Friday, December 21, 2007

Wishing you the Joy of the Season

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them,

"Do not be afraid I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:8 - 11)

Religion was such an integral part of the medieval persons' life and I've always loved this particular work, St. Columba Altarpiece (central panel), c.1455, Alte Pinakthek, Munich, by Rogier van der Weyden, one of the 15th century Flemish Masters. It reminds me of the joys in my life and the sacrifices that have been made.

Whatever your religious beliefs, may you be moved by the spirit of the season and may your lives be filled with joy, love, and prosperity.

"God Bless us every one" Tiny Tim, from "A Christmas Carol in Prose, being a Ghost Story of Christmas " by Charles Dickens


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What's New

... Not a lot. Things have been busy with the holidays here in the States. Thanksgiving was very nice. Spent time with Bob's Mom and his Aunt. My folks retired down South so we won't see them until Christmas at that time we'll also be visiting with my brother and his family.

Currently nothing new on the side saddle front. I've made a few inquiries to a maker in Canada, but have yet to hear back from them. I'm not sure if it is an email thing (junk filter) or that they are slow to respond. I was planning to have one made for Normandie since he has the correct back for it, just to ride and stay in practice.

I've added a bookstore to my regular web site that primarily deals with Charles the Bold and various Burgundian connections in the XVe century. I also have affiliates in the UK and France.

One of the Equestrian selections is featured on this page. While not historic in a XVe century context, it is a fun way to ride. :-)


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lucky Number 13

ell, Bob and I celebrated our 13th Anniversary last night. We really went all out. We had a romantic dinner at the Café Escadrille; the gourmet room.

We arrived at 5pm and were seated in a lovely booth of red and gold fabric. The linens were white and well pressed.

Our waiter was Paul, a very nice man dressed in a tux and a good conversationalist. He prepared several of our dishes table side. His mad culinary skills come from the school of life rather than a traditional school of culinary arts. His passion shows in his cooking skills and timing. He loves what he does and it shows.

Before dinner, we made a wine selection. It was a lovely Red Zinfandel from the Rombaurer vineyard in the Napa valley. 2004 vintage. It was a full bodied red, fruity with a hint of vanilla and blueberry. It went very well with our dinner and was never acrid.

Brought to the table was a basket of assorted breads and a dish of butter.

Next, we ordered our hors d'oeuvres, Lobster ravioli in a lobster bisque and Escargot Bourguignonne (French helix snails in a Burgundy butter). The ravioli was very tasty, however this was a test as this was the first time either Bob or I had ever tried escargot. Lucky me, I had the escargot placed before me. Since I had never tried it, I examined the escargot tongs that were attached to the escargot plate. Remembering the dinner scene from the movie "Pretty Woman" with Julia Roberts, I decided to take my time and learn the finer points of this implement so as not to have a "slippery little suckers" episode. It was quite simple. With snail fork in my left hand and tongs in my right, I was off and running.

The snails looked very dark in the dimly lit room, almost black. I removed the first snail from the shell and took a bite. Interesting texture, not unlike calamari. Little on the bitter side. Basically two chews and a swallow. Bob was not overly thrilled with the taste; over chewed I think. It wasn't a bad experience and I'd probably try it again. Even Bob agreed that he'd be willing to give it another go.

I think Paul was surprised. He thought I'd had escargot before given my mastery of the tongs and fork. Nope, first time.

"So, what made you try it?"

"Well we'd been watching Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel along with Samantha Brown, and figured we'd give it a go."

"So you watch the Food Network and such"

"Yes we do."

"So do I."

Paul has found over the course of his culinary career that he's seen it all. Adults dumbfounded by dining objects, people placing fat from a steak right on the table cloth instead of a plate. EW.... I wouldn't even do that in the privacy of my own home. Gads!

So anyhoo, some interesting conversations...

Next was our Warm Spinach Salad. This was cooked table side. The dressing was a bacon vinaigrette of butter, brown sugar, and a few other odds and ends with caramelized onions. It's sweet, but not overpowering.

Our palate cleanser was a lemon sorbet with a sprig of mint. It was a delicate lemon, not overpowering and when eaten with the mint leaves...Trés bien.

Our entrées arrived. Bob's was a variant on "surf and turf", a cut of sirloin with a Maine lobster tail. Accompanying his meal was a side of artichokes and sauce Béarnaise and a baked tomato half with a "piped" squash filling.

I had a three pound Maine Lobster served "lazy man" style. For those that may not be familiar with this term, it means that they take the lobster meat out of the shell. My favorite sea dweller came ornately displayed in a delicate butter sauce. I savored every sweet, succulent bite. I guess I had shown my prowess with the snails, that I was not offered a bib. According to Paul, folks make quite the mess. I am happy to say that I wasn't one of them.

The sides that we ordered, were sautéed button mushrooms, these things were to die for, they were so delicious, and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce on the side.

It was about 6:45pm and Bob and I were finally joined by other couples. Since 5pm, we'd had the entire gourmet room to ourselves. So the entire wait staff seemed to be ours alone. It was nice. Our "bus boy" was a very nice French gentleman. I think he was delighted that we'd actually use some of our limited French. We spoke to everyone. It was just a lovely experience.

For dessert, it was Bananas Foster. Fresh sliced bananas flamed in a dark rum with Crème de Banana liqueur and brown sugar and butter. It is served over vanilla ice cream. It was delicious!

We paid our check and ate our after dinner chocolate. It was topped with an espresso bean-- very good.

