Bar U clinic offers lady-like riding style

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 02, 2014 07:18 am

Turner Valley resident Charis Cooper rides Peppi across Pekisko Creek at a sidesaddle clinic at the Bar U Ranch. Cooper is one of about 25 expected to participate in the sidesaddle parade at the Bar U Ranch on July 6 at 1 p.m.
Turner Valley resident Charis Cooper rides Peppi across Pekisko Creek at a sidesaddle clinic at the Bar U Ranch. Cooper is one of about 25 expected to participate in the sidesaddle parade at the Bar U Ranch on July 6 at 1 p.m.
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Ladies from across North America are getting back in the sidesaddle.

The Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada is devoting a weekend to teaching the traditional equestrian art of riding sidesaddle July 4 to 6.

“It’s a traditional feminine art,” said Mike McLean, the Bar U Ranch acting site manager. “Essentially you’re sitting with one leg bent in front of you on the same side as the leg on the stirrup and you have to remain straight to the horse and have a nice straight back.”

Twenty-five riders from across Canada and the United States will spend three days learning to master an equestrian art that dates back to the 1400s.

He said some will learn the basics including getting on the horse, sitting properly and handling the horse while others will take part in more advanced lessons like show jumping.

Visitors at the Bar U Ranch can watch the clinic in progress. On July 5 there will be demonstrations and talks about sidesaddles and the following day the riders will parade around the site at 1 p.m., said McLean.

“The parade does draw a lot of spectators because that’s when everybody is dressed up and showing off what they learned for the weekend,” he said. “The parade is interesting because you will see various styles of dress for sidesaddle – the traditional English dress with a jacket and apron covering the legs, western style with a split skirt, cowboy hat and western boots.”

The first sidesaddle clinic was held at the Bar U Ranch in 2009 and a sidesaddle demonstration in 2011. McLean said the event was cancelled last year due to damage the ranch sustained during the flood. He is glad to bring it back this year.

“It’s nice to rediscover your roots again,” he said. “It’s a very elegant feeling. It’s a wonderful way to dress up. It’s a different form of riding. Women tend to feel a little special to have that guy on the ground helping you and to get all dressed up.”

Eighty-four-year-old Turner Valley resident Charis Cooper has been riding sidesaddle for 25 years and participated in the Bar U Ranch sidesaddle clinics from the start.

Cooper can’t join this weekend’s clinic because her 28-year-old horse Peppi won’t be able to handle a weekend of work, but she plans to join the parade on July 6.

“I just enjoy being able to ride and showing off for people,” she said. “People are quite happy to see you doing this. People kind of gasp and look.”

Cooper started riding sidesaddle on a dare during the 50th anniversary of the Millarville races at the Millarville Racetrack.

Cooper, a member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Association of Western Canada, said she felt silly riding amongst the younger riders in her western outfit and decided to try something a little different – riding sidesaddle.

She now rides sidesaddle in various parades across southern Alberta and British Columbia including Airdrie, Okotoks, Black Diamond and the Calgary Stampede.

Cooper also participated in sidesaddle demonstrations at the Calgary Stampede and Spruce Meadows.

“Now it’s really becoming quite popular,” she said. “When they first started (riding sidesaddle) they would sit aside and a groom would lead them. Women got braver and pretty soon they are jumping and hunt and the whole thing.”

To learn more go to www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ab/baru/index.aspx


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