The Equestrienne's Support

There are many activities that can take a toll on a wearer's back and horse riding is one of them. Even the act of horse riding can put a strain on the back without even having to fall off the animal. Indeed, a good support can have the double benefit of protecting the back and improving one's posture. If your back is already weak, a firm corset can make all the difference between a pleasant hack in the country and a painfully disagreeable experience often followed by a day recovering in bed. We have used our model Victoria to demonstrate some of the supports available, however, be warned, the rigid spinal steels and even the colour of the corset itself will reveal your secret to anybody with a keen pair of eyes. (Victoria wears a Jenyns lumbo-sacral support - right). The classic white shirt worn by the equestrienne is not the camouflage that you might imagine. The following account illustrates this point:

When I was in the WRNS, I developed a chronic back-ache from leaning over operations boards that left me unfit for anything after just an hour or two. The doctor was unhelpful along the lines of "If it hurts when you do that - then don't do that!" A horse-riding friend suggested that a support might help and loaned me a corset that she wore for riding. It was quite short and adjusted by pull-straps. Frankly I was horrified, however, it did the trick and I had to admit that my uniform seemed to hang all the better for it as well. I knew the corset bones showed through my shirt when I leaned over the board but nobody mentioned it. I even got the Navy to pay for two corsets each year.

Younger brothers can be so obnoxious. I know I was. My elder sister was a keen equestrian and spent all her spare time (and our parents money) on horse riding. After several years, it became apparent that she had started to wear a corset, since oddly, it was pink and showed clearly through her shirt if she took her jacket off.

But let us return to the classic equestrienne, immaculate in her jodhpurs, boots, white shirt and tie and helmet. It is one of those uniforms that smacks of discipline and strong will. Indeed, some females of this breed can be quite haughty (it is often a problem with people in uniform). I know of women who normally will smile and thank you for driving slowly past their horses, but put them in a uniform and an arrogant sneer is about as much as you will get. Only recently, I encountered a hunt with two women galloping down the road. I stopped the car completely since one of the horses appeared to be a little 'lively' and was rewarded by nothing more than a haughty gaze. Ironically, I could see just behind their horses a large fox regarding this with (I swear) a smile on its face.


We received a letter describing an altercation between two mothers concerning the daughter of one who had been wearing a corset. Wearing a corset for equestrienne activities was by no means unusual, however the accusation was that the corset was not simply a support for the lower back, it incorporated shoulder straps to improve the posture. This had been revealed by the girl herself who had mentioned the uncomfortable chafing of these straps to the other girl who had then complained to her mother that "It wasn't fair!". Was the corset for postural improvement or was it a genuine surgical support? That was the argument. The owner of the establishment consulted her own corsetiere on the matter. The owner herself wore corsets as some women did in those days and, hand on heart, she wore them to improve her figure. Could she really admonish the mother for attempting to improve her daughter's figure? The corsetiere suggested that shoulder straps were a bit over the top for a teenager, but, if that teenager tended to stoop, then she herself would recommend them. Of course, she could hardly imagine a teenager that would willingly wear such a corset - any corset in fact, unless she had some ulterior motive, like winning a dressage event! As in many such cases, there is a confusion of grey areas and vested interests that keep lawyers in business for a lifetime. The corsetiere secretly wondered if she could get a foot in the door of the riding establishment. Her final advice to the owner was that wearing a corset to improve the figure was quite acceptable and that please would the owner pass her calling card around the mothers of the equestriennes. Her ploy was partly successful in that she received several orders from the mothers for themselves, but only two orders for custom-made 'riding corsets' and those were for the two girls that had originally caused the argument!


The long-suffering Victoria spent several hours one summer's afternoon in 2014 trying on Jenyns, Camp, Spirella and Spencer's finest back support corsets. We even have a good selection of back support panty-girdles that would be a lot easier to wear under those jodhpurs. One of our models in 2013 whilst trying on the (very powerful) Spirelette 105 panty-girdle said "I don't really like this one, but it might be OK for horse riding!" Some time ago, we incorporated a number of 'dream scenes' with Victoria in her various supports. These are shown at the bottom of the page and one of these pictures at least made it into the 2015 Ivy Leaf Calendar.