We left at 7:15 pm with our bottle of wine. They re-corked the bottle and heat sealed it in a bag.

It was a fantastic evening. A great way to end our special day.

--- This just in ---

While Bob and I were dining last night, 4 gentleman came in around 7pm. As I looked at one fellow, I kept thinking to myself that he looked like Mike Lowell of the Boston Red Sox... turns out that it was!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007's been awhile

It's been an exceptionally busy September for me and I've been remiss in blogging about it.

The weekend of September 1st, we had our usual museum show followed by some filming for a museum project.

September 8th, I can't recall, it was something of a blur.

September 16th, we were working on a video project with the students of WPI and the Higgins. It was an equestrian shoot, so it was very busy to say the least...and I'll have to remind the students that I'm still waiting for those photos that they dangled in front of me.

September 21, I was transporting horses for a charity event. We put up a tent in the dark...on a slope. Not fun and certainly NOT recommended.

September 22, was a charity Medieval Faire for Miracles in Motion in Keene NH. It was fun and interesting. The horses had a good time. My wallet didn't...but it was for a good cause; a therapeutic riding center.

September 29...hmmm... another weekend that's relatively blurry. Oh, I remember now, Bob and I played tour guide for the Richard III AGM. We were invited to a lovely lunch and caught up with some old friends.

October 6, our monthly Higgins show.

This week, it's just playing house. Chores and such. The leaves are falling and I have a lot of raking to do. Bob and I decided that we were taking October off.

We were hoping to partake in the first World Invitational Joust in California, but our wallet was drained in September. We're hoping that we'll make the next one in April 2008. It should be great.

Update: Belt buckle

I won't get it until near the end of the year. I'm bummed. I was hoping to get it before the Euro goes up.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bank Transfers!

Good Grief
, the amount of "fee" that is extracted on both sides of the world is incredible. Not only do I end up paying the $35 on my side, but also, because the bank that handles international wires, extorts another 48 EUs out of the merchant I'm doing business with, I get "zapped" for another 36 EU. This unfortunately makes it hard to work with small craftsmen. The pain might have been less transparent if they had a paypal account or something. I'm not blaming the merchant, I'm his first US customer and they've been very up front and have a solid reputation. They were just as surprised as I was. Usually European banks do a 4-6 EU fee, but for some reason the US and another country, he didn't mention which one, get trounced in the exchange.

Somewhere in the background I can hear John Cleese in an old Schwep's ad saying, "Do you have a word for highway robbery?"

Global Economy my....@$$@#*&*%#!

I'm starting to wonder what this is going to cost to get my bauble shipped to England and then to the US.

Current mood: perturbed.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Memorium

Today marks the 6th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 which crashed in Shanksville PA.

Special thoughts go out to Carl "Max" Hammond's family. He was on Flight 175, and to Nick Bogdan's family. I did not know Nick personally, but he was part of a circle of friends that intersected with my circle of old high school friends. I believe he was in the North Tower and about to head home. My thoughts are with his wife, Dorothy, and their two children.

A red, white, and blue ribbon, faded a little from six years in the sun, still hangs from my review mirror, a tribute to those who should not be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone, in every country, who was touched by that day.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Riding in a dress

onday I took my first ride on my horse wearing a replica of a 15th century Burgundian gown. Sorry, I didn't think to have my camera with me. It would have just been one more "thing" to deal with, as my husband was going to test out his updated armet at the same time. Any how, I did this on a modern, western saddle. It is no small task to mount in a full skirt. There's no slit in the skirt, so I did what a lady in the USS told me to do.

With my husband Bob acting as valet, I unceremoniously hiked, thank goodness I was wearing jeans underneath, my skirt up and flung the mass of fabric over my left arm, stepping up on my 18" mounting block, I grasped the reins in my left hand and the cantle in my right, placed my left foot in the stirrup, and threw my right leg over. Once I was safely in the saddle, I released the bundle of fabric, letting it fall to either side of me. Bob helped me adjust my skirt. While I felt a lot like the Wife of Bath (Ellesmere Manuscript Canterbury Tales at left) with my legs on either side of my horse, it was not a "bad look", though I think I would have preferred the more lady like aside position. I was sorely tempted on several occasions to fling my right leg over that western obstruction known as a pommel. However, my biggest concern was that very same pommel, which I eyed constantly as I rode around the ring. I just had the horrible vision of the dress getting caught on the horn at some point and...well... horrible vision covers it pretty well and I had no desire to become a kite for my horse. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, but Phantom could sense I was nervous about something and the fact that the gown tickled her flanks, did little to ease my nerves as I felt her skin twitching.

My dismount was just as lacking in grace. I couldn't do "around the world" and dismount facing out. I had to do it in the current fashion of bring my right leg over and slipping to the ground facing the horse's side. Just something about that pommel again and possibly getting that hem caught. I had no desire for a cowboy's death. Though that's usually involves stirrups and being dragged over merciless terrain.

It did raise a few questions:

I have to wonder how mounting was accomplished in the 15th century. The saddles were not like the ones we have today and I am relatively sure a certain level of decorum was practiced so as not to "flash a little leg". Women did not have access to the riding attire of later days. It was definitely the era of full skirts. I've added an image from the "Mort d'Arthur" from the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris to show the aside pose. The manuscript is mid-15th century and the saddle seems to be a common form of regular riding saddle with "eared" cantle.

So, I find myself asking...

Was a platform used? It is unclear as I haven't seen in contemporary (to the 15th century) art that shows a lady mounting.

