Buffalo Bill’s Wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley rode aside, as in this picture, performing “…horseback tricks indigenous a sidesaddle, a contraption with a level seat, on i beg your pardon the rider satellite sideways, and also a thick, leather-covered hook, which the rider used to anchor it s her by her leg to the horse’s back,” composed Glenda Riley, in The Life and also Legacy the Annie Oakley. She additionally took benefit of the sidesaddle, Riley added. When Oakley dangled turn off the next of her equine to pick up a cap off the ground, she appeared as if “she floated ~ above the horse’s back.” — All images True West Archives unless otherwise noted —

As absurd as this might sound, the sidesaddle took hold in the 14th century to protect the virginity that a teenaged princess traveling across Europe to wed the young King the England.

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Surprised? Don’t feel alone. Most assume the sidesaddle to be the herbal outcome the fashion, inquiry by the long, flowing, occasionally over-hooped skirts favored because that so many centuries.

But no, protecting the royal hymen was the reason.

For some 500 years, women were called the only way a “proper lady” satellite on a steed was sideways, stop on for dear life, a passenger ~ above a 1,500-pound animal she can barely control.

The fate of that princess renders the story even much more ludicrous.

A common scene in towns across the frontier West, this gentleman rides astride, through legs on each side that the stirrups, if the lady drapes both her legs end the next of her horse.

Virtuous Virgins

Princess ann of Bohemia, a predecessor that the modern Czech Republic, to be the daughter the the most powerful monarch in Europe in 1382 when she left for England come wed King Richard II. Come ensure she virgin marriage, ruling males instructed she to ride aside, rather than astride.

“Good Queen Anne,” together she’d eventually be called, arrived sitting in a big padded chair, holding ~ above a pommel in front, both feet resting on a wood plank that held on the left next of the animal. (Both men and also women mountain a steed from the left.) who led her horse.

She wed a tall, handsome young she involved love, yet who history remembers mostly through william Shakespeare, the playwright that blamed “Richard II” for the battles of the Roses.

The most famous Old West photo of a mrs riding aside is this one take away of Belle Starr, next to lawman Tyner Hughes, on may 23, 1886, 3 years prior to the notorious outlaw wife (she married Jim Reed and also Sam Starr) was mysteriously shooting while riding her steed home. She looked ever the victorian lady, an installed on her tooled sidesaddle, attract her long black velvet dress, equipment riding jacket and also a Stetson decorated v an ostrich plume—then you witnessed her Colt .45 revolvers exposed from her cartridge belt. She elegant, yet tough demeanor made she the perfect candidate for novelist Richard K. Fox come mold her as the frontier’s “bandit queen” or “female Jesse James.” — Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin collection —

Women hadn’t always ridden for this reason askew.

Although old Greek sculptures depict women riding aside, it to be an option, not a demand. Joan of Arc no ride into fight in the 1400s as a broken maid. Geoffrey Chaucer portrayed his “Wife of Bath” riding astride in the 1300s. Main Asian women placed horses favor their brother did, and Amazon ladies were famed for both your trousers and riding astride.

But then came Anne and also the continuous on “virtuous virgins.” Folks prefer to mimic royals, therefore the idea that a sidesaddle spread.

By 1600, riding aside was the only way a “decent” woman might ride a steed without scorn. Many women went willingly along—except for Catherine the Great, of course, who was for this reason powerful, she decreed her court would all journey astride.

“The reins, both of an individual power and individual equestrian control, had been taken away by males who now limited a woman’s political and equestrian destinies,” CuChullaine O’Reilly created for the lengthy Riders Guild academic Foundation.

Even on an exercise machine, ladies rode sidesaddle! because that the lady i heard with obtaining rid that saddlebags—loose meat hanging roughly her hips and buttocks—yet go not have actually the time or the way to ride a equine every day, this saddle an equipment professed to offer the cure. During the victor era, Swedish doctor Gustav Zander aided pioneer exercise devices at a time when folks still assumed bloodletting to be the course to great health.

Sidesaddle Designs

The more quickly sidesaddle design was little an ext than a pillow and also a piece of hardwood that challenged the mrs off come the scenery on the left side of the horse. This replaced the pillion—a little padded seat where the woman rode behind a male rider. The newer saddle permitted the lady come ride alone, but still gave her no regulate over the animal—she satellite so precariously, it’s a wonder every rides didn’t finish in injury. One more rider held the reins and led her steed along; she can do tiny but cling come the pommel and also hope she didn’t fall off. The mrs was not precisely “riding” the horse; she was simply sitting on it together it moved.

