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Interview: Riding Side Saddle with Katie Ockendon-Evans

side side horse riding
Written by Andrea Parker

A Very Old Approach to Women’s Riding

I have always been fascinated with the idea of riding side saddle. There is something which looks so elegant and effortless, yet knowing what I do about horses I can only imagine that it is anything but effortless.

I’ve been following Katie Ockendon-Evans for a while now on facebook and was thrilled when she agreed to share a bit about her journey and side saddle riding.

Katie is a qualified Side Saddle Association Instructor and BHS Accredited Coach (British Horse Society), who teaches people of all ages and abilities to ride side saddle from the complete beginner to more experienced riders. Katie has side saddles to fit all shapes and sizes of horse, pony, and rider so that you can give side saddle riding a go.

side saddle horse riding katie ockendon evans

How Did You Find Your Way Into The Saddle?

Horses have always been a part of my life. I was sitting on my mum’s horses pretty much since the day I was born, well actually since before I was born!

I had my first pony when I was two years old, a little black Shetland called Teabag.

side saddle start

Where it all began – Katie and her first pony Teabag the Shetland

How Did You Start Riding Side Saddle?

I started riding side saddle on my second pony, Ladybird, when I was six. My mum rode side saddle too, so I guess I sort of grew up with it once I started riding properly.

All of my horses and ponies since Ladybird have carried a side saddle and they’ve all gone better side saddle than astride. I even went to some Pony Club rallies side saddle.

What Disciplines Do You Compete In?

I do a bit of everything really. I do Side Saddle Association affiliated classes as well as compete in normal astride classes under the side saddle. I do Equitation classes, which are judged specifically on the rider as well as showing classes, jumping, and dressage.

My real passion is hunting, which I prefer to do side saddle when I can. I also love doing side saddle displays at local events and County shows.

side saddle horse show

Can You Tell Us A Bit About Your Current Horses?

At the moment I have two of my own horses, as well as a horse I ride and compete for someone else.

Galliano III (Vigo) is a dark bay Dutch Warmblood. He’s handsome and he knows it, he really is Mr. Sass! Vigo has been a successful show horse for most of his life, but now enjoys dressage, jumping and hacking as well as the showing. He will hopefully make his hunting debut next season.

side saddle dressage

Iceford Speedy (Dermot) is a grey Connemara who I brought on from a very green youngster. I’ve had him for eleven years now and have done pretty much everything with him from showing and dressage to hunting jumping and even a charity race—all side saddle of course!

Then there is Mexico who I have been riding for a few months now. He has taken to the side saddle very well and has already been out winning classes! We are hoping to do some Ladies Show Horse classes and HOYS/ RI qualifiers with him this season.

What Has Been Your Greatest Achievement As A Coach/Rider?

Gosh that’s a hard one!

I love teaching and am so proud of everyone I have taught over the last year for all their amazing achievements. Whether it be getting on their horse side saddle, learning to canter, going to their first show or an amazing win.

side saddle horse show

As a rider I have won multiple different classes and awards over the years up to National level including being Champion at Area Shows and National Junior Equitation Champion and Dressage to Music Champion at The National Side Saddle Show.

But sometimes it’s not necessarily winning something that makes you proud, it’s the hard work and determination finally paying off.

It’s also pretty cool having photos and articles in magazines. Recently, I have been featured in ‘Hounds’ and ‘In the Country’ magazines.

For People Who Have Never Ridden Side Saddle Before, Where Do You Start?

side saddle jumping

I like to start by watching them ride astride first to assess the horse and rider. This can help me pick up on any issues they may have before moving any further. Then I will spend time finding a side saddle that best fits both the horse and rider.

Before mounting, I ask the rider to walk the horse around in hand, turning a few small circles each way.

This ensures the horse has had a good feel of the saddle, which will be quite different to what they are used to. Side saddles are generally heavier than astride saddles. They also have different girthing arrangements with the balance girth sitting further back across the horses side.

Once the rider is mounted, I spend quite a while going through the basic position, aids and the emergency grip, if the horse did something naughty.

Is There Something That People New To Side Saddle Tend To Find Particularly Challenging?

Everyone is different and what one person finds easy, others struggle with. People are always surprised how safe it feels, once you get your head around the fact it’s a bit weird! I think the most difficult thing is that you are using different muscles to ride side saddle than those you use to ride astride.

Everyone aches the next day!

side saddle jumping

Are There Particular Characteristics That You Look For In A Side Saddle Horse?

There isn’t any particular reason why any horse can’t take to the side saddle. It’s not just for flashy moving big brown Warmbloods.

In my experience, most horses seem to go better side saddle than astride.

Horses with very short backs can be more difficult to fit saddles to, especially if they have a rider with longer legs. Horses that are very wide are often more difficult to find saddles for as well, this is because most of the side saddles around are very old and were made for horses much narrower than those we have today.

side saddle eventing

What Should People Do If They Are Interested In Learning To Ride Side Saddle?

The best place to start is The Side Saddle Association. Their website has lots of helpful information to facilitate with getting started. Many instructors have side saddles available to use for lessons or will be able to help you find a suitable one to hire.

The worst thing you could do is buy a saddle without taking advice. Aside from the fact it probably won’t fit, there are also a lot of ‘dodgy’ saddles around, especially on sites like EBay.

You have to remember that most of these saddles are over 100 years old. You wouldn’t put a normal 100 year old saddle on your horse without having it checked over by a specialist so I’m not sure why people do this with side saddles.

Looking Forward, and Back

You can find a list of all the qualified SSA instructors from around the world here on the website.

If anyone has any questions about learning to ride side saddle or wants some help in getting started please do not hesitate to contact me. I will do my best to help or point you in the direction of someone who can.

You can follow Katie on Facebook or on Instagram.

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About the author


Andrea Parker

Andrea is an Adult Amateur dressage rider who competes at medium level on her 13-year-old mare Mon Ami. Andrea shares her journey through the equestrian world on her blog The Sand Arena Ballerina and is working on an equestrian podcast called Equestrian Pulse.