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Friday, January 15, 2010

Side Saddles

Today I want to discuss something different. I have gotten it into my little head that I want to learn to ride sidesaddle. In order to do this of course, I need said side saddle. Now, I can't afford at the moment to go out and spend a great deal of money on one (and for me right now a great deal is less than what most people consider a great deal), as much as I would LOVE to have a custom made one, that is just not feasible right now.

I know very little about this, and I am kind of fumbling along, looking as saddles online and trying to decide what to get. I have found the Riding Aside blog very helpful as well. I would love a restored antique or a custom saddle from Tattersalls or one of the Peruvian style ones (DROOL), but my budget can't accommodate that. I have looked at the Hilason side saddles, and they seem, from what little I can tell, to be fairly basic. I am looking for a starter saddle, but I don't want a piece of junk either. I can tell the eBay auction one is trash, the heads are all wrong and it looks cheap and poorly balanced. There are several antiques on eBay, but all of them need restoring and lack a leaping head. I want an English one to start with, if I stick with it I may get a western eventually.

Tattersalls' Huntseat Side Saddle, love this.

So, anyone out there have any suggestions? Any info on the Hilason brand saddles? My budget allows for a Hilason, but that's about the extent of it. Also, I need information on how to decide what size saddle to get, I am not terribly familiar with measuring a side saddle. I use an 18" English saddle if that is helpful. I have very long legs, especially from hip to knee. I am not petite either.


  1. No help here...I know exactly "0" about side saddle. However, I saw someone on TV jump in a side saddle and thought that was pretty impressive that she didn't go flying off the horse!

  2. I just visited Hilason...never seen/heard of them before. You should ask them for a commission type discount, because I just purchased an absolutely stunning showmanship jacket. The purchase was all because of your blog! Hey, never hurts to ask.

  3. I was told side saddle riding is tough on a horse's back, isn't it? If so, you might have to work in a chiro fund into the budget too...

  4. let us know about hillasion..I also want to try SS and also have a low budget and thought of trying H's....Also, unless you have an antique horse, do not get an "antique"...I got one (thought the restoring would be a fun project anyway), but I tried it on 6 different horses and NONE of them fit it! Oh well... they are built really weird and not sure what the heck it would fit on! I tried everything for a TB type, to a wide gaited horse...none fit...:(

  5. Im pretty sure the Hilson ones are not worth it, even at the price they sell for. They just look cheaply made to me. I was looking at them when I wanted to do western side saddle. I did eventually find a lovely Circle Y for a pretty penny. But then my horse decided she was so not into going slow enough for western and we switched to hunt. I ended up selling it last year since I didnt see using it anytime soon, still hurt to let it go since they are soooo hard to find. Someday I would like to try hunt sidesaddle.

    I watched a short demo at our horse expo a few years ago. It is very hard to find a usable vintage one and its hard to find someone to restore them. I didnt know Tattersall did, I will have to check that out, not that I can buy one anytime soon.

    I too enjoy the riding aside blog, good luck on your adventure. I only ended up riding in my western one a few times and it takes getting used to, and strong legs! But even the first time I rode in it I was already comfortable enough to lope.

  6. Most of the Hilason saddles are junk. I bought a saddle from them and it was awful. Felt like cardboard. I was able to get my money back though I've heard some people have a hard time with that. Better to save your money and get what you want.

  7. It can be cheaply made...that is the point, we are poor :( But as long as it "fits" the horse and is balanced enough to ride in (some of the other cheapies literally make you slide off the hose, they are so unbalanced) is ok as a "starter" to learn how to ride...if I ever had the money to "show", then I'd have the money for a non-cheap saddle too and can upgrade :)
    Then again, I have both a cheap wintec and a cheap abetta that have served me for YEARS pretty well... Looking into a new wintec as the old one finally is dying. The abetta got rolled on, fallen on, bucked with a gazillion times (it served as the colt starting saddle) and rubbed on rails, trees, etc. Lots of dents and some torn material, but solid tree still and I liked that it was cheap, so if a youngster "killed" it, I wouldn't be too sad, LOL :)

  8. Breathe- I'm not sure about the horses back but it seems it may be a bit tough on the riders as well. Tacky- you may consider figuring in your own chiro too.

