Are you writing a fantasy novel with a strong heroine? Does she ride horses? Depending on the time period you’ve chosen and the details of your world, your heroine may be riding sidesaddle. So what exactly can a sidesaddle rider do compared to someone riding astride?
It depends on the time period.
In the Middle Ages, sidesaddles were little more than primitive seats, sometimes with a footrest, that allowed a woman to sit on a horse but not to control it or be able to handle bumpy gaits like the trot. Usually someone else had to lead the horse. Because sidesaddle riding was so precarious, Palfreys became popular with noble women–these were smaller horses with ambling gaits instead of trots (think today’s Paso Fino or Peruvian Paso).
In the 16th century (end of the Middle Ages), the sidesaddle began to evolve to a more practical design, and by the 18th century we had this.
This is a far more functional design. The rider’s right leg hooks over the horn, and the left leg is in the stirrup and wedged beneath that little hook below the horn. This is stable, and the rider can gallop and even take jumps in this saddle.
That said, sidesaddle riding is still more precarious and requires more talent from the rider than astride riding. Think of the sidesaddle rider like Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.
The sidesaddle rider has no leg on the right side of the horse, and therefore cannot cue the horse with that leg. A riding crop is normally used as a substitute for the missing leg, or in western riding, sometimes the long end of the reins are used.
Riding the trot is more difficult sidesaddle than astride, because posting is very challenging. Most sidesaddle riders sit the trot rather than post it.
Horse enthusiasts have preserved many old styles of riding, including sidesaddle, and here is a video demonstrating both English and Western sidesaddle riding. There’s some loud music accompanying it which you can mute or turn down if you don’t want to listen to it.
There is sidesaddle riding from 0:48 through 1:05, 1:44 through 2:00, and 2:15 to 2:25.