Hey Good Lookin’!

Ainsley Vince and her horse Darling - a perfectly matched pair! (Photo Credit - Red Ribbon Photography)

Every athlete knows that you can’t always be the winner. There are always factors that are out of your control to prevent you from winning. I figure, if I can’t be the winner, I can always be the best dressed with the best turnout.  Ainsley Vince has a bit of a reputation for being one of the best dressed equestrians on the circuit. Her horses are always up at the ring with neat plaits in their mane, bonnets and matching saddle pads in her barn colours of grey, sky blue and black, and polished, French tack.

While super-groom extraordinaire Jenny Courchesne (when they perfect human cloning, I’m ordering 10 of her) makes sure the horses are always looking perfect, Ainsley herself is often wearing a matching grey and sky blue coat. This has rubbed off on me. Like Ainsley, my horses are almost always braided up at the ring, and I try to make sure that my colours of grey, burgundy and blue and nicely coordinated with my horse’s apparel and my attire.

While Ainsley’s rounds are generally well done and her riding has an effortless finish to it, this quality of performance is expected from a professional. I feel, that as an amateur, slight mistakes in my riding are acceptable, but a sloppy turnout is not. I like to take pride in my appearance, and I think that taking the extra time to look good demonstrates a level of respect for the sport, the officials, your trainer, fellow competitors, your horse, and above all, yourself.

However, there are a lot of others who don’t feel this way. I was recently in Ocala, and I noticed that in a lot of the lower jumper divisions, a lot of the other competitors showed up to the ring with a sloppy turnout. A lot of people think “but it’s the (jumper ring/schooling class/au concours), your turnout doesn’t matter!” I strongly disagree. Here are my do’s and don’ts of proper turnout in the show ring.

1. You Don’t Need to be Matchy-Matchy

Does Ainsley look great in the ring with all her gear done in custom colours? Absolutely. Is it a requirement to buy expensive custom products? Not at all. While it’s nice to have all your things in matching barn colours, its not entirely necessary. A lot of stock products come in neutral colours that would look great on any horse, and can create a polished look that doesn’t max out your credit card. Black bonnets and tendon boots are guaranteed to look smashing on any coloured horse – whether its a pinto or a dark bay. A clean, crisp white saddle pad will always look good, and a little bleach will get rid of any stains and keep it looking like new. Some of you might get bored with black and white, but navy blue and grey will generally be alright as well. If you do want to go the custom route, my friend Ardie at Blueberry Hill can order a completely custom wardrobe for both you and your horse. She also has plenty of conservative stock to make sure you’ll look lovely (and still have enough money in your chequing account to actually go to a show). Plus, you’ll spare yourself the 4-6 weeks wait-time for your custom order to arrive.

2. You Don’t Need a Bonnet

McLain Ward almost never puts a bonnet on his horses when they compete, and I think they look just as nice as those that do have one on. One of my biggest pet peeves is ugly, or poorly fitting bonnets. It drives me absolutely bananas to see a horse with a too short, or too pointy, or just plain ugly bonnet. That faded maroon bonnet with the frayed silver tin-foil trim that doesn’t fit your horse’s head should stay at the barn if you won’t send it to the rubbish bin.

If you do insist on wearing a bonnet, it should be one of three colours: navy blue, black, or grey. The only exception is brown, which belongs almost exclusively on a chestnut horse. Of course adding coloured trim is more than acceptable, but the base colours should be conservative. If you’re not sure what you should have, just ask Katie or Steph at De La Coeur, and they’ll make sure your horse’s bonnet looks fabulous without breaking the bank.

3. Shadbellies and White Breeches Don’t Mix

Perfectly dressed for a classic - a shadbelly and beige breeches (Photo Credit: Totem Photographics)

Unless you’re a top level dressage rider, I don’t ever want to see you wearing white breeches with your shadbelly. I understand that shadbellies are expensive, and a lot of riders can’t justify buying one for 3 or 4 classes a year. I completely understand, and if I hadn’t found mine in a going-out-of-business sale, I might not have one either. If you don’t own a shadbelly, then by all means, wearing white breeches with a black or navy coat for a classic is just fine. Hunter classics are a formal class, and are based in tradition. It is the tradition for men to wear white breeches and their dark jackets and ladies to wear beige breeches and a shadbelly. To combine both white breeches with a shadbelly is overkill.

