Side saddle steeplechase to return to America thanks to Downton Abbey

  • Glamour, elegance and side saddle are set to return to Virginia this weekend (Sunday 12 April) when the first side saddle steeplechase to be run in America since the 1930s takes place.

    The inaugural Esther Everhart Memorial Invitational Side Saddle Chase will run at the historic Oatlands Plantation in Virginia.

    A dedicated group of female riders set out to recreate the pursuit of the 1930s — and they credit television series such as Downton Abbey for the resurgence in interest in the sport in the US.

    Organisers Maggie Johnston and Devon Zebrovious met on a side-saddle hunting trip in Ireland. There they also met Dianas of the Chase organiser Philippa Holland, and decided the US needed a version of the race.

    The race will be mostly on the flat — with an optional jump towards the finish — and will run over a mile.

    The race is named after US side saddle repair specialist George “Smoky” Everhart’s mother Esther. Esther was a regular fixture in the Middleburg and Orange County Hunt fields, as well as the ladies point-to-point racing circuit, all while riding side saddle.

    “We hope to rekindle the excitement and glamour of this traditional discipline for today’s riders and spectators of all ages,” said Ms Zebrovious, who was the United States Equestrian Federation’s ladies side saddle hunter national champion in 2013 and 2014.

    “We are very excited about this race, as there has not been a race featuring women riding aside in the US since the 1930s,” added Maggie.

    “Side saddle used to be the only way for a proper lady to ride, and women did everything aside that men did astride: hunting, racing, and showing. However, with the women’s suffrage movement gaining support in the early 20th century, more women started putting a leg on either side of the horse and riding astride, until eventually after World War Two women riding aside became a rarity rather than the rule.

    “While side saddle never died out in the latter half of the 20th century, it was mostly seen only in the show ring. But now, thanks in part to the ease of modern communication, social media, and hit shows such as Downton Abbey side saddle has regained popularity the world over, with more and more women taking up the discipline.”

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