Sissi on horseback

The painting above depicts Elisabeth of Austria a.k.a. Sissi taking a stile in style, sidesaddle (à la Auntie Mame). If you’re quick you can put a bid on it; the painting is included in a fine art auction in Cambridge today and tomorrow. It’s not to be confused with another equestrian portrait of the empress, which was found hidden in an Irish kennel.

Sissi was renowned as one of the best horsewomen of her age, bringing to hunting and riding the manic energy and singlemindedness she brought to all her passions. She would drive her mount faster and faster, often leaving other members of her party thrown and wounded in their attempts to keep up. The empress, who courted oblivion as if it were a reluctant paramour, called one of her horses “Nihilist”.

Below, other depictions of Sissi on horseback.



  1. butterscotchclouds

    It’s an image I’ve seen before, but I just now noticed how every man in the picture of the Empress with the fan over her face is looking in any direction but hers! Oh, to literally rule over others.

  2. How on earth did she ride with that long black velvet gown trailing behind? didn’t it snag on every bush?

    • Amazing, but true. Women did ride like that. And sometimes when they fell off the skirts remained attached to the forks of the sidesaddle which was really rather dangerous. By Sisi’s day the skirts were getting shorter and were often actually aprons (they wore trousers underneath) with loops to keep them securely over the feet. Some people were anti-safety-apron because they thought they would be whisked away by branches and leave a lady’s legs exposed.

      There is something very dandyish about side-saddle in that era. You look effing fantastic but if you fall off you’re toast.

      • She knows what she’s talking about people! Behold the elegance and marvel at the equine erudition.

      • Glenn van Nijevelt

        Actually riding side saddle is more secure than riding astride. This is simply because you can grip front to back with a side saddle leap horn. On astride position you can only grip left to right (or right to left).

        I am a male rider, but I learn to ride side saddle. The most difficult part for me is keeping the shoulder on the same position as the horse’s shoulder, especially when cantering in volte to the opposite side of my legs. Brutal.

        About the skirt: they are just decoration. My Grandma had one. It’s practically an apron.

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