The Look

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m a firm believer in honoring tradition. I’m also aware that often one person’s tradition is another’s anachronism.

The attire we wear in the show ring can be both elegant and outdated at the same time, especially when you throw safety and comfort into the mix. In the dressage world, where ideas and attitudes usually evolve at a glacial pace, safety helmets are suddenly more in fashion this spring than top hats and hunt caps.

This seismic shift is due to the fallout from a prominent rider getting hurt while riding without a helmet. It’s interesting, however, that this winter the idea of riding in a safety helmet at the FEI levels in dressage seemed revolutionary, while as spring turns into summer safety helmets there have become almost mainstream.

One of the knocks against horse sports by non-riders is that the way we dress makes us look elitist. It’s certainly true that in equestrian sports we put on more clothes to compete than we wear while we warm up. What other sport does that' This makes it easy to understand why non-horsey folks have a hard time believing that riders are really athletes.

If, for the sake of safety, the dressage world has finally accepted the look of safety helmets as ”sporty” rather than casual, even when paired with a shadbelly coat, maybe dressage and other horse sports can take a similar review of rest of their attire. What sense does it make to wear wool coats in summer heat' Or a stock tie that cuts off circulation to the neck, fastened with a sharp pin that can cut the face.

The same should hold true in the Western ring as it does in the sport-horse arena. I’ve heard it said that competitors believe Western judges won’t pin a horse where the rider is wearing a safety helmet, rather than a broad-brimmed hat, because a safety helmet implies the horse is dangerous. But, has anyone actually asked the judges' The dressage ring got past that idea, and maybe it’s time for the Western ring to do the same thing.

The most important aspect of equestrian tradition is a beautifully trained horse, clean and well-groomed, performing with ease and confidence. I feel this picture looks just as elegant with a rider in a neat, clean, well-fitting polo shirt and breeches as it does with the rider wearing a jacket. For many people, I feel it’s more a matter of their minds wrapping around a new picture of elegance than it is what they actually see with their eyes.

Margaret Freeman
Associate Editor