Side-saddle extravaganza to celebrate association’s 40th birthday

  • The Side Saddle Association (SSA) is celebrating its 40th anniversary — and its inception was thanks to H&H.

    The SSA was started in 1974 by Janet Macdonald and Valerie Francis. Concerned that side-saddle was dying out, the pair wrote to H&H to try to revive it.

    Encouraged by the huge response, they set up the association with 50 members.

    “Never was a postage stamp better spent,” said one member

    Membership peaked at 1,150 but now remains at about 1,000.

    “The main change is that our founders had the bright idea of introducing equitation classes where the rider is judged, not the horse. This has brought up the standard of side-saddle riding,” said  SSA president Maureen James.

    Membership is curtailed by the availability of affordable saddles, but the SSA is urging manufacturers to make more side-saddle trees.

    “If saddles were easier and cheaper to find we would have more members,” she added.

    The sport has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity and this weekend (9-10 May) enthusiasts from around the world will gather at Aintree Equestrian Centre to celebrate.

    The SSA International Celebration Weekend was organised to raise the profile of side-saddle riding and to celebrate the end of the association’s 40th year.

    Every aspect of side riding from par de deux to jumping and hunting will be on show.

    There will be displays showing the history of side-saddle riding from 1500 to today and parades from the current leading riders including 19-year-old Morgan Schive (pictured) who is the youngest rider to take the title.

    As part of her prize for winning the Aintree national show side-saddle championship last year, Ms Schive led in the winner of the Topham Chase at this year’s Grand National meeting.

    At the SSA’s three-day National Show in August there are 75 classes, including dressage, showjumping and fancy dress.

    One competitor last year bought two horses over from Russia to compete.

    The growing popularity of side-saddle in the hunting field was evident at last year’s Quorn opening meet where a record 50 riders turned out. And in the US in April the first side-saddle steeplechase since the 1930s was run in Virginia.

    Organsiers credited television series such as Downton Abbey for the resurgence in interest in the sport in America.

    Photo by Bill Selwyn

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