    I've tried it just in a joking around, throw your leg over kind of manner on super quiet horses. I don't think it is anything I could ever get into doing, but when it is done and done right- it's beautiful to watch.

  9. Don't get a Hilason. My advice, save up a bit more and get a Elan from Hundred Oaks or go to the Side Saddlery on the International Side Saddle Organziation or Side Saddle Heaven and get a vintage one.

    I bought my vintage 1910's side saddle on Ebay but I was lucky as the vintage side saddle I bought before that from Ebay, arrived with a broken tree. You have to becareful about buying side saddles on Ebay.

    The pommels on a Hilason are placed too high and close together, the tree looks like a normal astride tree with pommels added onto it. With this saddle, you'd be constantly fighting the position it puts you in. Not fun.

    Side saddle isn't bad for the horses back provided it fits the horse correctly (and the horse is old enough to have developed strong back muscles). My mare never had a side saddle on her back before I got her and now she goes better side saddle than astride.
    I have back problems too (ones that I've inherited) and side saddle does help with that!

  10. Do you know someone in a boarding barn, or someone who shows sidesaddle? that might have a sidesaddle just for you to try? I havnt ever tried it, you would have to be strong legged.
    Seems a pretty significant investment if you dont know if you really want to do it or not.

  11. That Hilason seems cheap for a sidesaddle. It would be best to borrow a nice one, or find someone selling a quality used saddle that you can see before buying.
    Thanks for posting on this topic because I'd really like to learn more. I've always been impressed with ladies who jump sidesaddle:

  12. Do not...I repeat...DO NOT buy a hilason side saddle. They are so poorly made as to be unrideable. The cheapest rideable saddle is an Elan at Great starter saddle. Anything used that is less than one of those will probably require significant restoration to be useable. Also, American Lady Aside, Sidesaddle Heaven and the International Side Saddle Association are all great resources. See if you can't get a lesson or two first before you buy anything big.

  13. The book "Riding Side-Saddle" by Janet W. Macdonald lists Owen, Mayhew, Whippy, and Champion&Wilton as good "classical makes." The book reminds the reader that the tree is not symmetrical on a good side-saddle, though on the good brands they appear to be level. Beware of equal-lengthed tree points and a high pommel - these are probably built on a cross-saddle tree.

    As far as fit, it's the measurement of the rider's thigh. A 5'4" rider will need about a 16". To big is better than too small.

    The book seems to be out of print, but there were a few used copies on Amazon and Barnes &

    I too, dream of riding aside, but this book helped me realize how few "good" sidesaddles are still out there. And I know from experience that those cheap saddles aren't worth the cardboard box they are shipped in!

    I hope you achieve your goal, though!

  14. 1. DO NOT buy a hilason!!! Unless you want to keep posting over and over again about how tacky it is.
    2. I second Helen Go to hundred oaks Occassionaly they have used saddles available and they have excellent resources as far as measuring for the saddles. I got my first sidesaddle from Hundred Oaks.

  15. Hello-

    It is worth saying again, don't but a Hilason. They are not correctly balanced and don't ride correctly. The best entry level saddle is the "Elan" by Hundred Oaks. There are several other brands of junk out there for cheap prices as well, they give sidesaddles a bad name. will show you how to measure yourself for a saddle.

    As far as the horse's back and your back, if the saddle fits the horse, and you, neither one of you should have any back problems from it. An aside rider sits centered on the horses back, just like an astride rider.

    It is lots of fun, and you should try it!

  16. Regarding Hilason's saddles (of any type!), go to and look up any hilason model on the "western trail saddles" section. Hilason has a HORRIBLE reputation for quality and customer service.