Here are four of the supports that Victoria gamely tried on that summer's afternoon.




On the left is a Camp 9974. The four sets of lacing seem something of an overkill until you realise that this support was designed for maternity wear; the two forward sets of lacers for periodic adjustment and the side fan-lacers to tighten the garment. A quirk of Camp measurements is that their conventional girdles and corsets were sized by the waist, whereas, the back supports were sized by the hips. Victoria wears a size 34 here that perfectly fits her 27 inch waist. Next is a Canadian Spencer. It is obvious that the corset has been cut with a scanter hip-spring than Victoria would like. We strongly suspect that this was an elderly woman's corset since women tend to lose the flesh over the buttocks in later life. The woman certainly had a bad back since this corset has four rigid spinal steels and is one of the heaviest corsets in our collection weighing in at 800 grams (nearly two pounds). The Jenyns dorsal-lumbar support also has four rigid spinal steels and is a far better fit on our model and certainly shows off the curve of her back; indeed, she had little option. On the right is a trusty British Spirella 325 (the front and back-lacing model version of the 305). Again, it fits Victoria very well and puts an admirable waist upon her. It is far lighter than the previous two corsets but would fail to protect the back since, although it is well boned, there are no rigid steels. One of the firmest corsets that Victoria tried was the pink creation below. This is a very serious corset and the absence of any maker's name suggests a made-to-measure item probably from Germany. The only way to enter the corset is to loosen the laces and step in. The lacing that caused Victoria some trouble (below left) is then tightened and six very wide and long pre-formed rigid steels then grip the wearer at the back, sides and front rendering the lower spine quite immobile.



Having tried on all the corsets, we placed Victoria into her dream world. Note that the all-enveloping Jenyns is so restrictive that our model could not even begin to sit down.





Rosemary's Corset


My friend Rosemary –

Rosemary and I were in the same form and became friends because we were both mad about horses.  Rosemary had had a bad fall a few years before and suffered from a painful back, so she was excited that her mother was getting her a ‘riding corset’ to help.  I’d forgotten about this till I found something on your Website on the Equestrienne (which I can’t now find!), which brought it vividly back to mind.


I was going to stay with Rosemary in the spring holidays. They lived out in the country and her parents hoped I’d be company for Rosemary (whose younger brother was only eleven and rather a pain!). So when I arrived we went straight up to her room. As I was unpacking, Rosemary admired my girdles and said she’d no idea I wore girdles like that but supposed one got used to it.  I told her I was hardly aware of it, but it made a huge difference to how I felt as well as being delighted with what I looked like and what I could wear.


Rosemary herself was not slim: she had what used to be called a rather matronly figure. I’d never thought of her as remotely fashion-conscious. So when I pulled on my jodhpurs over my girdle, she said, ‘That looks good; just wait till you see my riding corset,’ and got it out of her drawer.  It was a kind of firm corselette, with hooks and eyes and then a zip and gave her an amazing shape. Not only did it flatten her tummy and hold her in round the waist with some boning close to the spine, but it gave her an amazing bust-line. As she’d taken off her bra, I’d noticed how heavy and drooping her breasts were and how feeble her bra was: no wonder she looked ‘matronly’. But now she looked quite different – like a pin-up film star. We looked at one another and then collapsed into fits of giggles – two seventeen-year olds dressed as for an Edwardian charade! She pulled on her jodhpurs and a tight little jacket and off we went.


