When Belinda Wilkins of Walberton, West Sussex turned to side-saddle riding this summer at the age of 62, she belatedly made family history by completing seven generations of side-saddle riders in her family.
She was the one gap in family records, where six generations of side saddle riders went back two centuries- and there could be more unrecorded.
Although Belinda had never ridden side saddle, she had encouraged her daughter Caroline to compete on her New Forest pony Tiptoe Bracken II using the saddle that Belinda’s mother Daphne has used on her new forest pony Springaway.
Since those early days, Caroline has enjoyed competing and hunting in the discipline both nationally and internationally. This summer Belinda decided that she ought to try riding side-saddle, if only to fill the gap in the family tradition- and just over eight weeks ago decided this was the time to do it.
She put a side saddle on Ladydown Amadeus, originally trained to side saddle by Caroline- but now just used as a hack- and walked round the school slowly, feeling extremely strange at first. After two days of accustoming herself to the new mode of riding, she attended a clinic run by Side Saddle Area 8, instructed by Peta Roberts.
” Peta is well known for her excellent ability to give confidence and just three days after first trying side-saddle I entered my first competition at the Fortune Centre, which involved only walk and trot and was place third,” said Belinda.
The moment was recorded in photographs and the family tree of seven generations of side saddle riders was finally complete. But this was not the end, for Belinda enjoyed it so much that she wanted to do more- and also felt that one competition was not enough to earn her a proper place in the family side saddle history.
She entered the mature riders’ class at the Side Saddle Area 8 Summer Show at Ardingly, and finished second with a special rosette for being over 60. Then, wearing a costume she had originally made for Caroline- a copy of the Hussars uniform worn by Princess Vicky- with Amadeus also in ceremonial costume, she won the novcice costume class. On that day another piece of family history was made with mother and daughter competing at the same show.
The family has some fine reminders of the side saddle tradition. A pale turquoise riding skirt belonging to her great, great grandmother, Annie Morris, who was at school in Quorn, is on display in Bexhill Costume Museum.
In her family collection, Belinda has a striking photograph of her great-grandmother, Florence Lewis, in a black Victorian habit riding a hunter.Florence’s daughter, Winifred Dunphy is shown hunting in the New Forest with her husband Dr Brian Whitehead MC, both riding army remounts and wearing the thick habit jacket Belinda used as a teenager.
Belinda’s mother Daphne ( Winifred’s daughter) used to love talking to Caroline and her about taking part in the display at the 1934 International Horse Show at Olympia, titled ‘Riding and Driving in Regency Times.
Now the tradition is being carried on with no gaps. Belinda is looking forward to the side saddles classes at The Hickstead Sunshine Tour Championship and Caroline is preparing to take part in the ‘Glorious Siide Saddle Display Team’ next month at the Opening Ceremony of the European Equestrian Games in Aachen.