Our Look Back At Changing Riding Fashion

Not long ago, my wife, Heather, and I were looking through some old photos of ourselves competing our horses, and we paused for a laugh about what we, and our horses, were wearing. It led me to think about some previously ?must-have? items that have fallen out of favor or fashion over time. it’s normal for fads to come and go, but in the horse world sometimes fashion simply changes and sometimes technology makes equipment like riding helmets, crash vests, galloping boots and bell boots obsolete as better things become available.

Bemused by the first several photos we looked at, we pulled out more of our old photo albums (remember those, before computers and the Internet’). I grew up in Pony Club, and, thus, doing mostly eventing and foxhunting in the early ?70s, while, Heather, who’s more than a decade younger than I am, grew up in eventing in the ?80s and early ?90s.

In one cross-country photo, I Heather is wearing a black velvet hunt cap, with a snap-out harness (a piece of apparel that offered only slightly more head protection than a well-secured baseball cap). She has on no crash vest, because they weren?t introduced until the late ?80s. SHe’s using a fitted fleece saddle pad, her riding boots are far too short, and her horse is wearing two-strap neoprene galloping boots and stiff plastic bell boots.

The only thing remotely fashion-forward in the photo is that sHe’s riding in a long-billeted mono-flap jumping saddle. Her trainers at the time were French, and they personally imported (as in carried on a plane) Macel mono-flap jump saddles for their students. It was prot?g?s of Mssr. Macel who would go on to found the likes of Devoucoux, Antares, and CWD, all now famous for their mono-flap designs.

A photo shot a few years later shows Heather wearing a Caliente helmet (what jockeys had been wearing for almost two decades by then), a first-generation Tipperary crash vest, and ?clacker bell boots.? We each remember being fitted for our first crash vests, by a Tipperary representative (I think mine was in early 1987). To Heather, they seemed hot and heavy, and she and her friends spent many hours coming up with hilarious jokes and cartoons comparing them to riding in a suit of armor.

We think the official name for clackers was ?Westropp Overreach Boots,? and they were perfect for teenage eventing fashionistas because they consisted of plastic petals strung on a plastic strap with a buckle fastener. You could buy different colors, so you could mix and match them to make a colorful pattern in your barn?s colors and custom fit them to your horse. People called them ?clackers? because they made a distinctive castanet-like sound when your horse moved in them. Everybody had a pair when Heather was a teenager in California, but they were far less popular where I was then living in Virginia. They were durable and protected well, but I think the conventional wisdom became that the strap system could rub some of the more sensitive-skinned ponies, so they went away.

We both have photos of horses we rode in dropped nosebands?I’m not even sure you can buy those anymore’ I’m sure they were useful, but the horse Heather used it on already had a rather long and angular head, so the dropped noseband did him no favors in the looks department. He looks much less like an anteater in later photos, wearing a flash noseband.

My photos reveal a few other fashion gems, such as Ulster galloping boots. Ulsters were the gold standard in horse leg protection for many years. These were white plastic with blue stripes, and the lining was slightly puffy or squishy, I suspect for comfort. The trick was that the four closures were just smooth plastic straps sliding through metal clamps, and it was all too easy to make them too loose or, worse, too tight. But they were the go-to boots until Woof boots and similar models, which you can’t make too tight.

When Ulsters started to fall out of favor, heavy-duty leather boots came in fashion. Heather remembers the day a horse of her trainer?s overreached badly in a pair of neoprene boots while schooling, so within a few weeks they all had a full set of leather galloping boots. They were heavy, and they were hot, and they could leave ugly rubs. But Heather also used to think they could have stopped a bullet, and she still has them.

Having a pom-pom on top of your colored Caliente cover was a pure 70?s trend. Some were about the size of a cotton ball, but I remember a few of them more the size of a baseball. Fortunately, that trend hasn?t returned.

Heather has lots of photos in which she and others are wearing rust-colored breeches to jump. My memory is that in the ?70s and ?80s rust was a popular color in the show hunter ring, but I never had a pair. The Old Dominion Hunt in Virginia has had rust-colored breeches as part of their formal attire for decades, though. I think it’s a color that’s hard to find now.

Almost all the leather in our old photos looks like it hasn?t been oiled. it’s a light caramel color, at least by today?s standard, where rich mahogany is far more popular. Since I started in Pony Club at age 10, I can’t imagine that I didn’t use Neatsfoot oil on our new tack, so that must have been the color of the leather.

it’s amusing to think of the must-have items you never see any more. There was a time before the normal schooling attire was breeches and half-chaps with paddock boots. Instead, you wore jeans, paddock boots and full chaps, often custom-made chaps with your name stitched on the back. I rode with chaps because breeches were much more expensive than jeans, and we had to wear full-length boots with breeches because half-chaps hadn?t been invented yet.

I really can’t remember the last time I wore a pair of full chaps. I know when Heather and I moved to California six years ago, we threw out two or three sets of moldy, holey chaps that we’d had since we were teenagers.

I remember when ASTM/SEI-certified helmets became the rule and how intensely, eye-bleedingly ugly and uncomfortable they were (two chin straps or the giant white things with snap-off brims). Now I wouldn?t ride without one, but that’s en easier commitment to make now that I don’t feel like a bobble-head doll wearing one.

I remember when the fashion of flat brown tack gave way to the fashion of black with white piping, which gave way to black-padded bridles and then returned to brown. I remember when there were woven-ribbon browbands, which led to brass clinchers, which led to the rhinestone craze currently blinding judges the world over.

They say some things never go out of style, and that’s fairly true. Black or navy hunt coats, stock ties, white or tan breeches?they were there then and are still here now. So I wonder if 20 years from now, today?s teenagers will be sitting around looking at their Facebook pages and saying, ?Oh, my god, can you believe how many rhinestones we used to have on our browbands’ What were we thinking’?

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