Side show takes centre stage
Side-saddle riding is undergoing a revival, as evidenced by the record number that will go hunting in Meath today, writes MARGIE MCLOONE
The Empress of Austria used to hunt across Meath side-saddle during the years 1876 to 1882, and today around 50 riders will meet outside Navan to set a record in this elegant equestrian discipline.
The event is being organised by Kilcarn’s Susan Oakes who runs a dental business locally and is the current world record holder in side-saddle high jumping, clearing 5ft 8ins on Brandy And Red at Aintree racecourse last July. The resurgence of interest in the old-fashioned skill is a mix of nostalgia for the elegant art and the challenge of that style of riding.
This is the second year of the Irish Side- Saddle Hunt; the first, 12 months ago, attracted 14 girls and women. This time around, queries about the event were received from women worldwide and among those who have confirmed their participation in today’s event are American socialite Devon Zebrovious from Virginia and France’s Lady Antoinette de la Bouillerie.
Becca Holland, a member of the Flying Foxes side-saddle display team; Lady Martha Sitwell, socialite and the former Face of Ascot Races; Lucy Holland, the only woman to tackle the famous Golden Button ride side-saddle, and fine jewellery designer Philippa Holland are travelling from England.
Visitors from Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Italy will join Irish side-saddle enthusiasts ranging in age from eight up to late 60s to jump imposing Co Meath ditches and drains.
They will wear side-saddle habits, in black, navy or tweed, which have often been passed down through generations and from family to family.
While the overseas riders will bring their own costumes, not many will have room in their luggage allowance for their saddles, which can weigh up to 18lbs. So last weekend Oakes persuaded a driver to go to England to collect 20 side-saddles as, having sorted out mounts through family and friends for the visitors, she just couldn’t source enough saddles here.
In addition to her high jump activities and hunting side-saddle, Oakes has competed in a one-day event in France, tackling the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country and showjumping while riding “sideways”.
Today she will be legged up on to her German stallion SIEC Atlas, a 17-year-old grey which has been hunting this season and will start showjumping again shortly, as well as attending to his breeding duties.
Early next month Oakes will be taking part in a side-saddle point-to-point race in England, this time with her thoroughbred gelding O’Muircheartaigh on which, riding astride, she finished second over the banks’ course at Lingstown, Co Wexford last November.