I grew up on the horse show circuit, and have spent half my life riding hunters and the other half — dressage. One of my earliest show memories is of my then trainer’s wife retying my hair ribbons and number bow, and commenting that “it’s not just how well you ride, but how you look that matters too.” Her other maxims ran along the same lines: “You don’t have to be rich to show, but at least look like you are,” and, “Buy the best you can afford, then have it tailored.” Judgeing by the Chronicle of the Horse discussion forums, there are a lot of horse-people out there who vehemently argue that rider turnout doesn’t matter. I get this far more frequently from the dressage ranks, than from the hunter / jumper contingent where stylishness and good tailoring can make the difference between winning and losing.
When I switched from hunters to dressage, one of the biggest things I noticed was poorly fitting tack and clothing . . . not to mention dirty tack, dirty horses, bad braiding jobs — but I digress. While this may sound harsh to some ears, there’s simply no excuse for sloppy turnout. Most towns have tack shops, and barring that, someone who does leather repair. If your horse’s bridle is too large, have it cut down. The appropriate fit indicators are the buckles: cheek piece buckles should sit at the horse’s eye level — not above or below. Trust me, a well-fitting inexpensive bridle looks far more chic than an expensive, but floppy / sloppy one. Plus, having your horse’s “off the rack” bridle tailored to fit is a relatively cost-effective proposition.
In addition to good fit, make sure your tack is clean. And I mean spotless — Pony Club clean! To illustrate my point: I recently rode with an FEI dressage rider who had very expensive horses and very expensive saddlery, but both were always filthy. Her bridles were crusted with dirt, the buckles were sealed shut with muck, and her lovely mounts had matted tails and perpetual manure and sweat stains. Although this person had an excellent resume, she couldn’t figure out why other riders didn’t take her seriously; in fact, she developed a big chip on her shoulder about it. But think about it: dressage is a detail-oriented sport; if a rider doesn’t pay attention to details (like the cleanliness, fit, and repair of their equipment) what other details are they neglecting too?
That said, here’s a quick rundown:
- Keep your saddlery clean and in good repair.
- Make sure tack is neither too big nor too small for your horse. This includes square dressage pads!
- Well-groomed is better than “fancy” when it comes to horse and rider turnout.
- If you’re showing on a budget, purchase quality used items from craigslist, ebay, etc. If you want new items for less money, shop online from Divoza.com. It’s amazing how much cheaper things are overseas.
Although today’s post deals specifically with by “bad tack” pet peeve, future posts will feature neat equipment finds, books, and tack reviews. If there’s anything in particular you’d love me to address, then shoot me a line.
Until next time,