If the world were a logical place, men would ride side saddle”   – Rita Mae Brown

When speaking of Maureen Conroy Britell, the last adjective a person would use would be oppressed. Any person that is who knows anything about her.  Every aspect of her life speaks to the opposite.

Maureen Conroy Britell
Maureen Conroy Britell

Having spent years in the Middle East, West Africa and Indonesia for the US State Department to her current tenure as Director of Contracts and Proposals for Orion Management, LLC, a DoD contracting firm Mrs. Britell would appear to most as the very embodiment of empowerment. After all, she can not only ride a horse, but she can race one, jump one, and hang onto your breeches, even ride side saddle on one. In fact, riding side saddle is a passion of hers and one she shares openly with anyone interested in learning more about this elegant art that is both exciting and beautiful to watch. It is also quite physical with naturally a measure of danger as there is anytime you climb onto half a ton of thoroughbred (the preferred choice in side saddle riding and racing) and go cantering about the countryside and jumping fences, natural or otherwise.  And of course it takes great physical strength and conditioning as staying on is in and of itself a learned skill.

Indeed, Mrs. Britell, herself is in excellent condition, running a brutal 8 miles a day to keep in shape. Sure she’s sometimes teased by friends about her Spartan training schedule, but she believes in fairness as well as fitness;

Maureen Conroy Britell
Maureen Conroy Britell

“If I ask the hounds, the hunt staff and my horse to be in top condition for good sport, the least I can do is be as fit as them”  – Maureen Conroy Britell

None of this speaks of a woman one would consider oppressed.  A recent article in the Style section of the Washington Post titled “These women want to bring back sidesaddle riding. Is that okay?”  By Caitlin Gibson April 13, 2015, asks the question whether or not Side Saddle Riding is a way of sanctioning or heralding the oppression of women in earlier times.  In fact, Mrs. Britell herself is one of the women featured in the article.  The article doesn’t answer the question but does attempt to fairly portray both sides of the question opening it for discussion among the readers. However, ultimately the answer to the question is obvious, as paraphrasing Mrs. Britell’s answer to me earlier today when I posed the question to her.

“It’s not oppressive if it’s a choice. Choice is empowerment.”

And it most certainly is a choice, one made by more and more equestrian women daily, and even some men for that matter, particularly men with certain types of back injuries.  Side saddle riding can often be the only option available to riders with certain disabilities and is often included in Equine-assisted therapy (EAT). Quoting from an article by Ginny Oakley Pope for the Side Saddle Association available on their website;

“For many people riding side saddle provides a more comfortable means of riding and can offer some people who are unable to ride astride through disability, or other medical reasons, the chance to enjoy riding a horse.”

Being an avid fox hunter and having raced in all three side saddle races in 2016, I asked Mrs. Britell what first motivated her to explore the world of side saddle riding and racing.

“The first time I saw a hunt was in Southern, MD about 15 years ago. A woman by the name of Freddie Foxwell came out side saddle, and I fell madly in love on the spot!” – Maureen Conroy Britell

Her fixation didn’t end there, and it didn’t take Maureen long after that to become fully engaged.

“Within a few weeks, I was able to secure lessons with Sandy Hoyer. Sandy who told me that I was not allowed to form an opinion until after my fifth lesson; advice that I often share with those wanting to try it.”  – Maureen Conroy Britell

But she’s quick to point out that even though she lost some skin on her first lesson (due to riding on a saddle that was far too large for her slender frame) she became hooked quickly and by 2013 had moved her horses to Middleburg, otherwise known as her “Happy Place” according to her family, literally spending all of her free time here, preferring it to her speedboats and dock in Annapolis.

Maureen Conroy Britell
Maureen Conroy Britell

But if you press, she’ll tell you the real reason she loves the art and sport so much and clarifies it in the easiest to understand if not tongue in cheek terms.

“It’s all about the clothes–any woman who tells you otherwise is fibbing just a bit”  – Maureen Conroy Britell

But if you press, she’ll tell you the real reason she loves the art and sport so much and clarifies it in the easiest to understand if not tongue in cheek terms.

“It’s all about the clothes–any woman who tells you otherwise is fibbing just a bit”  – Maureen Conroy Britell

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I started in photography in 1977 when I bought a used "Nikkomat" from our Postman who sidelined as a wedding photographer. I went with him as his apprentice to weddings and events and helped with set up, etc and learned about shooting, perspectives, angles, even setting up my own darkroom in my bedroom and developing my own B&W 35mm Prints. But I actually started before that, back before I even had my first camera. At 16 I studied painting in Arcylics under a famous artist named James Michael Triggs, who like his father before him painted magazine covers for such famous magazines as Gun Digest, Flying, etc. Already being a skilled sketch artist I picked up painting quickly, learning about lighting, shadows, color, perspective, etc. This no doubt translated into my photography and comes out in the art I express through the lens of my camera. I began studying Korean Karate in 1977 at the Jhoon Rhee Schools of Tae Kwon Do in Hyattsville Md studying under Jeff Smith and Steve McGill. I went on to try my hand at other styles including Hung Gar Kung Fu and Aikido as well as Boxing at the YMCA. I went on to become a highly experienced Rock Climber, becoming not only a skilled technical climber but also a paid instructor and guide for "S.P.L.O.R.E". Additionally I lifted weights and did other forms of cross training. Being skilled in heights, safety, ropes, knots and rigging I can photograph were other less physically adept photographers may not be able to venture. I'm available for both private and commercial shoots and specialize in equestrian photography but am also a skilled portrait artist and crowd candids for event coverage. I can be reached at chris@chrisweberstudios.com.