Back from the ride, Rosemary launched into the saga of being measured for her ‘riding corset’. After the corsetiere had fitted it on, she realised she was standing up straighter and was feeling much better supported. I said what impressed me was her amazing figure – it made her look so young and go-ey. She looked a different person. She was clearly surprised to hear this, and said that it was only for riding of course. I chose my words carefully, and said I’d come to realise what a lot of difference my girdle had made to my shape and how much more like me – or like the me I wanted to be – it made me feel. I told her that if she felt good in it, she ought to think of getting something like it to wear regularly.  She’s never thought of that clearly, and we changed and went down for dinner.


Next evening as we were changing, she said, ‘I think I’ll keep my riding corset on underneath and see if anyone notices.’  It was her father who noticed at once, I could see. But when Rosemary’s mother had gone to get coffee and her young brother had gone off to bed, he said, ‘You’re growing up with a fine figure now, Rosie’, and she blushed and said, ‘It’s the riding corset, Father.’ His response amazed me: ‘well, keep it on then’.


That night we talked a lot more. Rosemary had said that when she went to be measured the first thing the lady in the underwear shop (she couldn’t bring herself to say ‘corsetiere’) had said to her that she was wearing a wholly inadequate bra, and her back pain would be really helped as much by better support for her breasts as by the back brace and warned her of the damage she was doing to her breast tissue every time she rode. That was when they settled on a full-length corselette type of ‘riding corset’ to give her bust proper support as well as her back. When the new corset arrived Rosemary was torn between the obvious improvement to her comfort (and potential health too) and the dramatic difference it made to how she looked. ‘But what will people say if I come back to school having sprouted such a huge bust?’ she said. ‘I’m worried they’ll think it looks as if I’m stuffing my bra like a cheap tart!’


She was initially terribly self-conscious about how different it made her look, but after talking over what she felt her figure really was becoming, I persuaded to try on some other clothes to see what a difference it made. Some didn’t fit at all of course, but a smart grey wool dress showed off her figure in a way she’s never seen before, and I could see she was half persuaded that she liked what she saw.


I think we were both surprised when next morning at breakfast her mother said (I think it was actually must have been her father’s idea), ‘we’ve been wondering if you wouldn’t like to take Julia in to meet Mrs Wilkinson, and get some new underwear before term starts; Julia might find something too – she’s got such a good figure.’ So off we went and she was right – we had a hilarious time. Mrs Wilkinson turned out to have been rung in advance and given a steer – ‘nothing frivolous’, was all she would give away.


At the end we came away with two ‘ordinary’ corselettes ordered for Rosemary, to which Mrs Wilkinson said she could add some discrete boning in the small of the back which would make them more supportive; and as well we came away with three long-line bras – one in black – for wearing whenever she wasn’t wearing the corselettes. Mrs Wilkinson did a really good job in persuading Rosemary to go for proper support and not try and hide her real shape. ‘You’ve been blessed with a wonderful figure, but you need to look after it,’ was her line. She also found a couple of cuff-waisted girdles, one of them a Panty girdle, explaining that with a long-ling bra there needed to be a real overlap between bra and girdle. Mrs Wilkinson was amazingly helpful and after fitting Rosemary with the bras and girdles (all off the peg, unlike the corselettes which were going to be made specially) she turned to me and said that Rosemary’s mother had insisted I find something too. When I showed her my girdle and explained why it had been chosen, she complimented me on my choice. ‘Have you ever tried a long-line bra’, she said? ‘It would go well with the high-waisted girdles you need’.


I was really surprised, as by comparison with my rear end, my bust was tiny and I’d never felt I needed anything special.  But she found a long-line bra which she fitted and certainly made the most of my bosom. ‘I don’t expect you’ll want to wear this every day,’ she said, ‘but it might give you a boost under an evening dress or for a special occasion. Wear it in a bit and see what you think’.


I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t for the life of me remember what brand Rosemary’s corselettes were. They didn’t have any l, so they may not have been by Spirella, but I think I might have remembered if she worked for Spencer, as Spencer was the name of our dog! But the net result was that we were both helped on our way to adulthood by such a helpful session, and both of us came away readier to listen to advice.





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