Meet the East Yorkshire side-saddle rider who still rides and competes after nearly half a century

Almost five decades after her first lesson at 12, Gill Greenwood lives and breathes the ancient equestrian form, honored by the likes of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton.

Gill, 59, who recently competed in England’s oldest horse race, the Kiplingcotes Derby, is literally living side-saddle riding history, and a proper 1920s Lady Mary would recognize her outfit today .

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Her austere black habit – the same word for her riding dress also describes what nuns wear – was made in 1928 for Mrs Norman Field by London firm Roberts and Carroll, while her silk top hat is of the same era.

Gill Greenwood has been riding sidesaddle for almost 50 years Photo: James Hardisty

Meanwhile, his side saddle, made by Champion & Wilton in 1912, still bears the label saying it was shipped to Shanghai for a Mrs. HE Morriss who was married to newspaper magnate Henry Morriss.

Champion & Wilton’s last saddle apprentice, Mike Huline-Dickens, who is over 80, still tends to all of his saddles, more than 60 years after the company closed.

Gill, who lives near Driffield, said: ‘My mum was a Cockney and never had a horse.

“She loved seeing the Queen ride her side-saddle. When I arrived she bought a Shetland pony, which was about 30 years old. You love it or you hate it – there’s no middle ground. It’s Marmite – if you love it, you’re hooked.

His horse Storm is a purebred cross from Cleveland Bay. The Cleveland Bays were originally bred in Yorkshire and are England’s oldest horse breed Photo James Hardisty

“I think you have to be very passionate about it – if you ask my husband he’ll say I’m obsessed.”

Gill, who regularly appears at events, gets a scarlet suit made for the Great Yorkshire Show in July, and says “the story, the provenance and the label” are what she likes.

And indeed, the etiquette involved is extraordinary – a silk top hat should not be worn before noon and only at county shows or above. Black gloves cannot be worn as they denote mourning. “No bling, no colors, no buttonholes,” adds Gill, who is a two-time National Performance Champion in the side-saddle.

Lady Mary, by the way, was wrong – in the previous TV series her coat and skirt were much too long.

Ladies weren’t the only ones practicing the art in its heyday in the 1930s as grooms rode side saddles to train and keep their ladies’ horses in shape Photo James Hardisty

There are approximately 1,000 members of the Side Saddle Association, and only a few are male. Gill has been a member since 1974 and his son Daniel was National Junior Champion in Sidesaddle Performance.

She insists it’s a safe sport and she’s only fallen six times in almost 50 years, despite occasionally jumping 5ft high hurdles. She says it’s all about balance and using the pommels on the saddle – the rounded hook that the rider grabs with one leg.

It is believed that Queen Elizabeth 1 was one of the first to wrap her leg around a pommel. A second lower pommel called a jumping head was introduced in 1830 as an additional safety feature and allowed women to jump.

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Although the sport is associated with women, traditionally it was the male grooms who trained the horses to ride side-saddle for the ladies and also got them into shape.

Many veterans returned from the First World War injured and having lost limbs, they learned to ride side saddles as it was often the only way to ride if they had lost a lower limb.

Male side-saddle riders wear tweed and breeches, unless it’s an evening show where top hats and tails are a must.

Clyde P. Johnson