Did the ladies companion give her a "leg up"?

Again, I haven't seen it in an illustration, yet. So far, I've only seen ladies already in the saddle and haven't come across any passages of etiquette for valets or companions assisting the lady in the saddle.

Or did they just do it themselves from any natural or man-made object that could be used as an impromptu mounting block?

I really don't see them just "hauling" themselves up there, even though there is a passage in "The Saddle of Queens" that discusses one lady's attendants being required to mount unassisted from the ground. I don't have the book to hand at the moment, but will dig out the passage and see what the primary source is for the comment, if it's available. Some early 20th century books weren't big on footnotes. *sigh*

It will bear some experimentation and probably a horse of smaller stature than my own mare to know for certain. Another thing to add to my "to do" list.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


ell, the payment is wiring it's way to Poland. Once received, my buckle will soon be crafted.

I'll keep you posted (no pun intended).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Horses... Pffpft!

ince we lack an indoor, the weather had been either too hot or too wet about a month back and I didn't have much of an opportunity for any real saddle time. So, for the past month, Phantom and I have been working on really basic stuff, neck reining and working off of leg cues at the walk.

Things were going well, so I felt it was time to work some basic trot into the routine. It was going to be a simple thing, or at least that's what I initially thought until my loving mare of 9 years attempted to dump me in the dirt not once but twice! In all the years I've ridden her, she has never attempted to throw or roll me.

The first time, we were going across ground poles. Since this was the first time in about 8 months that we worked with poles, I gave her her head so that she could actually see what she was walking over. Phantom being the "thinker" that she is, used it as an opportunity to break into a trot in the middle of the poles and then drop her head and bank hard right when we got to the last pole in an attempt to roll me into the dirt. Her attempt failed and we continued to work the edge of the ring a few times.

After I felt that she was in hand and we were working on a faster walk, I decided to move Phantom into a trot. Knowing that she has a tendency to attempt to cut into the middle, I kept a little tighter outside rein. What I didn't see or feel coming was her sudden head turn to the left. This caused a snaking action of her body and before I could react, we were loping into the middle of the ring, when I belatedly attempted the correction, she dropped her head and inside shoulder in an attempt to roll me off the side.

Fortunately I maintained my seat through both of these attempts. The only thing she managed to do at that point was raise my ire. My hands were shaking from the adrenaline rush of nearly being pitched twice and all I wanted to do was beat the tar out of her.

However, I love my horse and realized, being a rational creature, that I was partially at fault, and having never struck my horse in anger and never wanting to, I got off and asked my instructor if she might give her a spin to see what kind of bug had crawled up her butt.

Sure enough, my sweet "bay"-bee girl tried the same things with the instructor. After working with her for about 15 minutes, she had determined that the only things that I did wrong were giving her too much head and performing an improper block. She said that since my reining technique was loose, Phantom had gotten used to not carrying herself properly and was protesting to having to collect herself and actually work, so she was having a tantrum.

So, I have one more thing to work on, proper blocking. After my muscles quit hurting, I'll work in the trot without poles and see if she and I can come to some sort of accord that won't result in a donnybrook.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Embroidery Help

I know that there are a few embroiders who look at my blog. I am seeking some help with this 15th Burgundian piece.

The institution questions its attribution and thinks that it might be Swiss in origin. Somehow I sincerely doubt that the Swiss of the 1470s would create anything for Charles the Bold considering their less that amicable dealings. The arms depicted are the Valois arms of Burgundy; Philip the Good, late in his reign at the earliest and Charles at the latest.

To see a larger version of this image, go to the following URL.

To get to the largest image, you need to go to the and search the term: Stickerei

This will present a page with other examples of embroidery. Scroll down and click on the fire stryker image. Then click enlarge to get the full size image.

The questions I have specifically are, what embroidery technique(s) are employed? And what types of thread? Are they gold and silver?

The description, at least on this site is not very helpful. I may have to consult "Die Burgunderbeute" as this piece does appear in it. I'm just not up on my technical German. I will post the information from the book later today when I have access to it.

Any discussion is most welcome.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Almost Complete

'm very pleased. Gina wrote me yesterday to show me the completed girdle. Now I must really push the buckle maker to get going. It's truly lovely.

Current Mood: Happy :)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Putting things Aside

ecently I've not had the chance to ride aside. Partially due to the saddle disappointment, but more due to the pursuit of other historical equestrian activities as events hurtle toward us; it's hard to believe it's August. I've not abandoned the idea of riding aside, I've just been spending more time getting the riding garments together, chasing down a craftsman for my girdle buckle, and designing a medieval saddle, and training my mare for other aspects of the medieval hobby. So, it's just on hiatus for a little while. Most likely until after September.

I will continue to add pieces regarding books, cooking, and historical "kit".

Kit is the clothing and other assorted items that create the material aspect of a re-enactor's impression.

An impression as I understand it, is the representation or portrayal of a person's everyday life, be it a scullery maid or a high born lady, the latter is what my "aside" portrayal is all about.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Goldwork: Taking a step back

kay, I eagerly tore open my Benton and Johnson "Golden Lily" kit and decided that after reading the directions (all text, no pics), that I was in over my head a bit. I lack a familiarity with the embroidery terms and proper stitching technique. On the plus, I did manage to finally get out there and get an embroidery hoop and a proper set of needles to begin, but I needed more information on the "how to".

