Black And Bling

There is an “old rider’s tale” among dressage riders that black gloves will hide busy hands from the judge and help earn a higher score for the rider’s position.

Dressage judges get a good laugh over this. They’ve heard that tale as well. When they see black gloves, it’s like a red flag to pay closer attention to the rider’s hands. And since they’re watching that one rider and horse combination for five minutes or more, there’s no way they can miss seeing when the rider’s hands disrupt the horse’s performance, whatever color of the gloves.

The black stirrups that are now popping up are gaining the same undeserved reputation: If black gloves have a stealth effect that will make bad hands invisible, then surely black stirrups will make swinging legs disappear as well.

At the same time, there is an explosion of jeweled browbands, engraved stirrups and spurs and spur charms. These are fun accents that are legal under the USEF Rulebook. But are they always smart’

The rider should want the judge to be looking at the horse and not be distracted. The judge wants that as well — hence loose hair under a helmet and long flopping straps on the horse are discouraged, not just for neatness but because they pull the judge’s eye away from the horse.

When a rider loads up her tack with “jewelry” it’s unlikely that she’s standing back and looking at her horse the same way a judge would. For example, some brass or silver accents on a browband could add some interest to a horse’s head that doesn’t have white markings. But a browband laced with crystals flashes in the sun and forces the judge to look at the head and not much else.

Often the rider who selects black gloves is the same rider who chooses a browband laden with crystals. It’s a contradiction in terms, and it shows that the rider is more bored with her tack than she is thinking about how it is used.

If you pick black gloves and black stirrups because you like the way they look, and you think a lot of white and silver will distract the judge, that’s fine. But if you’re using them to hide something, think again. White gloves and silver-toned stirrups are more elegant than black. So are some of the less-gaudy browbands. But the most elegant thing of all is a rider who sits tall and still on a horse that is performing well. Spend your money on lessons before you spend it on black or bling.

-Margaret Freeman

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