Stacey riding her Arabian Stock Horse, Troika Widgie Bar, in the Australian Arabian Championships. Photo: Glenys Lilley, Foxwood Photography

BROADFORD resident Stacey Rusic is a ‘vintage’ lover; everything from fashion, lifestyle and the traditional style for a woman to ride a horse.

Her love for earlier periods of time allowed her to stumble across side-saddle horse riding. A style of riding that she has now been involved in for eight years.

“I don’t know where the fascination with side-saddle came from. I always joke and tell people I was born in the wrong era … I love vintage,” Rusic said.

Side-saddle riding involves the woman keeping both her legs on one side of the horse rather than riding astride. The style dates back to as early as the 14th century, when originally it was seen as a way to preserve a woman’s modesty and uphold a proper level of decency.

The idea overshadowed the practical reasoning of riding side-saddle; women would wear long, heavy skirts making it quite uncomfortable for them to ride astride even if they tried.

Rusic said she was questioned many times why she would be so interested in a form of riding that lessened a woman rather than hold her equal to a man.

However with some explanation, and understanding the development of side-saddle, people realise the style of riding allows women to be equal.

“Side-saddle was one of the first liberations for a female to be equal and to do the same things a male could do,” Rusic said.

“The design of the saddle evolved over the years, to allow the woman to become equal and do everything the man could.

“It’s not like men were just letting the women sit on the horse; the saddle-makers were constantly making saddles comfortable enough for women to ride.

“So it’s funny the misconception that we’re stepping back in time or it’s holding a woman back, when it’s really such the opposite.

“When you explain that to people, they go ‘hey you’re right’, and understand the style so much more.”

Rusic has been riding horses since she was able to walk.

Growing up however in the suburbs, she was limited to the amount of riding she could achieve simply because there was no space for her to keep a horse.

Riding all the time was a luxury Rusic was unable to achieve, making it extra special when she was able to ride a horse.

It wasn’t until Rusic was living near Wangaratta that she researched side-saddle riding and what was available in Australia.

“I found that there are only two qualified side-saddle riders in Australia; one in New South Wales and one in Queensland,” she said.

To become a qualified side-saddle instructor, Rusic had the choice of traveling to New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States.

“So I went over to New Zealand to sit my side-saddle exams to start the process of becoming a side saddle instructor myself,” she said.

Rusic’s training had been altered over the past 12 months as both Australia and New Zealand put in place strict border closures during the coronavirus pandemic.

She was given special approval from the United States to be able to continue her training remotely.

During this time, the UK, US and New Zealand realised that it wouldn’t be any time soon that Rusic, and others qualifying in side-saddle riding, would be able to travel freely to complete their education.

Side-saddle organisations have since become more accommodating Rusic said.

“It was quite difficult already when I was face to face with a side-saddle instructor. I noticed all the bad habits that I had picked up along the way … it was obviously then even more difficult [during the pandemic] when we were limited to what travel we could.

Completing my qualification online has been really helpful,” she said.

In early March, Rusic competed at the Australian Arabian National Championships at Boneo Park, in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

With the limited opportunity to compete in a side-saddle show, Rusic had to wait to compete at the Australian Arabian National Championships until she had an Arabian-bred horse.

“I’ve not been very fortunate in the sense that there aren’t many side-saddle classes around to compete in. There aren’t many places to do it and be able to do it with an equal playing field and compete against other side-saddle riders,” she said.

“Because [Australia doesn’t] have a national side-saddle show, the only class or association that offers it is the Australian Arabian, but I couldn’t compete there as I never had a horse of Arabian breeding … until this year I bought a horse of Arabian breeding and I was able to then enter.”

Going into the day, Rusic expected to come up against three other riders. However at the last minute; all three withdrew from the competition making her the only competitor.

In equestrian competition, if the rider is the only competitor in a class, the judges do not have to give them a placing or title purely because they are the only one riding.

Riders still must demonstrate that they are worthy of placing.

“It’s happened a few times where I am competing against myself , and therefore given a ‘default’ win, which is probably a bad way to look at it,” she said.

“It makes it hard on the scale of a national title, but anyone has the capacity of entering the class and are well in their rights to decide whether they right on the day or not.

“It feels good knowing that all those hard years of doing what I do by myself is being recognised with a national title. I wouldn’t have been awarded the title if the judges didn’t think I was deserving of first place.”

Rusic hopes her love of side saddle riding will be able to rub off on those she teaches, including children who are apart of pony club.

As a part of Rusic’s business, Same Side Saddle, she goes out to pony clubs to teach the children how to ride; with so much interest that she is booked out for the next 12 months.

“I specialise in teaching kids at pony club. The club will book me and on the day I’ll head out to the rally, teach the kids some theory and then saddle up the horses with a side-saddle. It’s something they would probably never get to do or experience,” she said.

“The first time you jump in a side-saddle is the most exhilarating feeling. It just feels so different, but it feels so familiar. It’s a hard feeling to describe.

“By teaching more, and trying to get people involved in the discipline, it will only have more people interested and becoming involved.”