An earlier internet search had put me on the trail of vendors of gold and metal threads. Some of the vendors even had a selection of books. This brings me to a lovely little book that just arrived at my doorstep: Beginner's Guide to Goldwork by Ruth Chamberlin.

This little book is packed with useful tips and how to information on not just goldwork, but regular embroidery as well. It is lavishly illustrated and contains a plethora of beautiful, and richly detailed images of the author's work. Her experience in the field of ecclesiastical embroidery shows not only in her beautiful work, but in the working tips regarding patterns and making a duplicate. One for working on and one for reference. She also shows beginners how to properly stretch their working surface and how to make sure you have your design properly centered in the frame.

It is a wonderful little book and my husband is excited at the prospect of finally having an embroidered flint and steel for his livery jacket done in the proper style. But that's another project.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Medieval Cookery

his weekend, we had quite a few people descend on our house for our living history group's second drill of the summer. We've been making an effort to get people to our house or the stable at least once a month to do a group oriented activity that wasn't centered on the museum. So, we've gotten together for group activities for a march in May, and a drill in June and July.

The goal was to get my horse used to men in shiny armour and carrying medieval pole arms (glaives, bills, and spears). Phantom has had minimal close contact with these things and we figured it was about time that she "stepped up"...which she did admirably.

Part two of the Drill, was to be the Grill... and it was going to be medieval food. Yum. Bob and I had started earlier in the week picking through our medieval cookbooks and lighted on a few tasty entrées that would delight the modern palette. That Friday, we went shopping for the big items, but the market where we shopped was lacking some key ingredients: decent asparagus and leeks.

The next day started out with me out the door at 8:30 am on a Saturday to run to the grocery store to pick up a few food items that we didn't have a chance to pick up the day before. Once the grocery run was accomplished, I zipped across the river on a quest for Ale; Belgian Ale of the dessert variety. I was greatly saddened to find that our favorite place to pick up the ale was gone.

Coming round, I called Bob, who had just sat down to brekkers, and delivered the bad news and returned home with the food.

Stashing it in the fridge, Bob and I headed over to the stable to do some paddock cleaning and to say hello to the "babies". This was a quick job and hello, and we returned home to put some spit and polish on the house before our friends arrived.

After the house was tidied, Alex arrived with bread and sausage. He and Bob joined me in the kitchen and we began the prep work on the food. I diced and sliced onions, Alex chopped cabbage and leeks, and Bob whipped up a medieval wine marinade for the beef. I wanted to be sure that all the ingredients were ready when we returned so that we could get the grill started.

So here's the menu from Saturday:

    • Redwine marinaded delmonico steaks
    • Spiced mushrooms
    • Boiled cabbage in a beef broth with leeks
    • Boule bread and small rolls
    • Imported German beer
    • 2 kinds of German sausage (from a local butcher)
    • Cheese
    • Grapes

While it was on the menu, there was just so much food, that I never got around to cooking it.

    • Asparagus with saffron

The food and the company must have been a real hit. We started cooking a 5:45pm and people didn't depart for their homes until 10:45pm.

Books used for this menu:

If you decide to buy any Medieval cookbooks, I will offer a word of caution, do not purchase "Fabulous Feasts", in this bloggers opinion (from experience), the recipes are not very palatable and have no documentation proving that they are medieval.

Two other cookbooks for the offering:

Bon appetite!


Monday, July 23, 2007

A Vision in Red Silk

I was very excited this morning when I received an email from Gina. Attached were some "baby" photos of my silk girdle. It looks absolutely gorgeous. I have no doubt that this piece will be an heirloom someday.

The flash has illuminated the silk with a vermilion cast. This silk is actually more like an iron-rich blood red (has a bluish hint).

I was so ecstatic about the girdle, that I just had to share.

If you missed my previous post about the girdle please check out: Habit Forming

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

World Invitational Joust Oct 27, 2007

or those who read my blog and are interested in things Medieval, those in California, might be interested in attending a Historical Joust. This is not the same type of jousting you typically see in Hollywood films or those seen at Ren Faires, this is the high fidelity stuff of the past.

It is a recreation of a Joust of Peace. The Field of combatants hail from all around the globe. The participants are wearing historical reproductions of REAL suits of armour. It promises to be unlike any joust that the US has witnessed.

For information on the joust, location, and the field of competitors, please visit:

World Invitational Joust 2007

Tickets are available at the gate, but are also available on-line at : Historic Enterprises

Monday, July 9, 2007

Gold Work - Yay!

Well, when I walked in the door today, what should be sitting on the kitchen table? My Gold Work kit. YAY! Now all I have to do is go out and get a proper set of needles and a hoop and I'm off and running.

Current Mood: Optimistic


should have known it would happen. For the past week, I've been in a "blue funk" or malaise. I suppose it could be a minor "mid-life" or just a build up of little things. But it has brought me here. Chicken Soup for the soul is a insufficient, flavorless meal, especially when you have the "blahs".

A vacation...HAH...I laugh at the notion of a vacation, besides, I took last week off and right about then, the cloud of malaise descended. I know what started it, but just couldn't shake it.

  • The side saddle fitting not going my way left me in a down mood.
  • My farrier is MIA in the general sense, not in the actual battlefield sense.
  • My gold work kit hasn't arrived and I'd really like to get started on my embroidery project
  • My saddle and tack project is on hold.
  • Had an unpleasant meeting at work; just before vacation.
I'm in a holding pattern for too many things; so it's snowballing. This is my recipe for "the blues". Don't mean to trouble readers, just venting.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Good Time

t's been a while since Phantom and I have just had a good session in the ring where we just kicked around and worked on the really basic stuff. Just riding on the buckle and the pure use of leg and seat.

