It’s a funny thing, tradition – and nowhere is it funnier than in the horse world. On the one hand, we have the appliance of science to help us with everything from the way we feed our horses to the lightweight materials that make riding hats so much more comfortable and safer than those of even 20 years ago.
On the other, we’ve got unwritten rules that many of us cheerfully break. For instance, why should you have seven or nine plaits down a horse’s neck and an extra one for the forelock? I know I’m in good company here, as most professionals simply tailor the number of plaits to suit the horse’s conformation. However, for some reason everyone I canvassed admitted to always making an odd number of plaits down the neck because an even number seemed ‘wrong’ or ‘unlucky.’
And as for riding clothes – if you’re a show jumper, it’s anything goes. Well, more or less: an extrovert friend stripped down to her bra in the collecting ring at an affiliated jumping show during the heatwave because riders had been told they could discard their jackets as long as they weren’t wearing sleeveless shirts underneath.
Realising that another rider was about to pass out because she lacked the required sleeves, my generous (and, it must be admitted, generously endowed) friend suggested they swap shirts for the other rider to complete her round. I’m told it caused quite a stir, but the collecting ring steward decided that no BS rules had been broken so there was nothing to worry about.
If you’re a showing person, it’s a minefield. Tack should be brown, not black, even if you’re riding a piebald on whom black would be more discreet. Jackets must be worn unless you’re showing certain breeds in-hand, when you can get away with a waistcoat, or you’re lucky enough to be competing under sympathetic judges. Having said that, a showing pro friend bought a thin tweed jacket and said it was actually warmer than her thick one: her theory was that her beloved Bernard Weatherill jacket acted like a thatched roof and kept her cooler or warmer as necessary.
I’ve yet to comprehend the diehards’ insistence that long leather boots should have straight tops and garter straps (narrow straps which originally fastened round the leg, between the buttons which secured breeches at the knee.) There are, though, some riders and judges who do everything bar make a sign to ward off the devil if they see a competitor wearing boots with higher cut dressage tops.
So are there traditions worth keeping? Yes, especially those which behove us to be kind and courteous. If we all pass left hand to left hand when riding in a school or collecting ring, there’s less danger of an accident. If we all smile and nod a thank you to any motorist or cyclist who makes the slightest effort to slow down, we might get the message across and make them more inclined to do it again.
There are also new traditions in the making that should definitely survive. Just think, in a few years’ time your children/grandchildren might look at photographs from today and ask in amazement: Did some people really ride without high-vis clothing?