Rider and Horse Turnout for Showing

Tips about side saddle turnout

Side Saddle Riding has a long history on what to wear and how to wear it, below are a few guidelines for how to show both rider and horse.


Bowler hats are usually back and can be worn with any colour of habit. The only other colour, which is acceptable, is brown and then only with a brown or tweed habit and only if worn with brown boots.

In the show-ring in the UK or Ireland, whatever the class, if a bowler hat is worn, it must be with collar and tie, and hair in a bun, even if this means using a false bun. Silk hats (always referred to as a ‘silk hat’ never a ‘top hat’) are for formal occasions only, and this means that the whole turnout of you and your horse must be formal. Your habit should be back or navy, you should wear a simple white or cream stock (no bling) and a spur, and your horse should be plaited and in a double bridle. Although, the old rule that silk hats would only be worn at Royal Shows has been relaxed, they are still only worn after lunch. If you are showing, do check the rules as many shows now insist that competitors in all classes must wear British Standard safety hats with a harness.

Traditionally minded judges do not approve of short dressage toppers for side-saddle. Silk hats should be no shorter than 4.75 inches or taller than 5.25 inches, depending on the height of the rider and overall picture on the horse. The hat should sit just above eyebrows and be straight and level to the ground when mounted.

A plain cream four-fold silk stock and plain white stock shirt should be worn with a silk hat, which should be tied tight enough to stay in place, but still be comfortable, and secured by a plain stock pin placed horizontally just under the knot when tied. Cream gloves should be worn with a silk hat although brown is also acceptable. Black, white or blingy gloves are not acceptable.

When wearing a bowler hat, a black bowler is always considered correct with a black or navy habit and long black boots, a brown bowler can also be worn with a tweed habit and long brown boots. A plain-collared shirt of a muted colour, preferably white or light cream should be worn with a dark tie, tied neatly and tight up to the collar.

Brown gloves should be worn with a bowler hat, well fitted and clean. Black gloves are a major faux pas because traditionally, black gloves signified that you were in mourning and therefore shouldn’t be riding.

Hair should be tied back into a tight, very neat, small doughnut-sized bun, just touching the bottom of the hat. A fine hair net should cover both bun and hair. Riders with short hair should wear a false bun to create the illusion of long hair. There should be absolutely no hair whatsoever escaping from under the hat. No bling.

A black veil should be worn with a top hat or black bowler. It is worn crossed over the bun at the back and held in place with hairgrips either side. There should be no creases or wrinkles in the veil. A traditional habit is made up of a waistcoat, jacket and apron.

Habits can be of navy, black or tweed in colour. A light/pale- coloured waistcoat, plain or with light check, should be worn under the habit with the lowest button left undone. The jacket should sit just above the saddle when mounted. It should be straight and have sleeves of a correct length so that when the rider’s arms are stretched, they are not too short.

The apron, which gives the impression of a skirt but in fact only wraps around the front of the rider, should sit straight and level with the ground when mounted. The back of the apron should sit just above the seat of the saddle all around. The length of the apron should sit around one hand on its side above the ankle of the boot. The elastic should wrap over the boot behind the heel and then fold in a figure of 8 over the instep of the boot.

Underneath the habit, breeches should match the colour of your habit.

Long, well-polished black boots, with a spur or dummy spur on the left boot only, should be worn. It is crucial to clean the underside of your boots, as these are very visible when riding side saddle. A cane is carried in the right hand to act instead of the right leg.

The rider is expected to wear make up under the veil. This should be subtle but enough to define the features of the face. No jewellery whatsoever should be worn.

Traditionally in the hunting field, unmarried ladies wore a navy habit with a bowler hat, while married ladies wore a black habit with silk hat if they were a subscriber, or a black habit and black bowler for less significant/important meets or while visiting another pack. This rule has now fallen by the way side although some judges still prefer to see a silk hat worn only with a black habit. All of the showing rules originated in turnout for the hunting field.


Your mount should be immaculate with no marks or stains. The horse should be trimmed and plaited and, if needs be, chalked up to brighten white markings. Make up and hoof oil can all be used to enhance the appearance of your horse. Tails should be pulled or neatly plaited. Quarter markers, sharks teeth etc can be used and will be different, depending on the size and shape of your horse

In side saddle classes, horses are generally ridden in a double bridle, although pelhams are acceptable with double reins. All leatherwork should be well-cleaned and oiled, with the bit and visible buckles polished. If you are wearing a silk hat, you should have a double bridle/Pelham with double reins.
However if you a wearing a bowler, double or single reins are acceptable.

