National newspapers – and some equestrian magazines – seem aghast that cut-price supermarket chain Aldi has launched a range of casual riding clothes. You can now pick up a pair of yard boots for £12.99 or children’s jodhpurs for £8.99: don’t forget to put a few carrots for the family pony in your shopping basket at the same time.
There have been mutterings that this is yet another nail in the coffin of the specialist equestrian retailer. But is it? Isn’t it more likely that in the long run, this will benefit them?
If we’re to pay more than lip service to the concept that riding isn’t an elitist sport, we have to make it easy for people. Riding schools must try ever harder in what becomes an increasingly difficult climate for them, thanks to rate rises and health and safety legislation, and the Pony Club tries its absolute best to dispel its ‘posh’ image.
These clothes are cheap and cheerful, but what’s wrong with that? Make it easier for people to start riding and it’s more likely that they’ll pluck up courage to have a go and, perhaps, find a lifelong passion.
It isn’t as if the supermarkets are selling safety gear – though, of course, it’s all too easy to buy riding hats and body protectors online or even, heaven forbid, secondhand via internet auction sites. The latter doesn’t bear thinking about: what parent risks his or her child’s life by buying safety gear that could be damaged or doesn’t fit properly? A hat’s protective qualities can be compromised by dropping it, let alone falling off in it.
Most people learning to ride start off by having weekly or fortnightly lessons. You don’t need top quality designer gear for that, you simply need to be safe and comfortable and a pair of jodhs that cost under a tenner can probably do that just as well as the upmarket equivalent.
If you’re a horse owner and ride every day, then on a cost per wear basis, you’re sometimes better off paying for quality clothing that will last longer. Even then you can’t guarantee it: three years ago I replaced my £90 short boots with a £30 pair that are just as comfortable and, touch wood, are wearing just as well.
Supermarkets sell staples, the items we can’t do without. Aldi and Tesco before it are doing the same, offering basics for your riding wardrobe. For those starting out and for parents of children who grow like weeds, it can only be good news.