In the 16th century, Catherine de’ Medici is attributed with motivating a saddle that enabled the mrs to face forward. In this saddle, she hooked her ideal leg about a pommel top top the saddle and also placed she left foot in a stirrup. This offered her a fighting possibility to continue to be in the saddle and also handle the reins herself. Yet even this saddle only permitted her to proceed slowly—any speed was dangerous.

Horses weren’t the only beasts females rode out West, and background presents ladies on mules speak aside.

The sidesaddle we still understand today was created in the 1830s by Jules Pellier. It had a resolved pommel to support the rider’s ideal thigh and a revolutionary 2nd pommel because that the left leg. This allowed more security and also control, offering the mrs the freedom to stay on peak at a gallop and to run fences.

By now, the sidesaddle to be a permanent fixture for women and also any tip to the contrary to be met v harsh words. Favor the Los Angeles Times masculine columnist in 1905: “The woman does not live who have the right to throw her leg end the earlier of a horse without profaning the elegant of femininity; or grasp with she separated knee the shoulders of her mount without violating the legislations of an excellent taste; or show up in the cross-saddle with any semblance of dignity, elegance or poise.”

Even part female writers agreed. As the 20th century dawned and balked, British author Alice Hayes witnessed the first rumblings against a sidesaddle, denouncing these “feminine desperadoes.” return she vehemently suggested women have to ride sidesaddle, she did recognize that the sidesaddle’s impractical style placed females in harm’s way.

Women riding v Yellowstone nationwide Park.

“The reality of a lady having to drive in a side saddle, topics her to 3 disadvantages: she is unable, there is no assistance, to mount as readily as a man; she cannot apply the pressure of the foot to the right side that the horse; and she can not ‘drop she hands’ in stimulate to pull her steed together come the same level as he can,” created Hayes, in she 1893 book, The Horsewoman: A Practical overview to Side-Saddle Riding.

By 1900, American females were split on the issue—along geographic lines. Females in the east clung come the sidesaddle together proper and necessary, while western women experienced them together impractical and also dangerous. Western females were far much more likely to use a equine for farm and also ranch labor 보다 their east sisters, that saw the equine as a weekend entertainment.

“Not among us would tolerate the old-fashioned sidesaddle,” said among the document 25 females inducted right into the Vaquero riding Club, composed of professional horsemen of Spanish heritage, throughout the early on 1900s.

Her proud statement to the Los Angeles times was simply the beginning. 

Idaho’s “Queen that Diamonds” Kittie Wilkins is pictured talk sidesaddle in 1890. Offering top-notch equines she bred come freight companies, the U.S. Cavalry and also even Buffalo bill Cody’s Wild West show, Wilkins had the call of being the just female in America that based her livelihood exclusively on the steed trade.

Meet “Two-Gun” Nan Aspinwall

“Two-Gun” Nan Aspinwall started calling herself “Montana Girl” in 1906, 2 years before she started performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and also Pawnee Bill’s an excellent Far eastern troupe, whereby she ended up being a hit.

Did the two Bills challenge her to ride solo across the country in 1909, to promote the troupe? No mrs had ever undertaken together a ride—and of course, she wouldn’t ride aside. She likewise wouldn’t be wearing a flow skirt, yet a break-up skirt that part still taken into consideration scandalous.

In September 1910, “Two-Gun” Nan accepted the challenge and took turn off from mountain Francisco to brand-new York City top top a mare named Lady Ellen. She brought a letter to new York City mayor William Jay Gaynor from mountain Francisco mayor Patrick Henry McCarthy.

Her steed went v 14 pairs of horseshoes. Nan insisted top top doing all the shodding herself, just as she took care of anything rather her horse required.

“Sidesaddle” and also “purity” was so widespread that also the females in Civil war camps retained their legs off to the side under costume so long that they virtually reached the ground! One absent of her horse would spell disaster for this lady approaching an officer’s quarters, decorated v a Union flag because that a curtain. You deserve to see why this hoop skirts permitted women come smuggle supplies, ammunition, food and also medicine across enemy lines!

In all, “Two-Gun” Nan and Lady Ellen traveled 4,496 miles in 180 days, getting here in new York City top top July 9, 1911. One brand-new York newspaper announced she arrival v a picture and the headline, “Snappy western Girl who Rode equine Clear throughout Continent.”

Another reported, “A travel-stained mrs attired in a red shirt and also divided skirt and seated top top a bay horse drew a crowd to City hall yesterday afternoon.”

Her historic ride to be retold ~ above radio and television during the 1940s, ’50s and also ’60s, and she offered as a technical adviser when her ride to be showcased ~ above an episode of death Valley Days.

