Clothes And Horse Sports

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Mitt Romney has been taking a hit from political pundits and in television ads over part ownership of a top-level dressage horse.? Certainly the appearance of a prancing dressage horse topped by a rider wearing gear more appropriate for a 19th century dinner party than a sporting event doesn't shriek ?regular guy? to Romney?s detractors.

Criticism of the Romney family?s dressage involvement isn?t exactly fair, even if all is supposed to be fair in love and politics. If Romney sponsored a top reiner in a Stetson or a NASCAR team he?d likely be seen as a good? ol? boy, even though he?d probably be shelling out just as much money, or even more.

There is the perception in the non-horsey public that horse ownership is only for the fortunate few, although our Horse Journal readers know that is far from true. The irony is that tHere's been a remarkable shift in dressage attire and equipment over the last couple of years, with form following function rather than fashion.

As recently as a couple years ago, it was against USEF rules to wear ear covers in dressage or use a snaffle at the FEI-levels.? While it's long been legal for FEI riders in the U.S. to remove their tail coats in hot weather and to opt for an approved helmet over a top hat, it was rarely seen. As I've traveled around the country judging over the past year, however, this standard of dress has changed so dramatically that the combo of top hat, tail coat and double bridle at the FEI levels now seems retro.

The biggest change has been with helmets. The horrific injury to Olympic rider Courtney King-Dye two years ago brought about awareness of the value of a safety helmet, as well as a USEF rule change that mandated helmets in dressage at the lower levels, and many FEI-level riders have followed suit.? Helmets are even being seen in European competitions, where the helmet trend is well behind the U.S.? This dramatic shift has led some to call King-Dye the most influential horseman in history, which might be hyperbole but has a ring of truth, because the helmet trend is being felt in other disciplines as well.

There has long been discussion that the attire worn by dressage riders dampens its appeal to other riders and also to the public, who might find dressage hard to take seriously as a sport when it looks so formal.? it's been further discussed in other disciplines as well:? For example would show jumping get more attention if the riders wore polo-type shirts rather than hunt attire'

Should the horsey world care about what the general public thinks about the way we dress when we compete'? Maybe, especially if riders want to be taken more seriously by the non-horsey world.? After all, in what other sport do competitors actually put on more clothes between the warm-up and the main event'

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor