“It was so cheerful to be trotting and cantering all together that it always put us in high spirits. I had the best of it, for I always carried the mistress; her hand was so little, her voice was sweet, and her hand so light on the rein that I was guided almost without feeling it.” Black Beauty 1877
Ah yes. The lady’s horse. If you were a lady in the Victorian Era, not just any horse would do. Ladies couldn’t just throw their legs up over any ol’ mount that ambled down the trail, if you know what I’m sayin’. They had to protect their delicate sensibilities and the right horse was essential to maintaining a lady’s grace and demeanor.
So Many Horses- Which Is Appropriate for The Lady?
In this and the next few posts, I am going to use two primary resources written in the Victorian era to discuss how the equestrian experts of the day viewed a couple of topics. The first being, as mentioned above, the type of horse suitable for a lady. I will deal with The Lady’s Horse in two posts, so that I can examine both books individually, while at the same time attempting not to lose all readers of this blog by making my post too long.
The first book, Riding: on the flat and across country: A guide to practical horsemanship, was written in 1882 by Matthew Horace Hayes. Hayes devotes a whole chapter (Chapter 6 to be exact) on “Ladies Riding” and he actually surprised me by how confident he seems in the ability of women to ride effectively. This is not to say that he’s a champion of Equal Rights! On Horseback!, but for a 19th century man writing on the horsemanship of women, he’s more complimentary than I expected. In other words, he’s a little more confident in a lady’s ability to ride as well as a man without “special allowances”. He refrains from giving overall rules based solely on the rider being a woman, but instead gives instruction on the different circumstances a rider might encounter based on the talent of the equestrienne.
For example, he writes:
As the object of this book is to teach the theory and practice of riding in a “workmanlike” manner, I shall not touch on the artificial rules and varying fashions of park or school equitation, but shall devote my space to the special points of horsemanship which concern ladies, and which hold good for all time.
(Or “hold good” until women ditch the sidesaddle and start riding astride in the twentieth century, but we won’t hold this lack of premonition against poor Mr. Hayes.) The first section in his chapter on Lady’s Riding is on The Lady’s Horse , which was very convenient for the purposes of this post. Let’s read shall we?
A Lady’s Horse.—The question of man or woman being able to ride and control a horse, supposing him to be properly bitted and saddled, resolves itself into the more or less perfect possession by the rider of the following requisites : good hands; strong seat; firm nerves ; even temper, and physical strength. If a lady lack somewhat the last-mentioned gift, she amply makes up for the deficiency by a tightness of grip unobtainable in a man’s saddle; while it is but bare justice to say that in touch, courage, and patience she is at least our equal. Mere brute force has little to do with the capability of holding a puller.
See, right off the bat Hayes surprised me with this no-nonsense look at women riders. Pretty progressive for a Victorian dude, I thought. He goes on:
Ladies who have had equal opportunities, with men, of learning, ride quite as well as they. But, as a rule, they don’t get the chance of excelling, nor are they ” set right” by unpalatable home truths being told them without favour or affection, unless, indeed, they have hard-riding, and, may be, jealous brothers.
Very interesting, Hayes! I’m listening…
A fine horsewoman, therefore, may be satisfied with any horse which is fit for a man, provided he is fairly steady to mount, goes up to his bit, and does not require an unusual amount of ” collecting.” I have the pleasure of knowing several ladies who could ride anything that has ever been foaled, yet it is not desirable, even with one of them, to have a horse ” dance about” when he is being mounted, or one which ” sprawls all over the place ” and requires constant pulling together, when the rider is up.
So. Pretty complimentary I’d say. After this introduction, he goes more into detail about what kind of horse would be desirable for a Victorian lady. Just for fun, I am going to subject Cinder to Victorian scrutiny. Let’s see how she fares.
The ordinary lady rider ought to have a horse which is perfectly steady to mount; is light in hand ; goes in a natural collected manner, and is safe and easy to ride.
Ok, well, Cinder aces the first requirement. She’s steady to mount- stands nicely without “dancing about” (poetry!). One point for Cinder. She’s relatively ‘light in hand’- in other words, she doesn’t pull her head down against the reins constantly. Another point for Cinder.
Now for the last point. Hmmm…“safe and easy”….well, most of the time she’s safe and easy. As long as there’s nothing strange brushing against her legs, she’s not in a large open field, and there’s no geese flying overhead. On the other hand, since she’s great with traffic, motorcycles, and large farm equipment, we’ll give her half a point. Half the time she’s safe and easy.
Two and a half out of a possible 3 points for Cinder. She’s well on her way to becoming the perfect Lady’s Horse.
Thanks for the points, folks.
He should not be rough or high in his action, lest he might fatigue her unnecessarily. All ladies, except those who are nervous, like light-hearted showy horses, though, unless they are really good riders, they naturally desire the fire and gaiety to be well under control. The plucky hard-riding sort love to steer horses which other ladies would be ” afraid of their lives ” to mount.
Well, Cinder’s not what I would call ‘light hearted and showy’. It just ain’t her personality; but as she’s not a total grouch, she has a touch of diva, and since she looks divine in purple (which is a decidedly showy color), we’ll give her another half a point.
