BY NOA LEIBSON
Any equestrian, at some point in their lives, may have felt the push and pull of wearing the tack and attire of what is normal in their communities versus what they truly wish to wear. Much of this sport has been centered on tradition, and that is more than evident in the tack rooms of barns and in the show rings. Riders searching for a personal style will feel the pressure if they, say… wear a bedazzled hunt coat in the equitation (I did. I felt it.) or bust or bust out a pink saddle pad when everyone else around them wears white.
In my years on the hunter/jumper circuit, I have found most riders embrace traditional wear. But there are others who buck against tradition, and nothing could have prepared me for just how large the community was that did not care, not even a little bit.
This is a group I can only call “Extra Equestrians,” as is the name of a large Facebook group for such like-minded people. They are banded together by a mutual love for atypical tack and attire. Whether a variety of color, historical influence, fantasy orientation, as well as a love for anything exciting and against the grain, such as literally dressing horses up like unicorns, or riding in the woods with a cloak on… these equestrians cover it all. Seeing their passions and creations made me realize how wide the divide was between the market for equestrian merchandise and what actually was desired by the “extras” who are far greater in number than many think.
It’s much easier to find a white saddle pad over loud colors. If one was looking for a rose gold helmet, they would have to wade through a sea of black ones. This reflects what is deemed as acceptable in the show ring, at least in the hunter/jumper world, but also reflects some of the stigma that exists on trends. When I was a junior, one’s riding ability and weaknesses were somehow also associated with the fashion they had. Though bearing no relation, people associated poor horsemanship with using loud, colorful attire and tack. People shied away from it, myself included, lest those associations be made.
Nevertheless, riders continued the pursuit of color and flair. Despite what people thought, thousands simply love colorful tack or bringing back old styles and made it their mission to obtain it. Now, the tides have shifted. With rapidly growing groups like the original “Extra Equestrians,” unique merchandise has started to trend.
Michelle Padget, an equestrian and creator of the Extra Equestrian group and the community “Unicorn & Centaur,” credits the stigma towards her motivations of making public spaces for like minded riders. “…that’s why I started this community, so we could have spaces online where we could get excited about the crazy things we’re into,” she said, “without worrying about being made fun of or told ‘that’s not allowed’”
Padget’s groups, and others, have thrived amassing thousands of members who either wish to share their “extra” lifestyles or find wares. One group, with over twenty-two thousand members, is exclusively dedicated to trading and loving saddle pads, particularly colorful ones. Despite being hard-pressed to find colorful saddle pads at a hunter/jumper show’s vendor row, these equestrians are responsible for causing manufacturers to sell out in minutes with new releases. They’ve created entire new trade systems and capital demands for colorful tack.
These equestrians have proved to be as loud with their voices as they are with their tack. They have expressed a clear demand for tack that is more “out there” to go beyond what is traditional and standing in the show ring. They believe the marketplace should reflect the thousands of riders who love appearing different. People have wanted nothing more than to dress their horse up in their favorite color, or to wear a helmet that glitters like they feel their heart does. The whole equestrian economy benefits when they can find products to fill these desires.
Brittanie Brown, a self-identified extra equestrian, said that, “I’ve seen people pay hundreds over the original value of a pad, so there’s definitely a demand.” Unique colors or limited-edition runs have become hot commodities. Some have proved willing to pay near as much as a horse’s monthly board to add a new piece to their collection. People are undoubtedly buying these products, and are even willing to pay premium prices for wares that truly cater to them.
That said, some companies have begun to catch on with this community. “Matchy-matchy” is now trending, that is, having one’s tack match in one color. Common favorites include PS of Sweden, Equestrian Stockholm, Smartpak, and other small businesses. Several of these new shops that have popped up across Facebook, Etsy, and independently, were born directly from the extra community.
Jessica Firth of the Baroque & Iberian Tack Store got into the extra market after her colorful designs blew up in popularity in these Facebook groups. The store’s claim to fame are their custom saddles that not only aim to be a perfect fit, but appear as colorful and extra as purchasers want. The list of options, including metallic gold hot pink colors, paired with the quick turnaround time and affordable prices, have meant that unique saddles are becoming increasingly more common, particularly in the USA. Of the Baroque & Iberian Tack Store, 99% of their sales are now going overseas to America.
Equestrians hope others begin to offer unique products as well, and also have expressed specifics they would love to see in the market. Many wish to see companies offer full matching sets, such as one bundle with a saddle pad, matching boots, and an ear bonnet, as one company, Punk Ponies Tack Shop, does. Extra equestrians are willing to spend more money to get all these matching items together. Others hope to see other tack items like girths or browbands get more diverse options, as they usually have fewer options than things like saddle pads or breeches. Lastly, some, including myself, would love to see more historical or “throwback” fashions to earlier equestrian years. Though some things may have gone “out of style,” their appeal has not.
At the end of the day, extra equestrians are going to get their hands on the gear that sets their heart aflame, whether that’s making it themselves, thrifting, or paying premium price with the few companies that offer it. As trends shift and communities become more accepting, equestrians eagerly look to the markets to see how they will reflect that, and hope their voices are heard.
Riding and loving horses can be done in a number of different styles, and though some are labeled “extra,” everyone simply wishes to express themselves and partake in this beautiful sport, with or without a unicorn horn and holographic pad.
Noa currently lives in Scotland, where she’s finishing off her Masters degree and working in art and archaeological research. When not in the lab or museum, she writes fiction and nonfiction, and steals time to ride. She has one retired horse, Gatsby, and has spent her years in the hunter/jumper, collegiate, and eventing worlds.