Girl in the Merlot Coat

I posted something on FB. I thought it was funny, knowing what I know, but boy did I hit a nerve, which I didn’t see coming.

I saw something pretty at a horse show, like really pretty. I gotta tell you, just so you know, I am not a fashionista. I love Target long sleeve t-shirts, and hoodies, denim, and Merrills. At shows, I wear the same tan breeches, white show shirt and navy R.J. Classic show coat over and over and over again week in and week out.

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I love the R.J. Classics navy coat, and get this… you can machine wash it after every show, hang it up to dry and it looks amazing. Where do they find this fabric? It looks like the traditional wool show coat, but it isn’t. It is beautiful, smart, and conservative. It is my uniform, and sometimes I throw in a lighter blue or grey coat to the mix when I am feeling feisty, or grow tired of several days in a row wearing navy. 

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Anyway, I saw a pretty show coat, my initial reaction was that is may be completely inappropriate for the hunter ring, but pretty non the less. I have a thing about burgundy, wine or any deep merlot/maroon color. My barn colors are navy and burgundy. The colors suit me. No one associates yellow with me, I am never that chipper. But burgundy or any variation, yes. me. I imagined myself wearing the pretty merlot coat. I imagined myself getting all dressed up with no where to go, since I currently don’t own a jumper, chuckled to myself, sighed, and snapped a photo of the coat, placed it back on the rack. Maybe one day, I thought to myself…

Yeah right, one day on Mars, maybe.

People lost their minds over the merlot coat when I posted it on FB. I was flooded with private messages imploring me to buy the coat, be that girl! The trend setter, the courageous one. I laughed, technically I have to change the rule first in the rule book to allow the color to be worn in hunter classes, because right now only black, brown, blue, hunter green and grey are allowable colors. However, clown breeches are allowed. Oops, I meant Canary breeches. As if. So… until I (or someone) actually propose(s) the rule change, the color remains illegal.

If you had to choose between wearing canary and wearing a burgundy color, which would you choose? Add the flares in and yeah I am going to be distracted a bit. Because what once was a strong fashion statement in the flares and yellow, is…well……not really me. I do have a pair  I used to hunt in, if I can find them I’ll start wearing them in the Derbies again with my shadbelly and you can let me know how distracted you are….

This has been quite a revealing conversation. Just to be clear, I never said I wanted to buy the pretty merlot show coat, I just wanted to see what people thought about seeing it in the hunter ring. I have had dozens of messages over this coat as well as  conversations this weekend at the show, which is all very fascinating to me. I think, in general, women care about their appearance, and typically go all the extra miles to see their hair done, nails done, outfits unique, and goodness, I am sure many people have a civilian wardrobe which I would envy any day of the week……but don’t bring the uniqueness to the horse show for God’s sake!

Horse people talking about Tradition and Fashion reminds me of watching goats ram each other in the head.

Loads of people say we need to hold onto tradition, we need to exemplify what happens in the hunt field, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

So ok then, let’s consider what has evolved from the hunt field to the hunter ring for a minute and consider those ‘traditions’ and at the same time look at showing from a few decades ago.

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John Tabachka sporting many traditional looks we do not permit in the show ring today.

Our terrain has changed….we no longer have EVERY show in a field over natural obstacles. Today, the grass venues are considered ‘unique’ and ‘special’. Now the stress of bad footing is causing an existential crisis with horse people. There are approximately three horse shows left with any trees standing in the ring. Fox hunters gallop through mud, show people scratch in heavy rain.

It is common to find gates at the end of a ring.

We have crossrail classes……The only cross rail in the hunt field was once a four post fence line which 40 people obliterated along the chase. At shows in the old days, everyone jumped giant fences. I mean giant.

Our Safety concerns are different…. what we used to perform in a top hat or no hat at all has become a billion dollar industry for cranial protection and ASTM approval requirements, whatever that means. We now go through concussion training. Safety vests or jackets are honorable, commended and encouraged. Now there is a big push to change the way we wear our hair because a hit to the head in a helmet full of hair makes our brains bounce too much. Yet, the hunt field has disregarded ASTM requirements and basically could care less about industry standards or whether or not you wear a vest. good luck, don’t die, and keep up for Chrissake. We are wearing our unapproved, no chin strap, colorful, velvety helmets to our graves, thank you very much. 