We're also working on going from direct rein to just neck reining. It was a real joy to work with her Saturday.

Today, Sunday, is Phantom's 9th birthday. To celebrate, it was a day of rest for both Phantom and her pasture-mate Normandie. No saddles, no bridles, just some grazing in the front pasture on fresh green grass and clover, and cookies, lots of Gingersnaps.

There is something very comforting to just stand in a pasture with your equine buddies and just enjoy the blue skies, mild temperature, and just live in the moment; to be.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Getting to be Habit Forming

ell, I don't know why, but I've been bitten by the "embroidery" bug. For the record, I don't embroider, sew, knit, stitch, crochet, or do anything else related to actually making clothing myself. I generally leave that to others with far more experience, time, and inclination than I. However, sometimes you have to do things yourself and head down the road less traveled.

To that end, in order to improve my horse's kit, I've decided that her saddle must have a decorative cloth of gold cover. It's no doubt going to be an ambitious project, but it must be done, much like learning to ride aside.

It is not a task that is undertaken lightly, but the reward will be the satisfaction of knowing that my horse is well dressed. So, I've purchased a small gold work kit to see what I'm getting myself into; hopefully not over my head.

Why not buy a cover? Why all the trouble?

It's all about impression and cotton damask won't cut it, not for this impression. And here's a little excerpt from the:

Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV
Part XX For Th'office of the Stable

Delivered for the covering of a sadelle and an herneys in russet velvet cloth of gold for an hakeney, and a footeclothe maade of russet velvet lyned with blac bokeram, by vertue of a warrant under the Kinges signet and signe manuelle bering date the second day of Septembre in the xx{ti} yere of the moost noble reigne of oure said Souverain Lord the King unto the saide Piers Courteys for the deliveree of the said stuff directe,

Velvet, iij yerdes russet; velvet cloth of gold, ij yerdes di' russet; bokeram longe, v yerdes.

What's the purpose of sharing the excerpt? Well it's contemporary with my portrayal and it specifically notes "cloth of gold" being utilized in the covering of tack. No one that I know of makes authentic cloth of gold, and if they do, it is beyond my income bracket. That means in order for it to be "affordable" to me, I have to pretty much do it myself.

I will be sure to post my progress with the kit as well as the cover design for my mare's saddle.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Getting Medieval - Drill Day

oday, the group is getting together to do something a little different. Today we will be working on an mixed drill; people on foot and working with our two horses. Part of this little exercise is to get my mare used to people in armour. We'll see how this works. It's been awhile since armoured people have been around her.

Still working the side saddle issue. I'll talk more about that in a future post.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Saddle Fitting

urrent mood: disappointed

After spending roughly 3.5 hours trying to find a fit for my mare, we were 'defeated' in the end by her physique.

Lacking pronounced withers, possessing standardbred shoulders, and an incredibly deep hip tilt, the fitter could not find a saddle that would not roll even with the potential added benefit of a breast collar and crupper.

Now my husband's horse was an ideal candidate. However, having him fitted for one is somewhat pointless as our goal was to go to events together and I can't see him riding my horse all the time and me riding his.

I am so totally bummed right now. :-(

But, as they say "never give up", so I am currently doing some investigation to see if there might be something: a combo, a style, that might work on a horse with a body type like my mare. I'll keep y'all posted.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reading for the 'Medieval' Horsewoman

his is a suggested reading list for those riders interested in historical (a.k.a.-"classical") horsemanship. Whilst several of the books pertain to the topic of 'side saddle', several others are about horsemanship in general or its equipment. There are also other books listed here regarding archaeological finds that are relevant to the rider and the accessories and textiles that might make up a medieval riding habit.

I have included two pattern books. The first, 'The Medieval Tailor's Assistant', with which I have personal experience. It is a good book and the author does a good job of providing contemporary images to back up her pattern designs. One of the caveats is that you will have to know something about sewing, and the making of muslins, and have the ability to tweak the patterns to fit your body. The other issue is that you have to be good at metric conversion or fluent in working with metrics patterns. (If not, try this conversion tool.)

The second is the 'Tudor Tailor' with which I have no practical experience. However, it seems to have very high reviews. I have provided it solely as a jump point for women seeking to ride in a Tudor Habit.

Side Saddle:
  • Side-Saddle by Doreen Archer Houblon, London, Country Life (1938)*
  • The Saddle of Queens by Lida Fleitmann Bloodgood, J.A. Allen & Company (1959)
  • The Fair Lady Aside Her Saddles and Habits by Mary L. Thomas, Private Printing (1993)
* Mrs. Houblon's book has been reprinted, but I have been told that the later editions of this book are missing some key bits of information and that if the reader can obtain a copy of the 1938 printing, that it is the book that they should acquire before later editions.

Artifacts and Archaeology:

Horses and Horsemanship:

Pattern Books for Medieval and Renaissance Clothing:

Some of these books are exceptionally hard to find and their prices reflect this fact. I suggest inter-library loan or one of the following book search engines with which I have had tremendous success.

New and Used Book Search Engines:
Bon Chance!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Habit Forming

urrent mood, very happy. I just placed the order for my XVe century girdle (wide belt) for my habit. No, not a nun's habit, my historical riding habit. This is a typical wide belt worn by ladies over their gowns during that time period.