“Two-Gun” Nan died in 1964 at the period of 84, living the end her last years quiet in California.

Sisters in the Saddle

In 1912, Alberta Claire made her 8,000-mile solo pilgrimage from Wyoming come Oregon, down through California, throughout the Arizona desert and into new York City. Along the way, she claimed to anyone who’d listen the she had both the appropriate to ride astride and the right to vote.

History go not record whether or no Claire ever before met new York’s Inez Milholland, though they to be contemporaries. Nevertheless, these 2 women were sisters in the saddle.

Nobody tied politics and riding astride as did Milholland, the beautiful confront of the suffrage movement.

Milholland to be born into a liberal family members of means in Brooklyn in 1886. She came to be a lawyer—turned down by Yale and Harvard since of her sex—and provided lectures transparent the country to assistance women’s rights. She led suffrage marches in 1911, 1912 and 1913, while astride a white horse named Gray Dawn.

Getting increase on a high horse takes top top a new definition when friend think around the publicly performances of females ascending hot air balloons while sit sidesaddle on her horse, as shown in this circa 1880 lithograph. The first horse sent out aloft in the air flew by platform, a dream realized by fox hunter Tetu-Brissy in 1797, and the steed graduated to a balloon in 1830, many thanks to English aeronaut Charles Green. — Courtesy Library of congress —

While all dressed in white, Milholland appeared in her most memorable suffrage march, on in march 3, 1913, top top the eve of president Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Riding Gray Dawn, the 26 year old to be leading the women Suffrage Procession of 9,000 marchers in Washington, D.C. As soon as thugs attacked. “Women were jeered, tripped, grabbed, shoved and many heard ‘indecent epithets’ and also ‘barnyard conversation,’” the Library of conference reports.

Milholland drove off the attackers, at least temporarily, however as police was standing by—some of them jeering themselves—more 보다 300 females were hurt and also required clinical attention. Deaf and also blind Helen Keller to be so unnerved through the strikes that she couldn’t give her speech.

Seeing these females being blooded and also broken throughout a serene march turn the public’s stomach. Background records this together a transforming point for the women’s right to vote. Milholland emerged as a heroine the the movement.

While on a speaking tourism of the west in Los Angeles, she collapsed and died that pernicious anemia in 1916.

From Sidesaddle Skirt come Pants

Western women were also making their note as north America’s an initial professional woman athletes—in rodeos. Not among them taken into consideration riding sidesaddle together they put their resides on the heat to game while ~ above horseback.

The sidesaddle trend also traveled with women overseas, as evidenced by this 1860 Japanese publish showing a young American mrs seated sidesaddle ~ above a horse. — Courtesy Library of conference —

Strangely enough, though, one of the best rodeo queens obtained her begin riding sidesaddle. In her first rodeo event, at a county fair in 1906, 13-year-old Vera McGinnis was the just rider that rode sidesaddle, in a dress, competing versus much larger girls. “It so taken place that the horse show judge was a bit old fashioned and frowned ~ above such things as girl riding clothespin-style therefore Vera won very first prize, a gold-handled umbrella,” True West reported in 1991.

McGinnis go on to end up being famous for putting pants on ladies in the ring and also for her daring stunts, which had circling a horse’s belly at complete gallop.

Fall the the Sidesaddle

When the end came, it come quickly. Less than a generation passed before the sidesaddle became a weird anachronism, listed O’Reilly, in she article, “Sidesaddles and Suffragettes, the Fight come Ride and Vote.”

“The autumn of the sidesaddle is attached to the rise of female liberty, for it was the dawning of political liberty which brought around the overdue death of this repressive equine invention,” she wrote.

Once ladies were available the option, she noted, “they abandoned the sidesaddle in droves in donate of talk astride.”

Nobody blinked as soon as that beautiful child, Elizabeth Taylor, rode astride in 1944’s nationwide Velvet—a girl no hankering to be a helpless passenger top top a horse, but racing in the Grand nationwide steeplechase.

Just look at in The book of the Horse—a nearly 900-page masterpiece through Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald—and keep in mind he didn’t mention a single reference come the sidesaddle. He didn’t identify the political straightjacket the sidesaddle had been because that centuries come women, but contemporary writers make the link clear.

What ended up being of dear ann of Bohemia, our sidesaddle star, whose royal virginity would affect millions of ladies over 500 years?

She died after 12 year of marriage. Childless.

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Jana Bommersbach has earned recognition as Arizona’s reporter of the Year and won an Emmy and also two Lifetime achievement Awards. She cowrote the Emmy-winning Outrageous Arizona and also has written 2 true crime books, a children’s book and the historical novel livestock Kate.