When I started riding, I wore jeans and sneakers. I was exactly who I appeared to be – a clueless beginner. Over the next few months, I accumulated The Wardrobe. You know, pricey breeches, sun shirts, a belt, paddock boots, half chaps, a helmet, whimsical boot socks. With the coaching of a friend’s daughter, I put together my first complete riding outfit, and from then on, I went to the barn in “uniform.”
Now, I dress far better than I ride. Why? There’s no actual enforced uniform at the hunter/jumper barn where I take lessons, other than boots and helmets. There is an argument to be made for functionality of higher-end riding gear, and sometimes there is a legitimate need to invest in quality. But I’d be lying if I said that’s all I consider when shopping.
I also chose one of the more “elitist” riding disciplines. Again, why? I adore the horses and the athletic challenge, but there are other disciplines that are just as challenging. I hate to admit it, but there is a part of me that aspires to affluence, influence, or simply to belong. I’m not sure how healthy that is when the top riders at that barn are buying six-figure horses. I am not that person, and no amount of fancy gear can change that.
“Even at the top, there’s always someone better, prettier, or wealthier.”
Wealthy people don’t flaunt their status, it just is. They aren’t impressed by bougieness. They respect skill, and occasionally that merits an invitation to the inner circle. Designer breeches do not equate to a lifetime of training in social norms of the most privileged. For those of us who haven’t trotted across Europe, and weren’t sent to boarding school with our horses, what’s the point of pretending? Who are we trying to impress, exactly? Why buy Charles Owen when we have Troxel? Do we need to get the Hermès belt or will C4 do? Maybe we don’t need a damn belt. Or maybe it’s just human nature to jockey for position among our own socioeconomic hierarchies.
Aside from projecting affluence, there is the simple matter of fitting in. Any social group has cues that must be learned. Attire is a big cue at the barn as anywhere else. We want to show we get “it,” we’re part of a community, and especially for the younger set, we’re trying to impress our friends to gain status. It’s easy to get sucked into the status game, but it’s a competition that’s not winnable. Even at the top, there’s always someone better, prettier, or wealthier.
During a recent family vacation, my aunt who grew up fox hunting in Virginia made fun of my purple breeches and matching sun shirt. Eccentric, even for horse people, and definitely over the top for a beginner who doesn’t even own a horse. She made me laugh at myself and it reminded me to keep the focus on skill, not status.
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Writer and aspiring horse lady. She lives in Texas with her husband, daughter, and dogs Thunder & Coco.