Jinks Bryer has a yoda like presence. She is undoubtedly a master of her art and although small in size has an almighty strength of personality, booming voice but ultimately very kind nature. She is the daughter of Betty Skelton, the celebrated doyenne of sidesaddle (President of the Sidesaddle Association for 30 years, until her death at 96) and leading sidesaddle trainer of the last century. Jinks’s daughter Lucinda Sims has ridden in the British team and now judges and teaches sidesaddle; her son Will Bryer is a legend in the foxhunting world and is Huntsman and Master of The Cattistock. Jinks lives in Dorset where she is known far and wide as an institution and has taught pretty much everyone locally under the age of 40 to ride.
“At the age of 17 my mother (Betty Skelton) was told by her father (then a Master of the Ashford Vale Hunt) that no daughter of his would ever ride astride. So he saddled her horse with a sidesaddle and sent her off hunting”.
Jinks started riding sidesaddle because she was very small and needed to have more control. “I always showed and hunted sidesaddle. Often people would ask me to hunt their horses sidesaddle because it made them easier to sell, so I would arrive at the meet with my sidesaddle and just put it on and off we went.”
I asked Jinks if she could give Martha (Sitwell) and me a lesson, we were thrilled when she agreed.
Jinks’s lesson began with a warm up exercise:
“Lift your shoulders, bring them up to your ears and drop them down, so the whole of you is lifted, sit tall, and comfortable and elegant. Keep your left hip forward, tight into the leaping head. Head up and shoulders soft”
And the lesson continued:
“SO MANY PEOPLE TEACH YOU RIGHT SHOULDER BACK BUT IT’S LEFT SHOULDER FORWARD.” She says. “REMEMBER….TITS AND TIARA!” booming across the school at us. “The poise is so important when riding sidesaddle. Sit up straight with your core strength through the diaphragm. Look up and never look left.” With a tinkle in her eye she exclaims, “IF SOMEONE COMES UP TO YOU OUT HUNTING AND TRIES TO TALK TO YOU ON THE NEAR SIDE, DON’T TALK TO THEM, BECAUSE THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY VERY IGNORANT!! “ Martha and I chuckled…..Jinks continued, “I always adjust the rider’s position according to their own conformation, which plays as much importance as the horse’s conformation.” (Apparently Martha has short arms so needs a long rein. I however am more monkey like and don’t need such a long rein.)
“Don’t let the end of your reins wrap around the front of your knee. If a horse is pulling you out hunting it will pull your knee out. Let the end of your reins fall on the off side”
Martha is looking down and caught unawares. Jinks bellows, “Look up Martha, only suburban riders look down!” “KNOW YOU LOOK ELEGANT, KNOW YOU LOOK PRETTY, DON’T LOOK DOWN FOR IT!”
“THE WHOLE ART OF RIDING SIDESADDLE IS SITTING STRAIGHT AND NEVER EVER TROT SIDESADDLE! In my day nobody trotted sidesaddle. NO ONE WANTS TO SEE SOMEONE RIDING SIDESADDLE AT A BUTCHER BOY’S TROT, IT CREATES TERRIBLE UDDER JUDDER!!!!” Crumbs we now had the giggles so much so we practically fell off. Jinks continued unfazed by our outburst, “All lady hunters were taught to canter at a hound jog pace, it was always walk to canter and canter to walk. NEVER TROT! They were also never galloped on the left leg as it unbalanced the horse and unbalanced the rider. A sidesaddle horse should only lead on the right leg.” “ONLY SCHOOL FROM THE VOICE AND ALWAYS ON THE RIGHT REIN. RIDING SIDESADDLE IS ABOUT TELEPATHY NOT AIDS.”
Jinks starts to create a fence for us to jump. “Going into a fence jam your left leg forward and your toes together (top toe to bottom toe) gripping the leaping head and keep your left shoulder forward – holding on to the balance strap with your right hand if it helps – or have a long neck strap that you can grab.” We jump the fence too slowly and my horse chips in a short one making the jump very uncomfortable. Next time round Jinks gets me going at a faster pace and this time we hit it on the right stride and the experience is much better. “A BIG FENCE IS EASIER TO JUMP THAN A SMALL ONE”. Somehow she is right. A long smooth leap is much easier to sit than a short bunny hop. Soon we are jumping a course, but what seems vital is that the horse lands on the right leg, otherwise it creates a jolt forward on landing.
We call it a day after doing a few more walk to canter and canter to walk transitions. It’s amazing how easy it is to pick up bad habits when you don’t have someone on the ground to point it out. We certainly WONT be talking to men on our near side any more!!!!