The Pretty Horsebreakers were a phenomenon of the 1860s and 70s. Beautifully dressed young women, riding equally beautiful and gorgeously turned-out horses, they drew the eye on Rotten Row in London’s Hyde Park. One of the most famous was Catherine Walters, a young woman from Liverpool, who was also known as Skittles.
When they rode alone in the park on horses belonging to local livery stables, they always attracted attention. Women aspired to be like them – the Pretty Horsebreakers were a great way for the livery yards to sell or lease horses to women. Men, often from the upper echelons of society approached them with quite another proposition in mind. Thus many of the Pretty Horsebreakers acquired very wealthy lovers and achieved even greater fame – or notoriety.
I had already written a piece on the phenomenon of the Pretty Horsebreakers for the Historic UK online magazine, which you can read here: https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Skittles-Victorian-Courtesan-Horsebreaker/
So it was great to appear on ABC Radio’s Nightlife programme in Australia recently for a much longer chat with Suzanne Hill about the Pretty Horsebreakers, and Catherine Walters in particular, which you can now listen to here: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/nightlife/seductresses-on-horseback/101903934
Nowadays you’ll still find a few riders in Rotten Row, mostly visitors to London. There are also the Royal Park Shires at work, and, of course, the Household Cavalry, whose horses are stabled near Hyde Park. However, it’s nothing like the heady days of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Rotten Row was crowded with locals and visitors on horseback, all wanting to see and be seen – and perhaps do some flirting on horseback.
Miriam A Bibby 2023.