What Are You Wearing?

If our clothing is viewed as a means of self-expression, a representation of who we are, then what do Candace’s multi-colored gloves and pink-laced paddock boots say about her as a rider? She explores the concept in this essay.

Candace's glove collection... and pink-laced paddock boots. Photo by Candace Wade.

Candace’s glove collection… and pink-laced paddock boots. Photo by Candace Wade.

“What are you wearing?” is usually followed by heavy breathing and suggested activities that you wouldn’t share with your mother. I was dressing for my first ride with my dressage friend. She’s an old-school, trained in the early Spanish Riding School method repository of dressage knowledge… and opinions. My husband asked the “what are you wearing” question as he caught me scrabbling through my riding togs.

Forget that I am just a recreational rider.Forget that I am a self-proclaimed “horse slut,” someone who doesn’t own a horse and will ride whatever safe horse she can get her thighs around. Forget that my training has been a patchwork of riding lessons. I was in trouble when my friend asked “Do you want a lesson or do you just want to slop around the arena?” “Oh, I’ll just slop around the arena, thank you.” Next, I injected a little levity with a reference to my uniform of pink-laced paddock boots and half-chaps.  There was a breath of a pause before I heard: “You can wear what you like if you are going to slop around.”

Turns out I have a nice pair of tall German riding boots I bought from a dressage booth at the Equine Affaire in Ohio last April. I haven’t worn them because 1. They are very stiff and uncomfortable and 2. I don’t feel I ride well enough to sport them. My friend sighed. “They are supposed to be stiff to keep your leg in the correct position. The only way they get more comfortable is to WEAR THEM. Get a lift from the tack shop for the heel. That will help. If you dress for how you ride, you will ride as you dress.”

My friend had given me a spiffy pair of cotton net and robin’s egg blue leather riding gloves for Christmas. I had planned to wear those — not my usual neon pink gloves. Dead air on the phone, then: “I gave those to you thinking you would wear them someplace else.” I knew I was in for an ego-trouncing before I even slid my boot toes into the irons.

So, there I was on the floor in the bedroom struggling to get past my need for emotional and physical comfort. I chose my black schooling tights – classic – not my favorite peacock blue ones. I fought my hand reaching for the oversized shirt that hides my derrière. I chose a neutral turtleneck that tucks in and a Polartec zippy for warmth and the Kleenex pockets. The world would just have to deal with the sight of my middle-aged rear. I did pull on my silk, anti-terminal VPL (visible panty line) undies.

Socks. I don’t care; I must wear my lucky pink and purple socks. I stood my ground and told my friend: “I have to be me — I’m wearing my lucky socks.” Her reply was that everyone at the barn wears lucky socks. So much for my fight for individuality amongst the traditions of dressage.

Gloves. I have black gloves (summer and winter weight), purple gloves, red gloves, pink gloves and the new robin’s egg blue pair that have yet to finger reins. I knew I should go for the black gloves so, as my friend put it, “your hand mistakes won’t be so glaring.” Gloves are like the socks with me, they are an expression of how I feel. Besides, as I pulled them on in front of my friend:  “I want you to see when I make a hand mistake so you can correct me.” There… snap… blue gloves.

“What are you wearing?” turned out to be a deeply revealing question. No, my friend is not a snarky snoot. She is one of a dying breed in classical dressage and in most equestrian-based activities. Few have the time and patience to work with horses the old way. What is lost is the subtlety, what looks like magic, but is just giving a horse the time to figure out what you want and what he can give. When money and ribbons and our busy lives interfere, people like my friend see the beauty, tradition and the fostering of mentally and physically sound horses vanish. She feels the loss – especially for the horses.

“What are you wearing?” caused me to ask who and what am I? Who and what do I want to be? I opted for being realistic. I want to learn and improve, but riding is fun time for me. I want to have fun and make sure I do no harm to the horse and, with luck, to me. Being an archive for classical dressage is not in my future.

What am I wearing? Lucky socks; black/blue/brown or tan schooling tights; whatever shirt pleases me including my black Leon Russell t-shirt; my pink-laced paddock boots and half-chaps for the rough trail; but, now, my tall riding boots for lessons. Gloriouski, they really do keep your leg in place! Gloves? I “yam what I yam,”. . . pink, purple or robin’s egg blue.

What are you wearing?

Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

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