While we’re on the subject of shadbellies, I have to ask riders to please make sure that the points on their shadbelly meet their breeches. With a lot of lower-rise breeches being extremely popular, a lot of riders have a substantial white gap between the points of their shadbelly and their breeches. This creates the illusion of a pot belly. Not very attractive. I’ve had this problem, and after being frustrated with my points being too short and not being able to fit into high-waisted breeches, I  went to H&M and bought a grey waistcoat on sale, for about $25. The fitted vest looks perfect underneath my shadbelly, and I don’t need to worry about creating the illusion of a belly.

4. Some Things Should Be a Given

One of my less brilliant moments in the saddle - but at least my turnout was excellent! (Photo Credit - Totem Photographics)

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there are some things that should just be done. This includes a clean horse with bits of hay and shavings brushed out of his mane and tail. His mane should lie neatly on one side of his neck if you haven’t braided it, and he should have a full body clip with his legs and muzzle trimmed. I know that clipping is a dreadful chore, especially if you have a horse that’s terrified of the clippers, but you can also hire someone to give your horse a haircut for you. I know something in the $100 range might sound pricey, but when you consider how much money we spend on show fees and trainers, it is a small price in the grad scheme of things, and will save you time in the long run when your horse dries quicker with short hair and isn’t lathered with foamy sweat.

5. Buttons Aren’t for Decoration

I can’t stand seeing a rider go around in a jacket with their collar undone. I know on some brutally hot days that jackets may be excused, in which case I think its valid to undo your collar in the jumper ring (unless its a classic, Grand Prix or any other occasion that calls for white breeches). What I don’t understand is riders that go around with a jacket and an undone collar. I think this is more of an attempt to look cool than actually be cool. However, I find that this look is sloppy and unkempt.

6. Dark Breeches in the Show Ring

I think that a pair of black or denim breeches look great with a polo shirt … For schooling days at home. There is nothing wrong with wearing them at the show on schooling days, or for your morning hack to keep your show clothes spotless. Seeing dark breeches in the ring is just wrong. Beige breeches for every day, and white for big classes folks!

I know I sound like I’m repeating myself, but I do believe that looking good isn’t a vanity thing – it is about taking pride in what you do. Plus, there are implications for making memories. I have plenty of great pictures of me and my horses, and I could tell you exactly which ones are from winning classes, and which ones were disastrous. However, in all the pictures, everyone is neat and tidy, and even though the result of the class might not have been desirable, the picture is lovely. A picture is worth a thousand words right? Make sure they’re the right ones.

Happy Trails!

Horses and Hockey

Horses can wear their teams colours too!

I bet you’ve seen four-legged friends dressed up in modified miniature jerseys to help support their masters’ team. Problem with horses is, not only is it hard to find a jersey big enough for them, they really object to having things pulled over their heads. I think I found the ideal solution when I sewed a Boston Bruins’ crest onto a custom bonnet Steph and Katie at De La Coeur made for me. While the quality of product speaks for itself (read my original review here), the newest addition has created a wave of sports themed bonnets. Not only that, these orders haven’t been limited to hockey; check out the New England Patriots in the middle!

I have to say, I’m not too surprised that these bonnets took off the way they did – in fact, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. A lot of horse people are avid hockey fans, and unfortunately, a jersey isn’t considered appropriate show attire. The bonnets are the perfect way to show how much you and your horse love your team – all while still being properly turned out in the show ring.

If you don’t see your favourite team up there, then its up to you to change it! These bonnets currently available by special order only. Please contact De La Coeur or any of their retailers to order your team’s.

Happy Trails

PS – Yes, I’m going to confess that the primary aim of this post was to credit myself with starting the trend of hockey themed horse bonnets. This is the first time I have started a trend, so I hope you forgive me for capitalizing on it, and monopolizing the credit.

Don't forget about the bonnet that started it all! If you ask me, Cycan is the best looking boy to wear the Bruins B.

Pretty Pony Girl

MAC Concealer - a little goes a long way!

