With the approach of the 20th century, change was in the air. The liberated lady riders from the Western USA were turning their noses up at their Eastern New York sisters who still rode sidesaddle in Central Park saying: “Not one of us would tolerate the old fashioned sidesaddle.” In 1913, England’s Queen Mary tried to ban woman riding astride in Hyde Park. The women of the American West bristled with opposition and the LA Times wrote: “God Save the Queen from starting any more fool notions.”
Initially it wasn’t the suffragettes who caused the first wrinkle in the fabric of the status quo…it was the Female Long Riders on both side of the Atlantic…those ladies of adventure who make today’s endurance rides pale by comparison. Let’s look at three who chose to ride like a man and helped break down the social and equestrian barriers one ride at a time along with the demise of the sidesaddle, the latter without a whimper of regret in less than a generation.
• In the fall of 1910, Two Gun Nan Aspinwall rose astride from San Francisco to New York in a split skirt and shod her horse along the way.
• Alberta Claire was another power packed lady who rode 8,000 miles throughout the USA ending her trip in New York. She said she associated her right to vote with her right to ride astride. Teddy Roosevelt met her in the Big Apple, praised her and urged that women be given the vote.
• Ella Sykes, a British Long Rider made her way across the deserts of Persia and stated that it wasn’t the Muslims who almost slew her; it was the sidesaddle that nearly took her life on several occasions.
Inez Milholland can be credited with leading an equestrian and political revolution. She was from a wealthy American family and became a lawyer, political activist, suffragist, and speaker. She galloped through Hyde Park in London astride and bucked many of the trends of the male dominated society in which she was born. She made three rides astride in 1912 through New York and Washington backed by thousands of determined women who would not give up despite being attacked, spat upon and scorned. Her final ride in New York ended in a rally witnessed by 150,000 people. The female vote would happen seven years later in 1920.
By the 1930’ more and more women were riding astride. One Washington newspaper wrote that after the death of Inez Milholland at the age of 30 even society ladies had become, “full-fledged straddlers.”
So, whether you loved or hated the sidesaddle back then, it did allow women to ride, hunt and jump like their male counterparts. Today there is a huge surge in popularity with riding sidesaddle and it is, without a doubt, one of the most elegant classes at any horse show.