The design I've chosen is based on Rogier Van Der Weyden's portrait of Isabella of Portugal. It will be created by Gina B, a wonderful woman who is a member of the silk women of Soper Lane. These ladies specialise in the weaving of silk as it was done in the 15th century.

Mine will be a lovely checkerboard pattern in red silk. The color is almost like scarlet lake. A red that leans more toward the cool end of the color spectrum. I am currently sourcing the buckle and strap end for this lovely belt. It will be based on a buckle design of another Van Der Weyden painting, "Portrait of a Lady".

The finished example will look something like this example on Gina's web site, except for the color of course, and the fittings will be different.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Upcoming Side Saddle Lesson and Fitting

'm ecstatic. This upcoming weekend, June 16, will be another lesson and a side saddle fitting for my horse.

Fitting Phantom properly has never been an easy task. She has a wide barrel and a long back. Regular saddles even when fitted for her seem to pinch her withers. I suspect that she needs a different type of rigging, that the common girth placement is too close to her shoulders.

I can't wait to see if a nice Circle R side saddle (western style) is going to work for Phantom (and me).

Aborted Lesson

April 15, 2007

It was time for the third side saddle lesson, but alas, it was not meant to be. You know the old poem for the “want of a horseshoe nail the battle was lost”? Well for the want of a screw, the lesson was lost.

Ah, I mean saddle malfunctions.


The lesson started off with great promise. I was actually going to ride a new horse. He was tacked up and we moved into the indoor. Gail mounted and did her regular warm-up ride and girth tightening. Then it was my turn.

When I mounted, the saddle seemed to slide toward me. We tightened the girth again and then Gail and I moved off a few steps, but already I kept moving my seat toward the off side; I halted.

“I feel like I’m sliding.”

After an examination, it was determined that the saddle we were using wasn’t a very good fit for my mount. The padding didn’t help and the saddle was low at the pommel and sinking into the horse’s withers. So wanting to make sure that his experience was as good as mine, I dismounted while Sue brought in the backup saddle.

The backup saddle was placed on the horse’s back and then it was discovered, a screw in the safety stirrup’s attachment was missing. Being that it was only my third lesson and I was on a new horse, I didn’t want to chance not having a stirrup. So, we canceled the lesson for the day.

It is reasons like this that it is very important that new riders work with experienced equestriennes when fitting saddles and for proper instruction. No one is beyond learning something new, no matter how long they’ve ridden. Besides, it’s a sad day when you don’t learn something.

My Second Side Saddle Lesson

ebruary 18, 2007

Took my second lesson this weekend. One word...OUCH.

I was riding a different side saddle that dropped my left hip making me feel like I was sliding off to the left despite the fact that the saddle remained true. So, now my left back muscles are sore and my right leg kept stressing at the hip joint and in the last trot, my right calf cramped because I was compensating for the drop. That and my right leg was working really hard to keep me forward where I needed to be.

The saddle had a longer seat than the previous one I rode on. It apparently makes "A LOT" of difference, also the amount of padding under the right leg. So the riding lesson turned into a valuable "seat" lesson; having the proper saddle for the rider. Both the fitter and the instructor switched to the new saddle thinking it would be more comfortable for me, turned out that the previous one, despite the horn over my left leg being a little tight, and having a shorter seat, was more of an ideal fit.

Despite all this, I still had a blast. I'm still getting used to the "new normal" -- not having my right leg to aid. My grumpy little QH was not as grumpy, though he was still a bit of a pill at times.

I'm hoping to get the chance to try out two Circle R custom saddles ( in the 1.8 - 2.6K range) at my next lesson. I'll let you all know how it goes. In June I will have my mare fitted for a custom side saddle.

My First Side Saddle Lesson

January 21, 2007

There’s an old adage, ‘You’re never too old to learn’. Dom Duarte, King of Portugal (early 15th century) had written in his treatise on horsemanship Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sela, that people could ride no matter their age or ‘infirmity’. And it’s true. Less than a week after my birthday, I’ll let y’all guess which one; my little Stratus was swiftly moving toward Holden Massachusetts, with my husband Bob riding shotgun, for my first side saddle lesson.

It was a bitterly cold day, not unusual for January in New England, but the sky was as bright as my anticipation of my first aside lesson. Nothing short of a blizzard or a nuclear event was going to keep me from my goal. This was something I had to do.

I must have bored poor Bob to death. My excited chatter made the hour long drive seem non-existent, at least for me, and soon I found my car pulling into the narrow driveway of the riding facility that hosted my instructor. We had arrived fifteen minutes early for the noon appointment; this gave me ample time to put on my black Ariat Springbucks and my half chaps. Oh, one tip, never wear thick wool socks with Ariats. I never thought I’d get the zippers up and had to press poor Bob into service to help. The goal was to keep my toes warm, it was January after all.

We sat in the car and waited for the appointed time. I anxiously and repeatedly glanced at the clock, “Come on 12!” At five minutes of, we made our way to the entrance of the facility, helmet bag in one hand, Canon-GL1 in the other, that’s a video camera by the way, if I was going to experience side saddle, vanity demanded that I see how I looked while riding aside. I have to give props to my honey for being the sport that he was and indulging me.

As we walked in, Bob and I were stunned by the narrow aisle and the small stalls, and the seemingly pony-sized horses. Now keep in mind, my mare is 16.1 hands. My husband’s gelding is a strapping young boy of 17 hands. So size is relative. And in that “narrow aisle”, we found Gail, my instructor and Sue, my co-instructor and saddle technician. They were preparing Ben, a cute, but grumpy little quarter horse that would be my lesson partner. This was the second time he had a side saddle on him, so it was going to prove interesting.

