Riding side-saddle is both easy and difficult. It’s a strange dichotomy of being securely “locked in” and feeling like you’re going to slide out the side at any moment. I took lessons riding side-saddle, and also did some jumping. I even rode down the aisle at my wedding side-saddle! When I compare this to working with the goddess Rhiannon, I can see how she is often portrayed as riding side-saddle, and I think the fact that she’s wearing skirts is only part of the reason.
If you have a voluminous skirt, it’s quite easy to ride in the normal fashion. Your ankles may be showing and perhaps even your calves (gasp, shock and horror!) but really, it’s quite do-able. But side-saddle just looks more elegant, even though it perhaps fits in with the conformity to “keep your legs together” so as not to be considered a “loose woman” in any shape or form. However, all that nonsense aside, side-saddle is fun and a challenge for any rider, whatever they choose to wear, whatever gender they associate with. My husband tried it, everyone in our Western riding group tried it, just to see what it was like. It’s good to try new things.
Riding side-saddle, you usually have your legs hanging down the left side of the horse. Your left foot is in a stirrup as usual, but your right leg is held above the left and “hooked in” with a curved bar just above the knee. This keeps your right leg in place, though you have to hold your right foot flat against the side of the horse the entire time in order to truly maintain that grip correctly. It’s almost like sitting with one leg crossed over the other, but not quite.
You need to have some flexibility in the spine and torso in order to keep the head, chest and hips facing forward as much as you can, while the legs are over on the left-hand side. It feels really good after a ride to get down and stretch out the other side of your body! It also takes a bit of balance, as it can feel like you are going to slide off the other side of the horse. As mentioned above, keeping the right foot in the correct position helps with this, but that feeling is still there. The emptiness on the right-hand side can be a little daunting, even as you feel fully strapped in with your right leg securely tucked under the leaping head, lower pommel or as it is sometimes known, the leaping horn.
This delicate balance, of security and instability, finds resonance within me with the stories of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon. She is often portrayed as a horse goddess, riding a white mare from the Otherworld and marrying into the human realms, there to face the trials and tribulations of such. She works to re-establish order, correcting her husband and fixing his gaffs, seeking her lost child, and enduring hardships and injustices while remaining true to herself. She literally carries the mantle of sovereignty, as a horse carries a rider, to take it where it needs most to be, to work in the world in co-operation and in compassion.
It can be a tricky ride. One minute you can feel secure, locked in and riding in the correct posture. Forget that posture for a moment, and then you are insecure, literally, feeling like you are going to slide down any moment. It’s a great teacher in remembering to hold true, figuratively and literally. Be mindful of everything you do, if you want to enjoy this ride. Because the moment you aren’t, you could lose your seat, whether that’s the seat on horseback or the seat of sovereignty, in the soul and in the wider world.
But once you understand the delicate balance, once you come to terms with this new way of being, it’s glorious. It’s elegant. It’s graceful. And I’m not just talking about riding side-saddle. This is what Rhiannon can teach us as well. To find a new way of being, to be in balance and staying true to yourself, being present and knowing that some things need to be endured in order to find the beauty in our lives. To carry the burdens with grace, to stay true to yourself. Rhiannon is both the horse and the rider, enduring and carrying, guiding and taking the reins of sovereignty unto herself.
I’ll be working closely with Rhiannon over the next few months, and I look forward to the insights that she brings. If you are interested in this goddess, there is a brilliant book written by Jhenah Telyndru, called Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons. Jhenah works closely with Rhiannon and other Welsh goddesses in the Sisterhood of Avalon, which she founded in 1995. Do check it out, and all her work, it’s brilliant.
May you ride forth in the present moment, finding your centre and staying true. And remember, when it all comes down to it, horse-riding is merely the art of keeping the horse between you and the ground.