It goes without saying that your horse should be beautifully schooled and well practiced in his side saddle before you would ever expect a judge to ride him.

A special thank you for Ciara O’Connell, Kalindi Lawrence & Emma Richardson-Steele for providing us with this information. These general comments have been collated with the help of side saddle riding customers; but it is important to note some classes may have specific requirements that vary from the ones listed above. 

Mrs Judy Mac Mahon

Mrs Judy Mac Mahon was a founding member of our association. She is pictured below on Golden Comet who won his middleweight class and championship as well as his ladies class and championship before going supreme hunter champion of the Dublin Horse Show.

A bit of background

The side saddle association of Ireland was founded in 1981 to promote  and assist side saddle  riders. Trish Hanson was the moving force , she was also the vice-president of the UK society. Ronnie and Judy MaMahon, Fania Mahony, Kathleen Carvill and the Curran family from Macetown Tara were also involved in the early days with much support from Mrs Rosemary Skrine from Wexford.

Patricia Hanson on Millmount RDS in 1963

Many days of instruction were organised and a large number of juniors were soon riding with confidence and polish, thanks to Trishs’ instructions.

As a result of this progress teams were sent to England for several years, competing at Newark and the Malvern where both senior and junior members competed  with wonderful results, bringing home plenty of rosettes and championships.

Team in Newark in the 1980's

Team in Newark in the 1980's

This year with the change of date for the 2012 RDS Dublin Horse Show  it is hoped to send a team to the Side Saddle champoinship show in Malvern on the first week of August.

Over the years the association have purchased a number of saddles which are available to rend, and instruction will be organised as members require.


A bit on the side – an article about the history of the association

A bit on the side                                By Catriona Murphy             Tuesday October 28 2008

Jump aboard the latest horsey trend — riding side saddle
Jonah Wragg takes the wall in her stride in the All-Ireland Hunting Horse Championship

Traditional and lady-like, riding side saddle is the epitome of elegance and is enjoying a major revival in Ireland and around the world.

The Side Saddle Association of Ireland has more than 100 members and growing, while there are 1,200 members in the British association and thousands around the globe.

The Irish association was first founded by Patricia Hanson and the annual championship show is still run in her memory. Ms Hanson was a regular winner in the show ring and won the Ladies Hunter Champion at the RDS on her horse Millmount.

Greek vases and Celtic stones show the earliest pictures of women riding sideways on their horses and medieval drawings show lady riders seated aside on horses being led by a man or sat sideways on a small padded seat behind a male rider.

However, it was apparent that the lady was little more than a passenger on the horse and had little control over the animal.

The earliest functional side-saddle is credited to Anne of Bohemia in the 1300s. It resembled a chair on which the woman sat sideways on the horse with her feet on a small footrest.

In the upper classes, society dictated that it was unbecoming and immodest for a lady to straddle a horse and the fashionable long skirts of the time were both impractical and awkward for riding.

However, women of status did ride horses and needed to be able to keep up with their men, so a saddle was needed which allowed both control of the horse and modesty for the rider.

Catherine de Medici is credited with a more practical design, developed in the 16th century. In this, the rider sat facing forward, hooking her right leg around the pommel of the saddle with a horn added to the near side of the saddle to secure the rider’s right knee.

The footrest was replaced with a slipper stirrup, a leather-covered stirrup iron into which the rider’s left foot was placed. This saddle allowed the rider both to stay on and to control her own horse, at least at slower speeds.

In the 1830s, Jules Pellier designed a side saddle with a second, lower pommel, which is still in use today. One pommel is nearly vertical, mounted approximately 10 degrees left of top dead centre and curved gently to the right and up. The rider’s right leg goes around the top, or fixed pommel, which supports the right thigh of the rider when it is lying across the top centre of the saddle.

The lower right leg rests along the horse’s near side shoulder and up against the second pommel, the leaping head or horn, located below the first pommel.

This pommel is curved gently downward in order to curve over the top of the rider’s left thigh, and is attached in a manner so that it could pivot slightly, to adjust to the individual rider. The rider places her left leg beneath this pommel, with the top of the thigh close or lightly touching it, and places her left foot in a single stirrup on that side.

