The Ladies’ Equestrian Guide, 1857

In 1857, compelled by a perceived lack of literature on the subject, Mrs. J. Stirling Clarke authored The Ladies’ Equestrian Guide as a succinct manual to riding for women. The book is thoroughly a product of its time, and focuses on the proprieties of Victorian horsemanship. Nevertheless, the work is an insight into the practical challenges that faced female riders in the middle of the 19th Century.

"Amongst the most exquisite productions of ancient taste, and art, is a gem, engraved with Cupid ridin on a lion, illustrating the power and majesty of love in subjecting the fiercest to his control. Charming as is the emblem, and beautiful the design, which has been admired through the ages, it may yet be questioned, whether a graceful woman managing a noble steed does not present a finer picture of power over-ruled by gentleness."
“Amongst the most exquisite productions of ancient taste, and art, is a gem, engraved with Cupid riding on a lion, illustrating the power and majesty of love in subjecting the fiercest to his control. Charming as is the emblem, and beautiful the design, which has been admired through the ages, it may yet be questioned, whether a graceful woman managing a noble steed does not present a finer picture of power over-ruled by gentleness.”

If the you can look beyond the florid reflections peculiar to the literature of that era, you’ll find many solid pointers on riding in the text. Mrs. Clarke finds riding to be excellent exercise and of great value to promote health and provide leisure. Much practical advice is given to the reader on the manner of dress, selection of horse, saddle, bridle, seat, and much more.

"Frequently in the desire of bringing back the hands to their proper position, the elbows are shifted to the right, the right one being forced outward, and the shoulder on the same side unduly elevated, imparting the most awkward and -- a short distance off -- even deformed appearance of the rider."
“Frequently in the desire of bringing back the hands to their proper position, the elbows are shifted to the right, the right one being forced outward, and the shoulder on the same side unduly elevated, imparting the most awkward and — a short distance off — even deformed appearance of the rider. (Illustration C)”

The latter stages of the book offer a fascinating development: instructions on galloping, leaping, and advice for women to join the hunting field. In 1857, women were more regularly found riding to hounds (although not always accepted in the sport); although Mrs. Clarke doesn’t embrace jumping with enthusiasm, it is mainly due to its dangers than to a philosophy about femininity. Mrs. Clarke is very practical in her approach, stressing best practices that promote safe sport.

"Upon the principle of practicing what one preaches, I have always felt a delicacy in giving my own opinion on the question of ladies hunting; for having, in my younger days, indulged much in the sport (of which I was enthusiastically fond), to dissuade ladies from engaging in it, except in particular instances, is a counsel which may be little attended to from lips of mine."

“Upon the principle of practicing what one preaches, I have always felt a delicacy in giving my own opinion on the question of ladies hunting; for having, in my younger days, indulged much in the sport (of which I was enthusiastically fond), to dissuade ladies from engaging in it, except in particular instances, is a counsel which may be little attended to from lips of mine.”

This is one of over 100 books available to purchase through the NSLM Annual Auction. The Annual Auction, composed of duplicates from the Library collections, will continue until November 8. This year’s Auction includes some lovely sporting art and is perfect for holiday shopping; contact John Connolly, the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian for more information.

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