Its a little funny that as hunter/jumper riders we become somewhat obsessed with our appearance and turnout. Boots so shiny you can see your face in them, 40 identical braids in your horse’s mane, spotless white breeches – everything has to be perfect. However, so many of us have to crawl out of bed before the sun, and we don’t bother to brush our hair, let alone put on any make-up. Now, I don’t normally doll myself up for a horse show either, but there are always post-show activities where you might want to look a little better (or just presentable). After a little touchup, don’t be surprised if you actually look rather chic in your breeches, boots and riding shirt. The equestrian fashion trend is still going strong, so why not rock it? After all, who knows how to wear breeches better than us riders? Just don’t tell the fashionista who bought a pair of couture “breeches” for over $700!

Here is my beauty survival kit for horse shows. I can keep all of these things in a plastic pencil case that fits perfectly into a tack box for those unexpected situations where you need to be presentable. Actually, I lied – I keep it in my car’s glove box. Its actually a pretty good kit to have for all situations, not just rushing from a horse show.

1. Benefit Bad Gal Mascara – $19

I was introduced to this by my good friend and fashionista/PR wonder girl Stephanie Fusco. It’s been her go to for years, and mine as well. I find it really makes your eyes pop so much, you won’t miss your eyeliner and shadow.

Stila Convertible Color - perfect for lips and cheeks!

2. Stila Convertable Color – $25

This little guy is perfect for both lips and cheeks (I like to wear Lilium). Perfect to make yourself look nice and perky after a long day at the horse show.

3. MAC Studio Finish Concealer – $17

This teeny-tiny pot is proof that a little goes a long way. It’s great for those under eye circles that form because you were up at 5am.

4. Perfume Samples – Free!

Samples are perfect for tucking into an emergency survival kit. Especially helpful if you’re going to meet a non-horsey crowd who don’t appreciate how good the stable smells. A lot of department stores will be happy to give you a sample of your favourite perfume.

Sephora's foldable hairbrush.

5. Sephora Pop-Up Brush – $10

This collapsable brush is ideal for these situations. You’re not going to be able to give yourself gorgeous perfect Jennifer Aniston hair (frankly, I can’t do it after an hour with my straightner), but it will be perfect for brushing out bits of hay and styling a neat ponytail.

6. Bobby Pins & Elastics – under $5

These little essentials will have your hair (especially if you have bangs) looking presentable in no time. Besides, someone always breaks an elastic at the horse show, and you’ll be their hero if you can help them out.

8. Baby Wipes – under $10

Your local drugstore will likely carry a thin package containing 20 or so moist wipes. Perfect for getting the dirt and grime off your face and leaving your skin feeling nice and refreshed.

A lot of the products I listed can be purchased from Sephora, who often have them in mini-sample sizes. These smaller ones are perfect for just these kinds of situations. If you don’t feel like buying all new things, products that aren’t your favourite, but still useful are great for these little emergency cosmetics kits.

Happy Trails!

Why You Should Buy Brand Names

If you were to look at me at the horse show ring you would see Cycan wearing a Dy’on bridle with a KK snaffle in his mouth, with either a De La Coeur or Talisman bonnet on his head. He would probably have Veredus back and grab boots and Eskadron polos on his legs. On his back there would be a Delgrange saddle and an Ogilvy pad and a Cheldric girth to hold it in place. I would probably be dressed with my Charles Owen helmet, Der Dau boots, Pikeur breeches, a Marigold jacket and a Cheval shirt.

A lot of you might have read all that and assumed that I was totally superficial and consumed with the brands my horse and I are wearing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m one of those people where I prefer quality over quantity. I have several excellent reasons for this.

Cycan and I all decked out - Winter Equestrian Festival 2011 (Photo Credit: J.L Parker)

The first is that high quality products look good,  they stay good looking, and they stay functional. I’d much rather buy a product once, and have it last for a long time. My Delgrange saddle has been with me for most of my riding career (read about that here) and I have no intention of replacing it in the future.

