Jun / 04

Riding during the Edwardian Era

By / Jessica Leake / 3
Photo via PBS Masterpiece

Photo via PBS Masterpiece


Horses and riding play big parts both in the lives of those who lived in the Edwardian Era and the lives of my characters in Arcana. I always include horses in my books if I can help it, because I’ve been horse-crazy ever since I was little. My parents tried to get me interested in other things: ballet, soccer, even a brief stint in clogging. But I only ever wanted to do one thing: RIDE.

So, finally they gave in. I began taking lessons when I was about 6 or 7, and I got my sweet Arabian mare when I was twelve. We competed in dressage all through high school, but once I got to college, I just couldn’t keep it up. She has since passed away, but I will always have a love for horses and riding.

Riding was one of the few sports women could participate in openly in the Edwardian Era, and in fact, many participated in fox hunting. But the thing I found most interesting in my research, and something that is touched on in the book, is that women had to ride sidesaddle until the early 1920s. With the invention of the leaping horn for the saddle to hold the lady’s upper leg in place, this wasn’t quite so dangerous, but still…

Photo via jmmusybooks.blogspot.com

Photo via jmmusybooks.blogspot.com

Would YOU want to do this?? Terrifying, right? Look how far she is out of the saddle, and all to one side…I just can’t. Then again, I did dressage mostly because jumping was waaaay too intimidating for me.

Is it any wonder, then, that Katherine–the main character in Arcana–prefers to ride “astride”?  Such a thing would be scandalous at that time, so lucky for Katherine that she doesn’t care much for what society thinks.

Even the riding habits–the riding costumes worn by women since the 16th century–could be dangerous. Just imagine getting your long skirt caught up in the saddle and being dragged as the horse carries on without you, and I think you can see why. It wasn’t until 1875 that the first safety skirt was invented, with buttons along the seams that could pop free should the lady start to be dragged. In the Edwardian Era, this evolved into an apron skirt, which was just a skirt buttoned around the waist to hide the riding breeches beneath. As the ladies model in the photo below (not sure why they’re all looking at each other like that, but whatever), the Edwardian riding habit evoked men’s fashions, very elegant and tailored, with a top hat and veil.

Photo via parenthetically.blogspot.com

Photo via parenthetically.blogspot.com

Foxhunting was a chance for ladies to participate in a sport, and it was a long and grueling one at that–sometimes taking 3-4 hours following hounds through acres and acres of English woods. The leaping horn of the sidesaddle made this all possible, as the ladies could then safely jump over fences and hedges or anything else that might get in the way of the hunt.

But of course this would have only been open to the upper class. Horses were a luxury, and they often lived better than the working class did. Stables like the one shown below were not at all unusual, and the horses all had dedicated grooms to care for their every need.

Photo via janeaustensworld.wordpress.com

Photo via janeaustensworld.wordpress.com

In Arcana, Katherine loves all things related to horses and riding, except for the hunt. She couldn’t imagine hunting down a fox, and I won’t spoil it for you here, but she definitely has her reasons.

As for breed of horses popular at the time, the Thoroughbred was by far the breed every horse-loving aristocrat owned. One of the main characters in Arcana has Thoroughbreds, horses made famous for their endurance and prowess on the racetrack. Most of the carriage horses would have been Warmbloods, heavier yet still elegant horses.

Fancy carriage horses Photo via patsysmiles.com

Fancy carriage horses
Photo via patsysmiles.com

Thoroughbred with Jockey up, Edmund Charles Tarbell, c. 1895

Thoroughbred with Jockey up, Edmund Charles Tarbell, c. 1895









Although there were trains and automobiles in 1905 when the book is set, horses were still important means of transportation. Carriages still filled the streets of London, and were even more so in use outside of the city, due to the poor roads. But it wasn’t long before the cars began to take over–just look at these two London street scenes. One is circa 1900, the other 1912.

London street scene circa 1900

London street scene circa 1900

London street scene circa 1912 Photo via electric-edwardians.blogspot.com

London street scene circa 1912
Photo via electric-edwardians.blogspot.com

So many advances in so short a time period, and yet it was pretty much the end of a woman socially if she wasn’t married by the age of 22. Such a ridiculously contradictory and fascinating time!


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