Horseback Etiquette For a Gentleman Riding With a Lady

Horseback etiquette could not be overlooked when a gentleman escorted a lady riding her horse, even though such an activity was considered one of the most exhilarating amusements and enjoyable activities of the nineteenth century. That was partly because proper etiquette infused every part of people’s lives in the 1800s and affected women like Madame Récamier, Madame Tussaud, and Eliza de Feuillide. It was required at balls, when visiting friends, or when sitting down to eat.

Riding Couples in 1882 at Uppsala Castle, horseback etiquette

Riding couples in 1882 at Uppsala Castle. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When it came to horseback riding it was noted that was “calculated to develop the physical health and animal spirits, [and] nothing is more conducive to pleasure of a rational character, than the ride on horseback … every pleasant day.”[1] To accomplish such a goal a gentleman was to be punctual and then ensure everything about the horse was proper. He was also to arrive “at the appointed hour, and not keep the lady waiting for him [when she was] clad in her riding costume.”[2]

Horseback etiquette dictated that it was also a gentleman’s duty to see that a lady’s horse was a proper one. The horse was to be one that she could readily manage. He was also to personally check her saddle and bridle to ensure they were secure and was adamantly noted in The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness written in 1873:

“The saddle and girths should be tested to see if they are firm, the stirrup leather examined, … the tongue of the buckle … and most particularly the bridle, curb, headstall, and reins should be carefully and thoroughly examined, for on them depends the entire control of the horse. These examinations should never be left to the stablehelps.”[3]

Besides being punctual and checking the horse and all riding equipment, a gentleman needed to help a lady mount her horse. This was accomplished by having her stand as close as possible on the left side of the horse, “with her skirts gathered in her left hand, her right hand upon the pommel, and her face toward the horse’s head.”[4] The gentleman was to stand at the horse’s shoulder, face the lady, and stoop to either steady the stirrup or position his hands together so that the lady could place her foot in his hands. Then as she sprang up, the gentleman was to gently lift her and help “her in gaining the saddle. The gentleman … [then] put her foot in the stirrup, smooth[ed] the skirt of her riding habit, and [gave] her the reins and her riding whip.”[5]

Woman Riding Side Saddle in Her Riding Habit 1801, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Woman riding side saddle in her riding habit 1801. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the ride, a gentleman was to abide by certain customs and rules. He was to “open all gates and pay all tolls on the road.”[6] He was also to ride on the lady’s right side. Even when riding with two or more ladies, a gentleman’s position was always to the right “unless one of them need[ed] his assistance or request[ed] his presence.”[7] At the same time, a gentleman was not to ride “in advance of the lady, but always a little in the rear, yet constantly near enough for … a chat.”[8]

A gentleman, was also to “offer all courtesies of the road.”[9] This meant that he was expected to “yield the best and shadiest side to the ladies [even if it was the right side of the road].”[10] Most importantly, he was never to determine the pace, that was up to the lady, and it was considered “ungenerous to urge her or incite her horse to a faster gait than she [might feel] … competent to undertake.”[11]

The ride was supposed to be pleasant and agreeable according to horseback etiquette, and it was up to the gentleman to ensure the woman enjoyed the ride. It was suggested the gentleman “consult her wishes in all things and take no risks, as he is responsible for her safety.”[12] It was also the gentleman’s responsibility to ensure an agreeable ride “by the pointing out objects of interest with which she may not be acquainted … [provide] reference of any peculiar beauty of landscape which may have escaped her notice, and [speak in] a general lively tone of conversation.”[13] If the woman was a new or a timid rider, such tactics were claimed to “render her excursion much more agreeable than if she be left to imagine horrors whenever her horse may prick up his ears or whisk his tail.”[14]

Elizabeth of Austria in Her Riding Habit 1884, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Elizabeth of Austria in her riding habit 1884. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There were also rules and customs that needed to be observed when riding in public places according to horseback etiquette. For instance, it was customary and “correct to pass to the right, and to overtake to the left.”[15] Foot passengers always had the right of way “under all circumstances.” If a gentleman on horseback met a lady walking, he was expected to alight, and remain on foot while talking with her. Additionally, a lady was not supposed to ride within city limits without an escort. If she was forced to do so, she was expected to “be seen as little as possible upon the more public thoroughfares.”[16] Therefore that meant that she was to reach her destination by the most secluded routes.

Horseback etiquette noted that after the ride, the gentleman was expected to assist the lady in dismounting. To accomplish this, a lady was to “free her knee from the pommel, and be certain that her habit [was] entirely disengaged [before attempting to alight].”[17] The gentleman was to take her left hand in his right hand, provide his left hand as a step, and once her foot was placed in his hand, lower his hand slowly, “keep[ing] a firm hand, for a sinking foot-hold will diminish the confidence of a lady in her escort.”[18] Then the gentleman was to help the lady “reach the ground gently without springing.”[19] Apparently, many ladies when riding alone would spring from the saddle, but the advice was not to do so:

“[T]his generally confuses the gentleman and is dangerous to the lady, for the horse may move at the instant she springs, which would inevitably throw her backward and might result in a serious injury.”[20]


  • [1] Beadles Dime Book of Practical Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, 1859, p. 62.
  • [2] Houghton, Walter Raleigh, Rules of Etiquette & Home Culture, 1893, p. 115.
  • [3] Hartley, Cecil B., The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, 1873, p. 116.
  • [4] Young, John H., Our Deportment, Or, The Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society, 1879, p. 173.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 174.
  • [8] Beadles Dime Book of Practical Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, p. 62.
  • [9] Houghton, Walter Raleigh, p. 114.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Young, John H., p. 174.
  • [12] Beale, Charles E. and etal., eds., Gately’s Universal Educator, 1883, p. 27.
  • [13] Hartley, Cecil B., p. 162.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Houghton, Walter Raleigh, p. 114. 
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Young, John H., p. 174. 
  • [18] Hartley, Cecil B., p. 160.
  • [19] Houghton, Walter Raleigh, p. 119.
  • [20] Hartley, Cecil B., p. 162.

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