Gabi Hirschsprung riding side saddle
Horse riding is still an esoteric sport in Israel but for Gabi Hirschsprung it's not just her profession and a way of life but has given her the opportunity to do something nobody else can do here – ride sidesaddle.
For most people riding sidesaddle conjures up photos of the queen inspecting the Trooping the Color in one of those ceremonial performances the Brits do to attract gawping tourists. For Gabi however, riding sidesaddle is something she always dreamed of doing. She never did because it requires special training and special equipment. According to Gabi, who runs the Raanana Riding Club, there are only 600 women in the world who ride sidesaddle.
What is the big attraction?
"Women look better when riding sidesaddle," explains Gabi who came here from Holland fifteen years ago and lives in Kadima with her husband. "It's noble, aristocratic and it's a challenge to be able to jump hurdles or gallop while riding side-saddle."
Gabi emphasizes that even if no-one is watching her she likes to ride sidesaddle on one of the ten horses she keeps in her stables. "I like to feel elegant, and wearing a hat and veil add to the great feeling," she says. For riding sidesaddle women also wear what look like long full skirts which are actually faked, as all the material is in the front. "They are called 'aprons' and are made of a thick heavy material so your skirt won't ride up in your face," explains Gabi. She points out that no rider is attached to her horse by any kind of belt, and staying on is a matter of natural balance. "It would be very dangerous to be tied on because if you fall you want to get away, you don't want 500 kilo of horse falling on top of you."
Ever since she was a small child growing up in Holland she was always crazy about horses and although she never had her own, she worked in a stables in order to be able to ride. When she first arrived in Israel horse riding was not high on many children's wish list. "There were a few riding schools, mostly based on kibbutzim where the upkeep of the horses would be taken care of, but today there isn't a city in Israel that doesn't have its own riding stables," she says. "Yes, it's still an expensive sport because keeping horses and ponies requires a large outlay."
Saddles have to be imported and for her sidesaddle Gabi brought over a master saddler from England who spent three days in Israel fitting a saddle for her favorite horse. The saddle which she bought on the Internet never fitted properly and for dressage and show jumping it had to be a perfect fit. These events are organized by the Israel Equestrian Organisation and are very popular.
She is now working on establishing the Israel Sidesaddle Association to promote the sport in Israel. "Maybe there are some religious ladies out there who always dreamed of riding a horse but felt it wasn't modest to spread their legs in tight breeches to ride cross-saddle. They can try it out, with no one watching – and even wear a skirt and veil if they choose." You can watch Gabi in action if you Google 'Israel Sidesaddle Organization,' riding her beloved English thoroughbred horse Geisha.
Mixed in with my admiration at her grace and elegance was the thought that kept intruding – how on earth does she stay on?