PERIOD RIDING GARB FROM YOUR CLOSET
Because horses were part of their everyday lives, folks in the Middle Ages routinely wore clothes that were fashioned to wear on horseback. This was true for both ladies and men, because not until the latter part of the Middle Ages did carriages with springs become available. So, compared to a rough ride in a cart, everyone preferred to ride his horse when travelling. Additionally, as was true of all riding cultures, riders always preferred to ride rather than walk. Just watch the riders at any horse event. You will see that they will mount their horses and ride no matter how short the distance rather than leave their horse tied up and walk themselves. Additionally, almost all women rode astride until later in the Middle Ages. So, yes, it was Period for women to ride astride. The side saddle, which is actually more similar to a small love seat than a saddle, came into common use during the latter part of the 15th century.
First you will need a pair of riding pants. A durable natural material that will withstand the rigors of riding is cotton fleece. You'll also want pants that are slightly baggy and loose fitting at the crotch area, so that you can raise your leg up to the stirrup in order to mount your horse. An inexpensive pair of pants that meet these criteria are sweatpants. You can use these as your riding breeches for all Period garb. Use dark colors that won't stain. Try to avoid sweatpants with a neon racing stripe up the sides, so your pants can look more Period. Throughout most of the Periods we enjoy in the SCA, women often wore adaptations of men's garb along with pants under their dresses or tunics when riding.
You should wear a hard-soled boot with a minimum ¼" heel. The hard boot will protect your foot if a horse steps on it. The heel with help prevent your foot from going all the way through the stirrup. A sport helm can be disguised by draping a short veil over it for a lady or by pulling a hood up over it for a man. A leather helm can be built to go over a sport helm if you are a mounted warrior.
For early Period and Middle Ages personas, T-tunic and breeches were period garb suitable for riding. This is good garb to use if you are a beginner rider. T-tunics are either cut very wide in a full circle below the waist or else are slit at the front and back and sometimes even at the sides as well. The full cut and slits were not a fashion statement, they were there to accommodate riding astride. So T-tunics would be appropriate garb for both men and women. Women's dresses, even the cotehardies that are so form fitting for the torso, have added gores in the skirt. The fullness looks nice, but it is really there so the lady could ride astride. So that takes care of you early personas, but what about the later Period types?
In the later Middle Ages, men wore houppelandes, which was the riding garb used by noblemen. Women continued to wear gowns or adapted men's houpelandes with breeches underneath. Beware of long sleeves as they are a safety hazard especially for the beginner rider.
For the early Renaissance, your doublet is the attire for the nobleman or noble woman (remember the movie Lady Jane?) to wear with breeches. Peasants would have worn a full shirt and a vest-like garment known as a jerkin. Your doublets and jerkin are all garments that come to just below the crotch area, so they are perfectly suited for riding astride.
For the mounted warrior, your jupon or gambeson, will be a good start. Both are quilted and fairly short and so are comfortable yet warm garb to wear when riding. If you want to try to ride in your armor, you should first get proficient in riding in these items that you wear under your armor. Then gradually add the pieces of armor as you and your horse get acclimated to the noise and restricted mobility. Chainmail especially makes a loud noise that really scares horses. And lastly, a brief word on riding with chainmail, armor, or metal helmets. These heavy items can easily upset your balance when riding, because they make you 'top heavy.' It is a good idea to practice riding without chainmail or a metal helmet until you have excellent balance at all speeds and can control your mount when handling all weapons on horseback. A metal helmet can carry great risk if you fall, because it may cause unnatural pressure on your neck. For this reason wearing armor on horseback requires a Special Riding Authorization in some Kingdoms or at least is subject to safety restrictions by the Equestrian Marshal-in-Charge of the SCA event.
© 2001-8 Donna DeBonis, DVM all rights reserved