The other thing is that a lot of hard work and effort goes into designing, testing and creating these quality products. Delgrange saddles for example, are hand made in France. De La Coeur ears are hand crocheted in Canada. Ogilvy Equestrian products and Cheval riding shirts are also made in Canada. Veredus boots are made in Italy and Charles Owen helmets are made in the UK.  What you notice is that all of these products are made in industrialized countries, and the people who make them are earning a fair wage. While these higher wages can lead to a more expensive product, I think its well worth supporting.

Charles Owen AYR8 - Made in England

While it would be inappropriate for me to name names, there are a lot of equestrian products on the market that are outsourced to developing countries like China and India. While I realize that they can create a good quality product at a cheaper price, I don’t see the point in buying it when there is very little difference in the price I pay. For example, I would much rather pay $500 for a riding jacket that was custom made for me in Canada, than one for $450 dollars that was made in China. Let’s remind ourselves that the reason why these products can be made cheaper there is that China has a less than stellar human rights track record.  I’m not against imported products by any means, but I think that if there are two products of comparable quality and price, that I should buy Canadian (or at least developed-country) made. If you’re going to complain about Canadian industries suffering, you can be part of the solution by buying something that was made in your backyard.

Lastly, I think its important that entrepreneurs that are trying to make a quality product are rewarded for their innovation. How would you feel if you poured your heart and soul, as well as time effort and money, into a product, only to have a competitor steal your idea, outsource it to China, and then nudge you out of the market by beating your price? Not good I’ll bet.

Happy Trails!

Girls Only – Best Riding Bras!

Sorry boys, this one isn’t for you … well, if you’re a boy needing a sports bra, I’d wager you aren’t an equestrian. There’s nothing that I find more distracting and repulsive than watching a girl ride with her, well, girls bouncing about. This is especially applicable for you dressage and equitation riders doing sitting trot all the time. Aside from the aesthetics of keeping things secure, it should make for a more comfortable ride as well.

Let’s just say that over the years of riding, I’ve had the opportunity to test out different models. Without any further ado, I present my top 5 riding bras of all time:

#5 – La Senza Cotton Racerback

PROS: This light weight bra with a mesh back helps keep sweat off your back while offering a good amount of support.

CONS: They don’t have the longest life. In my experience, they are worn out and useless in about 5-6 months. Their life might have been extended if I had hand washed them instead of thrown them in the washer, but who has time for that? Also, I found that the thicker cotton material absorbed sweat from the front and got soggy as opposed to drying

#4 Champion 360 Max Support Sports Bra

PROS: Ultra supportive. Nothing. Moves. At. All.

CONS: Possibly too supportive. I found this design to keep things in place by strapping them down like you were preparing for a hurricane. This resulted in a uni-boob. Not the greatest look. I also didn’t think the material was breathable enough to be worn under show shirts, but it was fine enough to go with a t-shirt or polo.


#3 Reebok Short Bra

PROS: This design comes a bit further down your rib cage, which I found created a little “shelf” for things to rest on. The material was supportive enough, and the thick straps were very comfortable on my shoulders.

CONS: The thick banding at the back isn’t the most breathable and tends to collect moisture.

#2 Nike Rival Straight Back Women’s Sports Bra 

PROS: Light wight material and there racerback design helps keep the sweat off your body. The thick band helps keep a smooth looking profile, and the shaped cups prevent the dreaded uni-boob.

CONS: The cups don’t seem to offer the most support for jarring activities like sitting a trot. Plus the bands are a bit too thin for my preferences, and after a long day at a horse show, you may find yourself with red marks on your shoulders.

#1 – Lululemon Ta Ta Tamer

PROS: ultra lightweight, breathable material makes these bras comfy while offering maximum support. I love the extra thick band with the three hooks that makes a nice snug fit while keeping a smooth profile. Plus, they last almost forever. I’ve gone one that’s approaching its 3rd birthday. The shaped cups offer the added bonus of no uni-boob and a little extra support. Hooray!

CONS: the shaped cup always seems to fall out in the washing machine, or get folded into different shapes. It can be annoying the fit them back into place.

Honourable Mention – Shock Absorber

A well endowed friend mentioned the shock absorber to me. While I rated garments I’ve used myself, this could be an option for a lot of fuller figured riders as this is available in many larger sizes.

Happy Trails (and Shopping!)