My excitement spilled over. Bob and I chatted with Gail and Sue about our horses and experiences, hobbies (living history specifically), my goals and reasons for taking up riding aside and other things. While they were fitting Ben, Sue talked about fit while keeping a weather eye on Ben, who was grumpy about his sides; occasionally threatening a kick while having the girth tightened.

Finally, Gail slipped the bridle over Ben’s muzzle and ears, unclipped him from the cross ties and walked toward the large wooden door at the end of the aisle, “Door!” She called out. “Enter” was the reply from beyond. As the door rumbled open, it revealed the indoor. It was time to ride!

Gail was first up. She wanted to make sure that Ben was warmed up for the lesson and to make sure that the saddle fit him. After all, it wouldn’t do to have me tumble off and making an impact crater in the footing. Normally I wouldn’t be concerned, but did I mention it was January? Things hurt a lot more when it’s cold.

So, I watched Gail make the circuit in both directions, effortlessly, or at least she made it seem so, tightening the girth as she rode. She rode up to the mounting block and dismounted. It was finally my turn. We were to start off at a walk and would work up to a trot. Trot? I wasn’t expecting trot. Trotting astride was one thing, trotting with both legs on the same side...hmmm... sounded risky. A mix of concern and excitement moved me to the mounting block.

Gail demonstrated the safety stirrup. She lifted up the saddle skirt and held the stirrup leather and the iron parallel to the ground, “You want to be careful, this is a safety stirrup, it’s meant to release, so if you pull it up beyond this point” she lifted it slightly above the horizontal, “it will detach.” I gave her my best Mr. Spock dubious, arched eyebrow, to which she added, “That’s a good thing, that’s what it’s supposed to do.”

Before I mounted, I was told that when placing the saddle on the horse, make sure that the saddle was slightly off center toward the off side. That way when the rider mounted, if the saddle slid, it would actually center. It worked.

So, I put my foot in the single safety stirrup, and up I went. I sat astride to properly adjust my seat. Then Gail told me to place my right hand behind me on Ben’s rump and then swing my right leg over the horn and into position. The reason for this is to keep your hips in the proper position. She then gave me some instructions on aids and how to keep my posture and the pressure that I should use with my right calf to keep my purchase on the saddle. As she walked next to me, she would occasionally adjust my left toe.

It was a lot of minor adjustments as I rode; things to remember and apply as we went. Then she asked if I was ready for a brief jog, and then we were off.

In my first post, I addressed the issue of “why” someone would choose to ride in this manner, aside from the historical precedent of long flowing dresses and propriety, the second half of the “why” question was, “isn’t it dangerous?” Well, in all honesty, the art of riding is inherently dangerous. We are not mounted on a bicycle or a motorcycle. We are atop a living creature with a mind and will of its own that does not always comply with ours. However, I do have to agree with Mrs. Houblon’s assessment of physique playing a role in riding aside.


The principles of riding and the ends at which we aim are exactly the same side-saddle as astride. This is a point that I should like to make clear from the beginning. Of course, there are certain details in execution which differ in the two modes of riding, and certain adaptations which have to be made when riding side-saddle; but the broad principles, the principles of balance, poise, suppleness, rhythm, sympathy, firmness of seat, independence of hands, and nicety in the application of the aids, remain the same, and so do the results which we strive to attain.

How, then, are we to decide whether to ride astride or side-saddle?

I think the answer is that it depends on our physique.

There are some women whose physique enables them to ride astride so beautifully that they do not feel it necessary to add riding side-saddle to their other accomplishments. These, however, are in the minority, and to most women I would say ride side-saddle, for it will give them that firmness of seat (the foundation on which rests the whole superstructure of good horsemanship) which, owing to their physique, they would never have astride. After all, the average woman has not got the same muscular strength as the average man; and where, in cases of emergency, the man has to use all his strength to retain his balance, the woman, riding astride, would probably fall off. On the other hand, if she rides side-saddle, she may even succeed in remaining on her horse on occasions when the man, riding astride, would "part company."

I do not say for a moment that it is impossible to fall out of a side-saddle. It is, at times, only too easy! Nevertheless, it is an undoubted fact that a side-saddle can give a woman a far firmer seat than she would ever have astride.

Mrs. Doreen Archer Houblon, Side-Saddle, Chapter 1, pg. 1

To lend some credence to the last statement, at one point, I was unconsciously relying on the stirrup too much and pushing against it with my left foot. This caused my left leg to move too far forward and as I rounded a corner while at a trot, I momentarily, and unwillingly shifted my balance enough to get my undivided attention; you know that feeling. When your stomach suddenly feels like it's the size of a cherry pit; and my mount fell out of the trot. At no point did I feel like I was going to ‘part company’. I have ridden astride most of my life and I have to tell you that I felt more secure on that side saddle than I did riding astride in my Australian stock saddle.

Now, a little something about my physique, I have wide hips and powerful legs. I am certain that these two physical attributes allowed me to stay firmly seated. I was able to ride longer and more comfortably that I had for a long time in an astride saddle. So in the case of my physique in relation to that of my horse, at least for me, means that a side saddle is probably the better choice for me. We will see how this idea bears out over the next few months when I actually try this on my wide barreled mare.

The remainder of my lesson went well. It was an awesome experience that I recommend anyone try at least once.

