried a few different astride saddles and various methods of padding but it became apparent that astride wasn't the answer. I joked to someone about having to be a 'real lady' and go side saddle and then thought 'I wonder if anyone does ride side saddle anymore?'. A quick google took me to the Side Saddle Association and I discovered that you can hire side saddles. I was incredibly lucky to find a side saddle fitter in Devon - they're like hen's teeth - and even more lucky that he had a wide side saddle available for hire. I booked an appointment and before long Johan Ulvede of Viking Saddlery was assessing my 3 horses and deciding that Alice was the most suitable recipient of the beautiful side saddle built by Johan himself. I'd like to say that the wide saddle was purely necessary because Alice is a shire, but the truth is that I can't get a saddle to fit my cob Barny Horse because he has a short back and my bum is too big for anything that would fit him!! So, having started my EDL journey in an astride saddle on Barny Horse, everything was set to change as I re-learnt everything I thought I knew about riding...
Photos: left- Alice, middle- Barny Horse, Right- Munchie