    It's not a bargain if you can't use it and can't sell it!

  17. I can't help you with the size or brand. But I've ridden in a side saddle about 10 or so times. It's a weird feeling, it feels like sitting on a barstool atop a horse.

    If you ride a lot, you might not like riding in this.

  18. When I was a teen, I like many other teens played around on a sidesaddle. It seemed to me that every older stable had a sidesaddle or two hanging around. I mean, how many of us have tack that is 30 years old that we just can bear to part with? I know I do.
    The biggest difficulty with riding aside is where ever the horse goes, you go. I've never seen (or heard) of anyone doing an emergency dismount from a side saddle. A good aside seat is a very firm seat. It takes a bit to get you off a sidesaddle. Which is why it can be dangerous. I enjoyed my time aside, as did my sister. I'm hoping that riding aside saddleseat style takes off again. I'd take it up again.

  19. Do not buy a Hilason! I second the posts that say go with Hundred Oaks. I ride SS - you need a correct saddle that fits you and your horse. And they are not cheap - the Elan is the most inexpensive choice. Join ASA - American Sidesaddle Association to get involved in a group in your area that can help. Someone will let you try ss so that you can see if it is something you want to invest in. It is a very friendly group!

  20. Find a saddle fitter that has experience in the fitting of a side saddle. Trust me, I'm still looking for one that fits both me and my horse.

    It's great if you do it, but don't skimp on price and vintage saddles, while they look nice, are not really a good fit for modern horses.



  21. Beautiful saddle looks amazing.I have two old Green Saddle which are very beautiful.

  22. I'm not sure about the measurements given by
    SillyPony. I am 5'2, small build, and the smallest saddle I can ride is an 18.5". Sidesaddles are measured from the front of the upright pommel to the back of the seat, so the measurement is not equivalent to a Western or an English.

    You would probably have good luck if you could get in touch with a local sidesaddle club. Most of the members are delignted to cultivate any interest in sidesaddle, and may have an experienced horse with a well-fitting saddle that you could try . . . or sign up for a clinic.

    I started riding sidesaddle as a fairly new rider. I will agree that at first it feels very insecure. But I soon learned how to get a grip, and improved my balance. After two years of riding sidesaddle exclusively, I became an unshakeable rider. (BTW, I've NEVER come off sidesaddle! too scared to come off that way). BTW, I did mostly trail riding along the levees and railroad tracks, up and down hills, past scary traffic. It was so much fun.

    There are as many different thoughts on "the best" are there are riders . . .but I think many agree on a couple of things:

    1. The upright pommel. Unless the "horn" around which you wrap your let is truly vertical, it will be very uncomfortable and not give a good "purchase" (grip). It also needs to not be too long or too short for the thickness of your leg. A horn that makes an acute angle with the saddle will bruise your leg. (BTW, you might like to wrap the horn with a fleece or some thin neoprene to protect your tender back of knee and tendon)

    2. Fit. The saddle MUST fit the horse correctly. Especially until you learn to ride balanced, the pressures of an ill-fitting saddle will sore your horse's back.

    A balanced sidesaddle rider with a correctly fitting saddle should not be any more imposition for the horse than any other type of riding.

    Take a look at American Sidesaddle Association (ASA) and their local clubs. I've met some of these people, and they're really helpful.

    I belong to a yahoo group, CA_Aside. What a bunch of nice ladies! We've had a couple of men try out the sidesaddles, too.

    My personal recommendation: The ladies with wide-backed horses will not be happy with me, but I feel that form and function should match. A narrow-withered horse gives a much better anchor for the saddle. A rider who is not balanced on a wide-backed horse with a wide-treed saddle will be much more likely to get in trouble if their weight starts to go to one side and gravity takes over. A narrow withered horse has a natural anchoring point.

    Good luck! We have lots of fun with this hobby.

  23. Hali sons - the leaping horn is curved up not down as it is supposed to be to hold your left leg down