New Zealand women appear to have had a more progressive experience with horses than women in Britain. They had more freedom and independence when it came to riding horses, and often learned to ride as children.
Riding side saddle
At first women rode, and in some cases raced, their horses with side saddles. These required sitting with both legs on the same side of the horse, with one leg secured around a padded peg. Side saddles were restrictive – women generally needed assistance mounting and dismounting, and they wore flowing, cumbersome clothing.
Around 1900 women began to ride cross saddle, at first wearing divided skirts, and later breeches under a knee-length jacket. By 1910 most women were riding astride.
An English newspaper reported on the experiences of a Miss Shaw riding horses on her visit to New Zealand: ‘[T]he great majority ride cross-saddle, and personally, out there I am convinced it is best, as it makes one more independent, and one has a chance of getting on again if one falls off … New Zealand … must be the jolliest country in the world to ride in.’ 1
Māori women also took up riding and participated in races, where they were the first women in the country to ride astride. In a ‘wahines race’ held in Waikato during the 1890s, the women rode cross saddle, tying their gowns to their ankles.