What’s the saying? “If the world really made sense, men would be the ones riding side-saddle.”
Boyd Martin tested that theory on April 19 as he tried out riding aside in a hilarious and adventuresome foray into the side-saddle world.
Side-saddle jumping world record holder Susan Oakes was conducting a clinic at Martin’s Windurra Farm in Cochranville, Pa., with eight side-saddle riders honing their skills in a field. “I was training my event horses all day and glancing over to see what they were doing and was quite intrigued,” said Martin. “After talking to Susan at lunch and hearing how she broke the world high jumper record, at the end of the day I decided to give it a go.”
So, Martin swung a leg… not over… on the Thoroughbred-Percheron cross British Stirling and gave it a go, even jumping a jump.
Susan Oakes gave Boyd Martin some pointers on riding aside. Photo courtesy of Mary Musheno
“I can promise you from a professional rider’s point of view that it’s nowhere as easy as it looks,” Martin said. “Even getting on was a bit of an ordeal for me, and it was very, very tricky to find your balance. I jumped the one jump, and I quickly retired because I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve had a few injuries in my time, and I don’t want to add a side-saddle injury to my list.’ ”
Oakes, who is originally from Ireland, was in the United States to ride in the Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side-Saddle Race at the Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds Point-to-Point (Pa.) and the Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational Side-Saddle Race at the Loudoun Hunt Point-to-Point (Va.). She won both aboard Stephanie Boyer and Ivan Dowling’s Fort Henry.
“I’ve had a few guys over the years [try side-saddle] and a few international show jumpers,” Oakes said. “They always think it looks so easy, and it doesn’t look that hard, but when they actually sit on it they realize there’s a real equestrian art to ride side-saddle. It looks easy sometimes, but when you sit up you realize there’s a lot more to it.”
“It was the weirdest thing trying to figure out how to make your horse go straight and turn left and turn right,” Martin said. “I personally witnessed some side-saddle riding when I was in England and the ladies were jumping 4′ hedges in side-saddle. I thought it was impressive, but knowing what I know now I may even be more blown away that they could do it.”
Martin’s mount, the 8-year-old gelding British Stirling, also had his first side-saddle experience earlier that day with Boyer.
In the clinic, Oakes had the participants work on the flat to get comfortable before heading out on the terrain. They went out on Windurra’s cross-country course to go up and down banks to get their balance. Once they’d gotten a feel for that, they walked, trotted and cantered through the water jump before tackling some other fences.
“I think I got egged into [jumping] by the clinic organizer Stephanie Boyer,” Martin said. “But it was a very, very strange sensation sitting on the side of a horse and jumping a jump.”
Boyd Martin cantered aside on British Stirling as Susan Oakes watched. Photo courtesy of Mary Musheno
So what was the hardest part?
“I think in trot and canter, staying in the middle of the horse,” he said. “When you ride traditionally it’s very symmetrical. You have an even amount of weight in the stirrups and both seat bones. You’re very centered on the horse, and side-saddle you’re actually very central on your horse, your legs and your feet are off to one side, and your hip and seat bones are off to the other side, and your shoulder is parallel with the horse, so it’s a lot more difficult.”
While he enjoyed his experience, Martin says once is good enough for him.
“I think I can now say that I’ve been there and done it, and I don’t think you’ll see me in a side-saddle again,” he said.