Sunday, October 7, 2012

Noblewomen and Horseback Riding in Regency England By Christy English

Ladies rode in Regency England, wearing long riding habits, perched on their mounts sidesaddle. To my sedentary self, this seems brave in the extreme, or perhaps foolhardy, though I know even as I write that it is my modern mind that balks, not to mention my lack of skill on a horse. 

 Modern Woman Jumping Sidesaddle

I am used to writing about medieval women, who sometimes journeyed pillion on the back of a man’s horse, or traveled in a litter. But when a medieval woman rode on horseback, as Eleanor of Aquitaine traveled to Byzantium, she often rode astride.

Not so the Regency lady. She not only rode sidesaddle, but wore an elaborate gown.

 Regency Style Riding Habit, Front

 Regency Style Riding Habit, Back

In my romantic, overactive imagination, I have often thought of ladies vaulting on horseback in these long gowns over streams and fences, the veils of their hats flying behind them, but from the research I’ve done on the subject, this simply was not the case. Not only was it considered unladylike to vault over streams in Regency England, it was also death defying. If a woman’s horse fell with her on it, she would be more likely to be caught in her saddle by her skirts than thrown free of her horse. Neither option sounds appealing to me, but I suppose a huge horse falling on you would make a quick and nasty ending to any outing.

Sidesaddle Circa 1799

In my Regency novel, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE, Caroline Montague is chastised repeatedly for riding astride before she is married. I took a bit of literary license here, because a woman would never have been allowed to ride astride during this time period, no matter how indulgent her father. But from all I gather, she was far safer in breeches and riding astride. The joys of fiction are immense, as long as we remember how things were truly done as we pay homage to the past.

Links for further reading:

For more musing on the Regency Period, romance, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, please join Christy on her website