In the next section, Hayes deals with the qualities necessary for a horse to carry a sidesaddle. I will deal more thoroughly in a future post about the sidesaddle itself, but we’ll read what he has to say in relation to a sidesaddle-carrying equine.
In order to give plenty of room for the saddle, a lady’s horse may be longer in the back than would be desirable in one for a man. He should be quite twentyone pounds, taken from a man’s point of view, above the weight he has to carry, as extra fatigue is entailed on him by the rider having to sit so far back. The side position naturally causes an unequal distribution of weight. Besides this, a lady cannot ease her horse by standing in the stirrups or getting off and on as a man may often do during a long ride. The far back position of the seat, however, enables a lady to ride a horse which is uncertain on his fore legs better than a man can do. A lady’s horse may, with advantage, have a fairly high forehand, so that the saddle may not shift forward, and that he may not jolt his rider too much.
As Cinder is half Clydesdale and therefore quite large, I think she’d do fine carrying the extra weight of a sidesaddle. Another point for her. (That’s four points out of a possible five for those who are keeping track.)
So, you know how I was talking about how surprised I was that Hayes seemed pretty progressive? Well, progressive had its limits in the Victorian Era, and no chapter in any lady’s riding manual, progressive or not, would be complete without style pointers. No matter how Workmanlike! the author intends it to be.
The style of horse should, if possible, be in thorough keeping with the style of rider. A young lady with a slight pretty figure will look best on a horse which is all blood and quality; while a portly and dignified matron will be best suited with one of the weight-carrying hunter stamp.
Make sure your horse doesn’t make you look fat!
Since we’re dealing with Cinder here, and since I am Cinder’s only rider, for this section we will judge her in relation to me. That’s right ladies and germs, I shall put myself up for Victorian Scrutiny. Does Hope’s horse make her look fat? Let’s find out!
First: Am I a ‘young lady’? By Victorian standards no, that ship has sailed.
Second: Do I have a ‘slight pretty figure’? I don’t think that my figure and the word ‘slight’ have ever been used in conjunction.
Ok then, we have now determined that I am a lady neither young, nor possessing a slight figure; so that means I must fall into the second category of Portly and Dignified Matron.
Good grief, are those the only choices? I don’t really consider myself portly (and those who know me personally would certainly never call me dignified), but I suppose I fall on that side of the Victorian Lady Spectrum, so we’ll roll with it- bringing us to the horse required for such a lady: one of the weight-carrying hunter stamp. Cinder is half draft horse, and draft crosses are often used as hunters, so DING DING DING, we have a winner! Another point for Cinder. This is even funnier to me, because I have a bumper sticker that says “Ride a draft, it makes your butt look smaller”. I guess my car is partying like its 1877 and I didn’t even know it!
The next section of the chapter is especially interesting, because Hayes breaks down the method used to find the proper height ratio between lady and horse; Victorians apparently, were very thorough.
15.1 is a nice height for a horse to carry a lady five feet high. We may add an inch in height for the horse for every four inches by which the lady exceeds five feet.
Let me break that down for the non-horse people reading this. Horses are measured in ‘hands’ and a hand is four inches. So 15.1 means 15 ‘hands’ plus one inch. So, since Victorians add one inch to the horse for every four inches a woman is over 5 ft, and I am 5’4″, it means I should have a horse that’s 15.2 hands high. Cinder is 16.2. At least. So she’s a good 4 inches too tall for this portly matron. No point for you there Cinder, sorry. Horizontally you qualify, vertically not so much.
Next we have a Very Important Tip for Serious Riders. So listen up y’all.
Grey horses are objectionable for ladies, as the hair which comes off their bodies shows very much on the habit. Besides this, they are difficult to be kept clean.
Don’t want a grey horse, ladies! Their hair might come off on your clothes. Cinder is not grey, Cinder gets another point.
Nope, no grey here!
Last but not least, we have the last piece of advice on horse selection for Victorian Lay-deez.
Geldings are always preferable for ladies to either mares or horses. The former are especially objectionable in India, the latter in England.
Geldings are castrated males horses. Uh oh. Cinder’s a mare. Sorry Cinder. Another Victorian FAIL. It’s interesting to note that even in 2010, mares still get a bad rap for being moody and difficult- I know several modern lady riders who ‘can’t stand mares’. I however, love mares- I understand their hormonal plight and love them for their varying emotions. So, since in this case I am the lady in question, and mares are my preference, I will give Cinder half a point.
Hayes’ last two tips regarding the color and sex of the horse are decidedly un-Workmanlike! and I dislike the Section for Portly Matrons (like me!) but overall, Matthew Horace Hayes is pretty balanced in his evaluation of the horsemanship skills of the Victorian lady rider and I found that pretty cool. Go Team Hayes!
Oh dear, I almost forgot about poor Cinder. Let’s tally her results! Will Cinder take home the much coveted title of Lady’s Horse?! Drum roll please….
Cinder received 6.5 points out of a possible 9.
Not 100%- but since she’s the only horse playing- she wins by default! Congratulations, Cinder! You are now an honorary Lady’s Horse of the Victorian Era!
Stay tuned for The Lady’s Horse- Part Deux, where I will be looking the other primary source I found and what it has to say about the proper horse for a Victorian lady. Don’t fret gentle readers, it had less to say, so it will be a shorter post.