The Latest Show Jumping and Hunter News
Alexandra Lynch
December 2, 2014
Sidesaddle Jumper Susan Oakes Proves Brave Enough
By Alexandra Lynch
Tuesday, December 2, 2014 :: Posted 11:48:13 AM EST

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© Nicola Coffey:
 Susan Oakes and SIEC Atlas soaring over the 6.75 wall. Photo by Nicola Coffey

When Irish rider Susan Oakes saw a photo of a sidesaddle jumper with the caption, ‘Are you brave enough?’ she took it as a personal challenge and went on to break two world records, jumping 6.5ft over the triple bar and 6.75ft over the puissance wall. Learn more about how Susan rose to the top on the side. We hope you enjoy this revealing conversation.

When did you start riding?

My parents are keen horse people and hunted at least two days a week. So, when I was born, I was placed on a horse. I have pictures of me as a tiny baby, sitting on a horse in the yard. I started riding sidesaddle at age four. I rode my pony and donkey sidesaddle and progressed over the years.

How did you transition to sidesaddle?

It was strange at first, sitting on the left hand side of my pony and quite bouncy. There was no rising trot! I would still hunt some of the horses astride, so I was always able to ride in both saddles. Every week, I would ride in a traditional saddle, a racing saddle and a sidesaddle.

© Nicola Coffey:
Susan Oakes showing excitement after grabbing the world record. Photo by Nicola Coffey

How did it all get started?

I found an old sidesaddle in the tack room when I was four and was amazed! I had seen pictures of my ancestors hunting sidesaddle and loved the elegant look.

Did you start sidesaddle with the intention of jumping?

I started just to see what it was like and to look pretty. I started to become more confident and a little bit braver as time went on. Then, I realized my balance was good, so I started jumping.

How did your horses first respond to the sidesaddle? Were there any particular issues?

The show jumpers that I have had have jumped at a very high level internationally and I was lucky enough to be able to get them to do the job that I needed. They had never ridden sidesaddle before me. I did have an issue when trying to find a saddle that worked for them because I really needed to find a short and lightweight saddle for them to release behind. They were all used to having a fantastic astride saddle. That was probably the hardest thing for me to overcome.

© Nicola Coffey:
SIEC Oberon and Susan Oakes taking on the triple bar. Photo by Nicola Coffey

When you think sidesaddle, you certainly don’t think high-jump records and show jumping. How did that thought process work?
I started jumping sidesaddle to see what it was like and then hunted for years. One day, they had an Irish Hunt Horse competition and there was a bullfinch fence that was close to seven feet tall. When I went toward the fence on my hunter, he tried to jump over it instead of going through it.  He went close to the very top. I knew that day that I could definitely set a record. Then, on Facebook, I saw a picture of a lady back in 1915, jumping a triple bar sidesaddle, with the caption 'are you brave enough?' I took it as a personal challenge and started training harder.

What do you think the different challenges are in jumping sidesaddle as compared to jumping in a regular showjumping saddle?
There are definitely more risks involved in jumping in a sidesaddle because it is very different. You see the fence differently when you come around the corner, when you are sitting on the side of the horse rather than with legs on both sides. When you are riding traditionally, you can see the stride and push them more into the contact or get them into a better stride up to the jump. When you are riding sidesaddle, you can’t adjust the stride, you have to go on what’s given. It is a lot harder. When you ride into any fence on a traditional saddle, you get a good feel of the horse underneath you. When you’re riding sidesaddle, you don’t feel the same.

© Nicola Coffey:
SIEC Atlas and Susan Oakes showcasing how tall 6.75 really is. Photo by Nicola Coffey

Who do you train with?
My coach is Paraic Geraghty. He was assistant Chef de Equipe for the Ireland showjumping team for eight years and then managed the Turkish showjumping team before returning home to coach me. Paraic never saw anyone ride sidesaddle before and I had never shown jumpers before. It was a huge challenge for both of us. He has been an amazing help, not only with my showjumping, but also my point-to-point riding. He has also helped me find the best horses for the job. 

What are your riding plans and goals for the future?

My dream is to set a new record over the puissance wall sidesaddle at 7ft in the United States and also be the first lady rider to jump 7ft 4 astride.

Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.

Thank you so much. I am so excited you got in touch. I look forward to seeing it up on the website.

Watch Susan's World Record Ride



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