Traditional. That’s one word you’ll see and hear quite a bit in the equestrian community. It’s usually brought up by the emergence of something decidedly untraditional, like the reemergence of rust breeches in the hunters, allowing jumpers to get a little more experimental with their show jacket color palette, or any sort of evolving apparel or equipment that pushes at those firmly upkept boundaries. The rider donned in a navy or black coat, tan or white breeches, high-collared white shirt, black leather boots, black gloves. Horse impeccably groomed and braided, not a stray hair to be found (in theory, anyway).
Why do the majority of us still wear these colors and clothes in the show ring? Where, exactly, does it stem from?
There are multiple factors that really get down to why you can’t wear your cute plum breeches into your hunter derby, but the driving force behind it all is history.
Horses, and horseback riding, are steeply rooted in history. Not just American history - all across the world. Before cars, we all know they were the most popular mode of transportation, and played a major role in leisure and pleasure activities like fox hunting for the wealthy. And as horses and riding play a big role in history, so does fashion, and all of its symbolism.
To quote this great article from Horses and People Magazine by Dr. Georgina Downey:
“Rider wear is an area of sports clothing where history, function and symbolism are uniquely interwoven. Simultaneously, the very essence of riding wear is to underscore the nobility of the horse itself, not exceed it, or draw attention away from it. Therefore, riding wear has traditionally been sober and understated. It’s intended to sit quietly, functionally and anonymously behind one’s skill and performance as a rider.”
‘Underscore the nobility of the horse itself, not exceed it, or draw attention away from it.’ Neutral colors and clean silhouettes do just that. In history and present day alike, while we can all be proud of our high-quality new show coat or glistening tall boots, the horse is still the paramount focus.
Think of it this way: when you see a flashy or fancy car, do you focus on the driver first?
And, I mean--there truly are few things more sober and understated I can think of than the plain black show coat hanging in my closet right now.
Also in my quest to understand the origins of traditional equestrian wear, I stumbled across Man and the Horse: An Illustrated History of Equestrian Apparel, published in 1984.
Its foreword also throws in a striking line: “Riding clothes have always shared a unique quality, regardless of their place or period of origin. Because of specific functions they serve, riding costumes require above all superior design, materials, and workmanship--a harmonious blend of efficient cut, durability, and meaningful decoration--the essence of true style.”
For better or for worse, the equestrian world - most of all in the competition setting - values its traditions and history. And while I’m the first to grumble about the fact that wearing white around horses is a recipe for disaster, or lament that I can’t wear that gorgeous burgundy AA Motionlite Jacket to my next under saddle class, I certainly have no complaints about participating in the essence of true style.
What traditions are you a fan of and which ones do you think we should send to the chopping block? We want to hear! Comment below or message Eileen directly @thechampagnecheval to join the discussion!
Emily Williams via Instagram @williamsemily33 pc: Shawn McMillan | Silver Lining Stables via Instagram @silverliningstablesca | Laura Graves and Verdades via horsemagazine.com | Haylee Hall via Instagram @hayleehallpass