“To me, sidesaddle was the beginning of women’s emancipation.”
Sidesaddle racer, Lee McLean, may have a point.
Back in a time when a woman’s modesty was heavily guarded, the invention of the sidesaddle in the late 1300s protected said virtue, but McLean suggests it also allowed women a certain level of freedom from their daily lives.
“Before we had a saddle that allowed us to wear the skirts and dresses of the time and hook our legs over, be safe, be able to grip up there, we had to stay home, stir a stew pot, embroider,” explained McLean, a sidesaddle racer and enthusiast. “We had to walk on foot, we had to wait for a man to take us in a carriage, you know or off behind him on the back of his horse. Sidesaddle allowed women to go do their own thing.”
Just as fashion comes and goes, however, so too did the sidesaddle. Early into the 20th century, it became more common for women to wear pants or trousers in favour of a dress or skirt. The trend allowed them the ability to comfortably sit astride a horse which then became an acceptable way of riding.
Sidesaddle soon fell out fashion, but for the first time in its 106-year history, the Calgary Stampede will bring back the traditional style of riding by way of a new showcase event.
“We’re talking fast women and pretty horses,” joked McLean.
For two nights only, sidesaddle racing will make its debut at the Greatest Show on Earth.
“I think it’s also the Stampede realizes that there’s something about this that’s you wanna watch it, you wanna follow it,” said McLean. “It’s over fast. The horses are really running. It’s good action.”
Eight women, all from Alberta, will compete in the series of races on the first Saturday and Sunday of the Stampede immediately following the popular chuck wagon races.
“It’s exciting and it’s an opportunity I don’t think I would ever get, especially for us local girls who aren’t competitive barrel racers on the world stage, so it’s a huge honour,” said Cait Boscam, fellow sidesaddle rider and McLean’s daughter.
Like those who taught her to ride sidesaddle, McLean has taught own her daughter to ride astride a horse. She says the opportunity to showcase her passion for sidesaddle at the Stampede will be, in part, a tip of her hat to those women before her who blazed the trail to female independence.
“We live, I think, the best lives women ever had in history right now. I don’t like to think that we forget about all the hardship that women have done and whether that is schooling or medical help. You know women have achieved so much and I look at these women that taught me and they were such serious horsewomen and so brave, and yeah, I want to remember that.”
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