Collection: Orléans Museum of Fine Arts © RMN-Grand Palais.

Deruet Claude, L’Air, circa 1640-1641

Women in the upper social classes have always had a relative amount of access to horse riding, if only as transport. The sidesaddle position took more than a millennium to develop. In Antiquity, women sat on a horse as on a seat, with both legs hanging from the same side of their horses. Uncomfortable, this position only allowed them ride at a walk. In the Middle Ages, women kept the same position, but sat behind a rider they held by the waist. They could also sit on a "sambue", a more or less padded packsaddle with a board to put their feet on. A man on foot or horseback then guided their mount. In the 16th century, the first sidesaddle began to emerge and offer female riders greater independence.