‘Downton Abbey’ side saddle craze aids Barrow business

Sarah Parry rides side saddle at one of the local shows. (s)
Sarah Parry rides side saddle at one of the local shows. (s)
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A Victorian tradition revived by popular TV drama Downton Abbey is helping one Ribble Valley businesswoman ride to success.

The owner of A Bit on the Side, Sarah Parry’s modern day side saddle has taken the industry by storm.

Back in vogue for the first time in several decades, women have ridden side saddle for years and it was particular popular in Victorian times when women rode side saddle to protect their modesty.

Although disliked by the Suffragettes, who saw it as a symbol of male domination, riding aside gave Victorian women the ability to ride alongside men on the hunting field at a time when they were severely restricted in what they were allowed to do.

And recently a new, mostly female, generation is reviving the riding style with businesses such as Sarah’s putting on displays to try to dispel the discipline’s staid image.

Of course, the popularity of Downton has done nothing, but help to encourage interest in the side saddle’s revival.

Sarah (38), who runs the business from her home at Barrow, near Clitheroe, said that she “always notices” when Downton Abbey is back on TV. The fictional heroine of the Julian Fellowes drama rides “aside”.

“It’s always on a Monday morning that I get more inquiries,” Sarah explained.

“I have been riding side saddle due to a serious back injury for eight years and two years ago turned my hobby into a business.”

“I try as many ways as possible for people, men, women, able bodied, disabled to try side saddle,” added Sarah, who also helps Riding for the Disabled.

One of her saddles has been for a Para Olympic rider Barbara Minneci, with specially fabricated parts to accommodate the rider.

Sarah also has one customer with arthritis in her hip and she uses one of Sarah’s saddles for jumping and showing. It is the only newly made “off side” saddle that has been made for decades.

Through her business, Sarah designs and sells modern equipment, from the first ever “machine-washable” riding outfit, known as a habit, to one of the few new saddles that are made today called Melody.

And due to her joining the Side Saddle Association she won best newcomer to the Area18 Side Saddle Association 2014.

Sadly, Sarah lost her horse, Molly Malone, on whom she is pictured here, in August, which is why this award is specially important to her.

The Side Saddle Association will stage its 40th year celebration this year at Aintree racecourse from May 9th to 10th with Sarah all set to attend with saddles and kit new and vintage.

Sarah is looking for backing to fund new saddle tree moulds to be made so she can meet the demand. Her waiting list is deep into Autumn 2015. Her saddles are hand made in Europe and the innovative tree is something the Victorians would be proud of.

Sarah has taken her side saddles to local shows riding at Great Harwood and Todmorden shows where her two daughters Esme (five), who attends Barrow Primary School and Rosie (two), who attends First Class Childcare at Barrow, were delighted when they, and horse Molly, dressed as the characters Anna, Elsa and reindeer Sven from the hit children’s film Frozen.

Married to Rob (37), a graphic and website designer at Nelson and Colne College, Sarah was a clothing designer by trade, but after being made redundant and suffering her back injury, her riding side saddle hobby became her business.

Sarah at Great Harwood Show and Todmorden 2014 shows. Photos by Rob Parry. (s)

Barrow businesswoman Sarah Parry on her late horse Molly Malone. (s)

Sarah with her two daughters dressed as Anna and Elsa from the film Frozen and horse Molly as reindeer Sven. (s)