Dressage Riding Outfits: Military or Madness?

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Riding Habit Revised a column where the best and worst of equestrian fashion and decor is reviewed with a modern edge.  


Have you ever had the unpleasant experience of trying to explain to a non-equestrian that much of modern day riding technique, and dressage in particular, comes from a military background?  “Do you mean to tell me that a pirouette has ever had any practical purpose?  You must be joking!”

Perhaps this is because at the highest level of competition (meaning the competitions which the average person has any hope of ever seeing), the dressage riders come dressed as if they are about to attend a dinner party with mad King George III himself – top hat, tails and all.  But this wasn’t always the case.  When dressage made it’s first appearance as an individual sport at the Olympics in 1912, this was the winning look of the day:

1912 Individual Dressage Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Bonde and Emperor (SWE)

1912 Individual Dressage Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Bonde and Emperor (SWE)

The look is military from head to toe.  Indeed for the first twelve years, Olympic eventing competitions were only open to male military officers in active duty, mounted only on military horses. For these competitions, they wore the kind of gear that made them quick and stable on a horse, lest they and their mount be decimated by gunfire when in battle.

Now, I admit, most modern-day dressage riders do not come from a military background, and therefore wearing a formal uniform in competition is out of the question.  But, this doesn’t mean that a military inspired outfit isn’t still possible and preferable.  Take a page from the female equestrian playbook on this one.

Women sporting military style riding looks were somewhat of a scandal in the mid-1600s, but in Paris they did it anyway.  And soon the look spread from the continent, to England, and to the new world!  One of the best-known pictures of this look is this painting of Lady Worsley, who was quite scandalous herself! But I get the feeling she and George Morris would have hit it off just fine:

"Don't be distracted by criticism. Remember the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you." – George Morris

So I say forget the critics!  Let’s give our dressage riders a practical look in and out of the competition arena.  And military attires seems to be a pretty practical place to start.  I won’t begin to venture at how long it will take the powers that be to enact change at the international level, but like all the great counter-(canter) cultures, we should start at the grassroots with looks like this one:

WWI Horse With Gear Women’s T-Shirt | Little War Horse

This shirt comes from Little War Horse, where they are already fighting the good fight with their line of World War I inspired graphic shirts and bags.  In fact, their entire mission statement (read it here) cries out for a modern reworking of horse culture, which we love here at Counter-Canter Culture.

As for the future of all dressage attire, maybe there is hope.  FEI “I” Judge Janet Foy was willing to point out, “We might attract more people if we looked like we were having more fun.”  Exactly.

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