Dating as far back as I can tell, the fashion world has been drawn to the iconic equestrian look. Some brands, like Ralph Lauren and Hermes, have built their entire high fashion brand around their equine foundation. Last year, Tory Burch was thrilled to announce the newest idea in boots—convertible ankle to knee high boots. And y’all… they were half chaps and paddock boots! Not a new concept to us at all.
A couple years ago, I had a week where I had taken on a bit more than was reasonable for me to pull off (as I often do). We were showing an hour out of town, but it was a weekday so I dropped the kids off at their respective schools in my show clothes, flew down the interstate, got on and showed the baby pony in the pre-greens, got back in the car and zoomed an hour back home to meet my youngest child’s class on a field trip at the zoo. I had zero breaks to change clothes, so I chaperoned that field trip in my full show clothes. I kid you not, at least 3 other moms wanted to know where I got my “super cute pants and boots!”
You’ve seen the ads in magazines: a girl, complete with full makeup, pouty lips, and a fresh blowout, in a white sweater (is it awful that the white sweater is the most unrealistic thing?), lounging gracefully on a hay bale while her equally perfectly coiffed horse stands patiently to the side. This is the vibe the fashion industry wants to capitalize on. Because it presents us, the equestrians, as the elite, as something to aspire to be. It reinforces the idea to the rest of the world that the horse does all the work. That all we do is sit around and look pretty.
I wonder how shocked people would be to learn that the reality of being a rider is slightly less glamorous. While it is highly likely you can find someone pouting on a hay bale at any given barn, on any given day (not just the kids—I have been known to rock a good pout myself), the reality is that we have managed to sweat off any trace of makeup. #helmethairdontcare is a very real state of mind. Our horses make a game out of finding every possible mud puddle to roll in, and the only white things we own are brand new from the tack shop.
I still rock this equestrian look the fashion industry loves, but my own way. I will wear my breeches absolutely anywhere I need to go (though one child has repeatedly requested I not wear the dirty breeches to parent-teacher conferences in the future). I have no problem going to grab lunch with my spurs still on, and dirt smudges on my face. Most of my days at the barn are far from glamorous, but the dirt under my fingernails makes me be able to identify a fauxquestrian versus a real equestrian when spotted in the wild:
- If the boots are clean, they have not seen the inside of a barn. I am fanatical about polishing my boots for shows, but even so, it is damn near impossible to escape a trace of arena dust or shavings residue.
- Clean breeches have not been near a horse, but that’s not the only clue. Fauxquestrians might pair their breeches with (clean) boots or a ballet flat, but we know the traditional way to wear them is with knee high (frequently not matching) socks and Sperry’s or Tom’s. Hunter boots if it’s raining are also acceptable, and bonus points if your unmatched socks peek over the top of the rain boots.
- A fauxquestrian will give away her identity with one wave of a perfectly manicured hand. While a French manicure is always in fashion, I find it far easier to embrace the farm manicure. This is where the tips are black, as opposed to white, from sweat and hair and dirt getting stuck under the nail. At some point we resign ourselves that it’s easier to stop fighting it.
- I love me some good bling, usually the bigger the better, however I have learned that young horses have a hard time distinguishing between a stall toy and a statement earring. And just last week I saw a necklace meet its untimely demise from a wayward crop. We are not opposed to jewelry, but not with the breeches and boots.
True equestrians have a few tells that are a little more difficult to see, especially for the newly indoctrinated. Some of us are cleaner than others, or maybe we weren’t at the show long enough to get filthy. I took my SAT’s in my show clothes so I could go directly to the show that day, so I’m fairly certain I was clean, and in public, in breeches and tall boots at least once. With that in mind, pay attention to these more subtle giveaways.
- Clucking is the universal language of equestrians. Kids not getting their shoes on fast enough? Line crawling at the store? Traffic jam? A little cluck-cluck and kiss-kiss should move that right along. If the lady next to you in a crowded has on breeches that are not spotless, but questionably clean, listen for her reaction. Clucking? You’ve found a fellow horse girl! Silent? Proceed with caution
- Horses make the bodily functions of toddlers feel like a breeze. Between poop, boogers, sheath cleaning, and all 8 million ways they can injure themselves, you won’t find many squeamish horse girls. Phrases like “Eww, gross! I’m not touching that!” are rarely uttered. You’re far more likely to hear, “Whoa, cool, let me get a closer look!”
- Real equestrians aren’t helpless. A fauxquestrian could fool you in every way imaginable, but if she says it’s too hot, too cold, too hard, or too…whatever, your spidey senses should be on high alert. Equestrians are nothing if not tough. We are like the Post Office: “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night” will keep us from our beloved, oversized, four-legged babies
- Want a good and quick test? Ask the potential fauxquestrian what kind of truck she likes best! When my husband and I had only been married for a year or so, my naive hubby drove home an F-350 diesel dually and then questioned my ability to drive “such a big truck.” I laughed and then told him that not only could I drive it, but I could add a 6 horse head to head and pull that too! One of my favorite pastimes is to drive that big ol’ truck to fill with diesel, and watch the faces of the guys at the gas station when all 100 lbs of me climbs down from the cab.
- Really, the fastest way to identify a true equestrian is to look in the back of their car. Spotless car—definitely faux. But, if you peek in and see blankets, odd bits of hay or feed, bits, a crop or too, spurs… then you know you’ve found the real deal. The car is an extension of our ring bag. Need a hairnet? Tack cleaner? Boot polish? Wine? It’s all in the car! There are also usually children and dogs mixed in too.
Finally, we can’t neglect the original vision of lounging on a hale bay next to an impeccably groomed horse. If we’re wearing a lovely fall sweater, breeches and boots next to our horse, I can promise you that either we will be clean, or the horse will be clean—but never both at the same time.
So while the fashion world will continue to try and mimic our endearing looks (I mean, can you blame them?) you can rest easy knowing that you have the tools to differentiate between authentic equestrian, and fashion-fauxquestrian. This distinction is important because every equestrian I know has earned the breeches and boots with sweat, tears and more passion than the average person could ever dream of.
About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, perpetual amateur, and accidental co-owner of Black River Show Stables in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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