In 1040 (give or take a year) Godiva, a Saxon (modern day German or Dutch) was married to the then earl of Mercia, Leofric. She felt he was too harsh in his treatment and taxation of his people, and she endlessly nagged him about this. So, he made her a wager. If she would ride through the city of Coventry on horseback, astride and naked; he would lift the taxes. Never thinking that she would take on the challenge, he nonetheless provided her with destrier (large, big boned horse favoured by knights) and guard. Sure enough, she dropped dress and mounted up, let down her hair – and proceeded to wander through the city. The guards, having charge of her care and safety, had “encouraged” the citizens to retreat into their homes, close their shutters or turn their backs as she passed. One man, Tom the tailor, retreated to the safety of his home, closed the shutter and was then said to have been peeking through a hole he had drilled. At the time, people said he was struck blind for the outrage, or that a guard had struck him with a sword after seeing the whites of his eye. Not quite a happy ending for this peeping Tom.
Take it from one who knows, horsehair is itchy. Rash-inducing itchy. BUT, Lady Godiva, did just that. Perhaps in 1040-ish, women were less sensitive and concerned with odd hairs, but the reality still exists. In the middle of summer, in shorts and a tank, I would take my horses to the lake to swim. The freedom and simplicity of just hopping on and riding off is much more romantic and fanciful than the reality.
Itchy horse sweat, shedding hairs, bony spines, bug bites, and the odd smell of wet horse all combine to make even the most hardened horse lover cringe. And it gives you a rash. To actually contemplate a stroll on horseback while naked – yeah. Not so much. But, it is a lovely story of just what a woman will do for what she feels is right.