The dismount is not unlike playing “around the world” on the back of the horse. I turned my body sideways and scooched toward the cantle of the saddle. I raised my right leg over the saddle horns and removed my other foot from the stirrup. Then when I was ready, slid to the ground and the lesson was over.

I can’t wait until my next riding lesson.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Side Saddle: A Novice's Journey

had been thinking about riding aside for a few years, but various reasons, the chief amongst them being the lack of an instructor, brought the idea to an abrupt whoa. Then one day, I don't remember if it was just a moral imperative after looking at a XVe century French manuscript depicting ladies arrayed in damask finery and riding palfreys aside, or a conversation with a friend of mine in our living history crowd, that spurred me on again. Needless to say, I was bitten by the blue tail fly, but instead of being bucked and pitched, I began searching in earnest for an instructor. I had to learn this style of riding.

My introduction to this elegant art of horsemanship began in December of 2006. After various searches, I found the NEA (New England Aside) Association and sent an email to them in hopes that they would have a member who could help me achieve my goal. Within a day, I was contacted by the organization's secretary and a dialog began. The NEA was very helpful and soon, after the long and seemingly fruitless searches, I finally had the name of an accomplished horsewoman not too far from my home that taught ladies the art of riding aside and access to a side saddle technician who was well versed in the history of the saddles and would bring various types of side saddles to my first lesson to show me how to check the fit and introduce me to the parts of the saddle.

Now some of you might be thinking, 'why on earth would anyone want to ride that way, isn't it dangerous?'. Well, read on, because I found myself wondering the same thing...about the dangerous part, but now...let's take a look at the first part of the "why" question.

Why on earth would anyone want to ride that way?

Well, the simplest answer is another question...why not?

Firstly, I am a historical interpreter, when not performing my real job as a UI Designer. My area of interest is XVe century Burgundy and France, that's the 15th century (1400-1499). I normally portray three roles depending on the need of the group. The first is a mounted archer -- this is an archer much akin to how we think of mobile artillery. I ride to the battlefield, dismount and join up with other archers and armed personnel of a Burgundian Lance of the Ordinance Companies of Charles the Bold, Duke of Valois Burgundy (1467 -1477)-- I would normally ride my horse astride for this portrayal. My next role is that of a middle class Burgundian merchant. For this role, I wear a full dress and can ride my horse astride, though this is deemed to be not very ladylike, and unlike the English ladies of Richard II's reign and before, the ladies on the continent had been riding aside for a very long time, as early as 1192 if some of the extant seals of noble women are accurate. My third portrayal is that of a lady of the lower nobility, and it is for these latter two portrayals that I found it necessary to ride aside. In historical re-enactment of the Middle Ages, it is an under represented part of the woman's equestrian portrayal.

The second 'why' has to do with physical issues. I'm about 5'-4" and I ride a 16h mare, who I lovingly refer to as La Belle Dame sans Merci (The beautiful lady without mercy). She is a heavy hunter with a round, wide barrel. This tends to cause knee and back stress for me. During my first lesson (I'll get to that in a future post), one of my instructors told me that a side saddle is a good saddle for relieving some of these issues. By not having to ride with a leg on either side, I don't have to practically split myself in half to ride, thus alleviating the stress across my lower back. Also, since I don't have to wrap my legs around a wine cask (my mare's barrel), I don't cause stress on my knees. So a side saddle has made it possible for people with different levels of physical impairment to be able to pursue riding again or for the very first time. And I have to tell you, that it is a wonderful thing.

So, there you have the 'why' of riding aside and the beginning of my tale. Next, I'll tell you where not to begin.

Side Saddle: Where NOT to Begin

n my previous post, I began with how my journey started, but it brings up another issue. A friend on another side saddle list said that in keeping a journal, people may want to know what went wrong as well, not just the successes. So, I feel obligated to share that with you where not to begin your journey riding aside. It's a little site I like to call...eBay.

I like many others who want to get started in this art, begin by searching eBay for side saddles. While you might find some really interesting saddles at a really good price, I have two in my collection and neither are appropriate for my horses. The early saddles tend to be narrow through the tree and are meant to fit the horses of the time, not our more robust horses. On the reverso, I have two lovely examples of the saddler's art of the late nineteenth century: a Western style and an English style from mid-Pennsylvania that will make wonderful conversation and educational pieces.

The other reason not to just plunge head long into riding aside is that it is a different way of riding. My instructor referred to the posture of riding aside as teaching the body a new "normal". There are nuances to this style of riding that are not readily apparent, even to accomplished riders who ride astride; I whole-heartedly recommend that you find an accomplished horsewoman (or man - yes there are some that teach it) to instruct you in the art of riding aside. Mounting, getting ones seat, correct leg position and posture whilst one rides is paramount. Also, making sure that you have the correct saddle for your horse. This is another reason why I don't recommend eBay side saddle finds that goes beyond mere fit.

If you aren't familiar with this style of riding or the equipment, you can't really judge a good, safe side saddle from a poorly made, dangerous one that can have any of the following issues, cheap leather, a horn in the wrong place, poorly attached tree fittings, etc. These are all ingredients for disaster. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I have to say it, there are people out there who are only interested in monetary gain, and that craftsmanship, that in the Middle Ages would get the saddler fined or expelled from their guild, and have their saddle burned for being shoddy product, doesn't matter to the less scrupulous any more than your personal safety. So go with knowledge and experience over the "too good to be true" deal. Your horse will thank you and it just might save you from taking a nasty spill or worse. Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware).

So, with that out of the way, onto my very first side saddle lesson.