The design was revolutionary in that the leaping head gave women enough security and freedom of movement to stay on at a gallop and even jump fences or ‘leap’ as it was known then.

With this design, women could compete in nearly all equestrian pursuits including showjumping and foxhunting, while still conforming to society’s demand for modesty.

In fact, Sydney Royal Show in 1915 saw Mrs. Esther Stace clear 6ft 6in thanks to the leaping horn.

Julie Brindley O’Brien of the Side Saddle Association of Ireland explains why riding side saddle is making a comeback.

“Many riders choose to ride side saddle for its elegance and beauty or simply to retain the tradition,” she says.

“And sometimes, ladies just like to look like ladies.”

Julie says that although many things have changed since side saddle riding was invented, the basic principles of balance, poise and suppleness have never changed.

“There are no real advantages to riding side saddle, although some riders feel more secure with both legs on one side,” she explains.

“You also have the option of applying the emergency grip around the two pommels if something unexpected happens, as so often does when you work with horses.”

However, she insists there is no reason why anything that can be done astride cannot be achieved side saddle.

“If you’ve ridden astride before learning to ride side saddle, the first thing you do is wonder why you haven’t tried it before.

“However, you do use different muscles, especially in the legs. As long as you ease your muscles into this new use, you should not experience any difficulties,” she assures me.

“Once you are taught the correct position and postures, balance should and will come naturally.”

Disabled riders and older riders sometimes find riding side saddle much easier than riding astride, she adds.

So how difficult is it to jump side saddle?

“The most important thing is to be in harmony with your horse, especially in flight,” says Julie.

“The only real difference is the rider’s jumping position to ensure the balance of the partnership and avoid an unplanned meeting with the pommels.”

Riders should tilt forward at one o’clock when riding side saddle rather than the modern 12 o’clock position used when jumping astride.

Julie’s daughter, Amy, has been riding side saddle since she was given a side saddle lesson as a gift for her seventh birthday.

The UCD student has competed side saddle ever since, notching up success after success in the show ring both here in Ireland and in Britain.

She says the same basic aids apply whether you are riding astride or side saddle.

“You use the same seat bone and weight aids but because you don’t have a leg on the off-side, you use a cane instead,” she explains.

The most responsive horses can be trained to strike off in canter by the rider simply lifting her inside hand.

“With some horses you only have to think ‘walk’ ‘trot’ and ‘canter’ and they’ll do it. They’re known as armchair rides. Real lady’s hunters look after you,” she adds.

Show competitions are generally divided into junior, intermediate and senior classes according to the rider’s age and the horse’s height.

Amy competes in working hunter and show hunter classes but has also ridden cross-country side saddle.

“I used to terrorise everyone by going side saddle at hunter trials,” she laughs.

For the past few years she has also travelled to the French town of Carcassonne to take part in the Concours International Amazone.

Riders dressed in medieval costume parade through the town in the annual historical re-enactment.

However, side-saddle riding is definitely not restricted to the show ring, as Tipperary woman Jonah Wragg has been proving for several years.

The Fethard lady has the distinction of being the last lady to ride side saddle in a point-to-point.

Officials at the track in Penshurst, Kent, were flabbergasted in 1990 when Jonah rode up on her husband’s horse Bentley Continental using a side saddle.

“But they couldn’t find anything in the rule book to say she couldn’t ride.” laughs Gavin. “I think they changed the rules after that.”

Jonah has done everything side saddle, from showing, racing and team chasing to hunting side saddle.

She always hunts side saddle and last year won the lightweight category of the All-Ireland Hunting Horse championship on Gavin’s horse Basil. However, her introduction to side saddle was a bit more humble, as she explains.

“I taught myself to ride side saddle on a mule that I trained to buck under it. Mummy used to breed mules and I used her old side saddle.”

The plucky rider now uses a lightweight competition saddle that once belonged to noted rider Doreen Archer-Hublan.

“I always hunt side saddle and have done everything I can that way to challenge myself,” she says.

She has no qualms about saddling up an unfamiliar horse with a side saddle.

“I’ve ridden hirelings here and in England under side saddle and it’s been fine, although the first time I rode with the Mennel I didn’t realise just how those hedges were,” she says.

– Catriona Murphy