byKatherine Duval| May 15, 2017
It was a bright, crisp spring day when 18 riders took to the fields of Godstone in Surrey, U.K. on April 9th for a point-to-point race across 7 furlongs of rolling green countryside. The catch? The participants—men and women, alike—were riding side saddle, and they were doing it for a good cause.
Organized by the U.K.’s Side Saddle Association, this particular point-to-point race was held in memory of the late Sue Webb, vice chairman of the British Show Horse Association who tragically passed away from a riding accident this spring. Sue had been part of the four-woman team who was organizing the side saddle event prior to her passing, and competitors—who traveled from as far away as Dorset, Northamptonshire, and Ireland—rallied to support her cause. All entrants received an engraved whiskey tumbler and proceeds from the event were donated to the Kent, Sussex, and Surrey air ambulances.
The dash was won by Chloe Gunn, 24, of Dorset, who has been a fan of the sport since she was just six years old. Gunn entered the race on her usual mount “The Cow Pony,” but was forced to borrow a horse from friend Alyce Westwood at the last minute. “[Kamalaya] had never had a side saddle on before, so a lot of work went into getting him fit. It was quite honestly one of the best buzzes I have experienced on a horse…He raced once as a three-year-old and is being re-trained by Alyce as an eventer,” Chloe explains.
“I love the art and history of side saddle riding and how elegant it is. My saddle has a lot of history behind it, which I think makes it even more special. With my usual ride, Oaklawn Gypsy—as [Cow Pony] is more formally known—we’ve won numerous side saddle championships and titles including Side Saddle Horse of Great Britain,” says Chloe, who has also ridden side saddle at the FEI European Equestrian Games in Aachen.
Another top rider in attendance was third-place finisher and multiple world record-holder Susan Oakes, who stood beside a replica of the 6’8″ Puissance wall she cleared side saddle and still holds the record for today. Last year, Oakes took home three wins across the Pond aboard Fort Henry in a new American side saddle point-point racing series, which included the Cheshire Point-to-Point race in Unionville, Pennsylvania (cancelled due to weather in 2017); the Loudoun Hunt Point-to-Point near Leesburg, Virginia; and the Mrs. Theodora A. Randolph Ladies Over Fences Race at the High Hope Steeplechase in Lexington, Kentucky.
Bottom line: it’s thrilling, historical, and cool to watch, and if you’re not already a fan of side saddle point-to-point racing, you should be! Here are eight things you need to know about this up-and-coming discipline.
1. It’s not only women who participate (really!). Despite the historic origins of side saddle riding as an all-female discipline, you don’t have to be a woman to ride in an event!
2. The first all side saddle steeplechase race in the United States was created in April of 2015. You can learn more about American-held events by visiting the Side Saddle Chase Foundation.
3. Riding sidesaddle was very popular for women up until the women’s suffrage movement and WWII. Although the 1950s saw a decline in side saddle riding, today, it’s making a comeback!
4. While many point-to-point races, including side saddle, require the horses to be Thoroughbred, there are exceptions to every rule. This race in Ireland was run exclusively with non-Thoroughbreds.
5. In addition to holding the world side saddle record for the highest puissance jump, Susan Oakes also set a record for triple bar side saddle jumping at 6-feet-5 inches!
6. Television has influenced the sport. Many believe that the popular TV series Downton Abbey has made riding aside more popular and accessible for today’s equestrian community.
7. While point-to-point side saddle is currently making a comeback, during the early 1920’s, the sport was booming. In 1921, the Duke of Hamilton’s 17-year-old daughter, Lady Jean Hamilton, enjoyed it herself (watch actual footage from one of Lady Hamilton’s winning races here).
8. Like riding aside, point-to-point racing has a long history, beginning in 1836, when hunting men began racing their horses from church steeple to church steeple, hence the name, point-to-point.
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