This photo, with perfect split-second timing, captures Mrs Esther Stace as she establishes a record jump of 6’ 6”  (1.98metres) on Emu Plains at the Royal Easter Show in 1914.

At that time, Mrs Stace had established her reputation as a skilled and very successful horsewoman, competing at showgrounds around the country for over 15 years. Emu Plains was a 12 year old brown gelding, about 16 hands high, bred by Mr Prentice of Emu Plains – hence its name – and owned by Mr T E Judd of Tichborne, NSW.

Esther Martha Munford was born in Port Macquarie, and in 1886 she married William H Stace at Walcha, they had two sons and a daughter. Esther died at her home at Granville in July 1918;  one of her obituaries reads as follows,

Mrs Stace had been riding at most of the leading show grounds in the State for about 20 years. For Mr H D Morton she rode the champion Desmond in many of his high jumps. For Mr Judd she made a ladies’ record – 6’ 6’ – on Emu Plains, at the Sydney Showground. Though seemingly of frail physique, Mrs Stace had surprising control over refractory and runaway mounts. She used the now old-fashioned side saddle”.

The Urana Independent newspaper, under the caption of “Noted Equestrienne”, described her as

“…one of the cleverest and most graceful riders who ever sat a side saddle at the riding exhibitions at the Showgrounds of the State… her wonderful and fearless riding at steeplechases and hunting contests have been an attraction at the Royal Shows for for about 20 years. To her credit stands the ladies’ high jump record of 6’ 6” on the horse Emu Plains at the Royal Show. When occasionally a difficult horse took the bit in his teeth, Mrs Stace would steady him in a fashion that revealed the lover of a horse, as well as a masterly rider”.

The side-saddle is still used, and devotees say it is safer because of the extra anchorage provided by the ‘horns’ built into the saddle. However, for serious competitive riding, the saddle had to be individually made and weighted to fit both the horse and rider.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, Esther’s side-saddle high-jump record still stands. At over 16 hands, Emu Plains was a big horse, measuring about 5’ 5’’ high (168cm) from the ground to the withers (a point near the base of its mane). This would have made it more difficult to judge the jumping point, and so require a lot of pre-planning before the event. As well as controlling the horse, there was the restriction of the voluminous clothing of the riding habit. And on top of all that – literally – she still kept her very stylish hat on!

Link for more information about side-saddle riding;

Source: Walcha Historical Society: Public Domain
Measuring the height of a horse
The infrastructure of a Victorian side-saddle, as shown in an 1800s riding manual
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