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the traditional velvet cap Elizabeth Sponseller on Roanie. PC Theresa Ramsay

That was then, this is now.

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K. Moving on.

A medic is required at sanctioned shows….but in the hunt field, it is the good old 911 call that gets an ambulance (or helicopter)  to show up for some mishap. Or else you get tossed in the back of a pick up and taken to the Care First.

Our schedules have changed. We used to show on the weekends, now we are consistently showing five out of seven days, which makes zero sense to me. Most fox chasing clubs offer 2 or 3 days a week for their membership, which seems like plenty of horse time. 

Our horse shows are more manufactured than boutique, corporations clearly focused on making as much money off of you in one weekend or season as humanly possible, with little regard for the tradition of fox chasing. Most show horses would freak the eff out at a horn blowing next to them.

Our Federations have changed. What once was the original American Horse Show Association became the United States Equestrian Federation, and has evolved into both the United States Equestrian and the United States Hunter Jumper Association. Be right back on whether the Masters of Foxhounds Association has changed. oh that’s right…. never. (MFHA was established in 1907). Apparently we ‘show’ people need several hundred pages of rules to keep us in order while fox chasers need just one rule – DON’T PASS THE FIELD MASTER.

Our equipment has improved….what used to be a plain snaffle, pelham, or combination of both (on an ugly wide flat double bridle) has become…. well, let’s just estimate a 500,000 bit choice in the current day and age on hand made English leather, carefully ‘fancy’ stitched with pretty patterns, rolled leather, laced reins, with pretty brass nameplates tacked on at just the right place (behind the left ear), which sparkle in that perfect photo op.

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OMG if I used this bridle today? I would be shot. Aren’t those braids huge? But again, what a gorgeous jumper, no? PC Hunters/Jumpers of the 70’s and 80’s

Saddles have become de-militarized and cushy. We have knee blocks, leg blocks, side blocks, thigh blocks, butt blocks, whatever blocks, really so many blocks we could build a gymnasium with our blocks.

We actually use saddle pads now, which were not considered appropriate a few years ago.

We don’t tie our numbers to our backs with white string or twine anymore, and I certainly hope no one is tucking their back numbers into the collar anymore….gross.

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I don’t know about you but the first thing I noticed was the horse. wow, impressive, right? I want this horse! Then I look at the jump. Yikes. Big! Then I kind of look at the rider and go hmm, where did all that come from? PC FB group – Hunter/Jumpers of the 70’s and 80’s

Our stirrups bend and flex and have fancy inserts to keep our feet in place.

Rowel spurs are not common.

The length of a whip has been regulated, and if you have ever seen a hunt whip used to control hounds you would understand that a show whip is considerably shorter than a hunt whip. 

Leg protection is prohibited, (except in the equitation), yet in the hunt field everyone wears boots.

Our drinking has changed. While riding on sherry might be taboo in the show hunter world, most fox chasers cannot arrive to a hunt meet with an empty flask, and commonly ‘toast’ the hounds at 10 am, (or earlier during cubbing season.) By the end of two hours, every flask is appropriately empty. Yes, there are quite a few people drinking at 10 am at shows, but hopefully not as a norm.

Drug use is not permitted. Before Ace Promazine was invented, the double bridle kept you from passing the Field Master in the Hunt Field. Now fox chasers don’t leave home without their Ace Promizine like we don’t leave home without an American Express card, yet show horses have a list a mile long of banned substances, and if you get caught using them you have to get involved in a lengthy and expensive law suit to get off.

Our horses have changed. What once was considered the Holy Grail of a mock fox hunter (the Thoroughbred) is now an impossibly slow, heavy, and often stupid Warmblood. Now we are scraping together a few valuable TB’s to show in a division or two at a USEF sanctioned show, when just a few years ago we scoffed at the idea of a heavy warmblood in a hunter conformation class. Talk about a scandal, geeesh. If we really wanted to hold onto tradition, we would ban warmbloods.

Hunt Clubs have Hunt Balls to celebrate the end of season. The show world mails awards.

You get the idea, and you could probably add to the list. The point is, why are we holding onto this one last thing? What is so important about the color of a show coat? What is the underlying fear? Are people worried we are going to go from the merlot coat to feathers in our hair? And should men have a vote? Let’s not forget wild varieties of tweed and colored stock ties are extra popular on informal hunt days, including ALL of cubbing season. For many fox chasers, this is the favorite time of year, when they get to show off their most treasured outfits.

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My smiling mum and Smitten, her mother’s blue stock tie, her favorite tweed coat, and Smitten wearing all the boots as well as a breastplate!

I am not sure people who are clinging to the ‘old school’ look are considering what is really ‘old school’ The look today I actually consider quite ‘modern’. I personally was never a fan of rust colored breeches, and my days in them were thankfully brief growing up. Other people love them, and probably wear them brilliantly, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The white linen show coat? I don’t think I would want to wear that either. In fact the 70’s seemed to be loaded with odd outfits all over the place, so hopefully we don’t have to return to ‘old school’ fashion in the show world. That would actually be a bigger detriment to our little bubble.

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I watched the Ladies Sidesaddle class this week at the Maryland National Horse Show. It was beautiful to see those competitors so fancy with skirts. There are so few Sidesaddle competitors left anymore and it is an admirable division to take part in, but I couldn’t do it. The funny thing is, a hundred years ago, I would have been forced to ride Sidesaddle. Riding astride was not allowed. It took a few brave and courageous women to overturn the tradition of Sidesaddle, march to Washington, and encourage women to ride astride. Women had to fox hunt Sidesaddle! You can follow Devon Zebrovious to see how challenging that actually is, and she is good at it. I wouldn’t even make it down the dang driveway.

The following pictures of Devon show an array of traditions the show world has strayed away from, see if you can locate a couple. 

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I have to say her first outfit I am thankful for because it pops out of the background. The navy is actually harder to see so I feel like I am missing something.

Ladies Sidesaddle classes have remained firmly rooted in those hundred year old traditions, and while it is nice to see an occasional resurgence of participants in those classes, we aren’t exactly splitting that division by age group. That is because riding and showing have evolved to be come less challenging, more comfortable, and easier for everyone involved. Values on tradition have changed, and will continue to change many years from now. And thankfully, we don’t have to ride Sidesaddle anymore if we choose not to. The tradition carries on in a lovely manner in the Sidesaddle division, so if you are married to tradition, maybe look there. But don’t forget tradition is not always practical. Or humane. The outfits alone are mind boggling, and stress me out.

“The attire/tack in the ss division is based off of traditional, appointments-style formal hunting attire that was standard back in the 1920s-1940s: Black or navy side saddle habit (consisting of matching jacket and apron, and the apron should be long enough that your right toe/foot does NOT show), typically made out of melton wool or cavalry twill (needs to be heavy to hang properly and not flap around); color-matching breeches under the apron; White or cream stock tie with stock pin; waistcoat/vest (buff, canary, white, unless a bona fide member of a registered hunt whose waistcoat livery is different and they have been awarded the right to wear it); tall dress boots (no zippers), with a spur worn high on the left ankle, and traditionally garters on your boots; Gloves are brown, wash, or cream (black gloves were for mourning, and one would not be so frivolous to go hunting if you were in mourning)”

Your preference of the merlot show coat should be your choice alone if you want to feel pretty. Go for it, I would never hold it against you for wearing one. I am going to look at the horse you are riding anyway, the outfit is irrelevant to me. I hope one day there will be room for the maroon coat in the hunter ring, maybe a solution would be to allow it for juniors and amateurs only, after all, they are the ones driving this sport forward, currently being the heaviest populated divisions in horse showing today.

Don’t give up ladies. And R.J Classics? Don’t give up on us drab and dreary hunter riders.  We are coming for ya, just wait a little moment will ya?

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BigEq.com proves that showing in maroon ain’t all the bad actually.

Poor Meggie wants to leave the hunters behind just so she wear the maroon coat. Shoutout to The Boot and Bridle Tack Shop for adding to the discussion.

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