Eventing; Gearing up for Greatness

Eventing is a minefield when it comes to the latest equestrian gadgets, but where is your money best spent for optimum performance? Rhi Lee-Jones investigates.

As I watched Piggy French clear her final fence at Badminton Horse Trials, her fist pumping the air in victory, I was overcome with jealousy. But what was it that I was coveting? Was it the stunning mare Vanir Kamira that she was riding? The feeling of a lifetime of work culminating in glory?

No, I’m embarrassed to say it was her saddle. Her beautiful jumping saddle.

This got me thinking. Maybe I’m just one sexy jump saddle away from competing my ex-racehorse at Badminton myself. Or maybe I’m not competing at 5* because I’m using the wrong bit.

Perhaps it’s because my brushing boots don’t match my saddle cloth… Yes, that’s definitely it! I’m not matchy matchy enough! Well, enter me for Burghley and start the lorry; I’ve cracked it.

Disclaimer: the real reason I’m not competing at 5* is because I brick myself jumping anything over 1m. Although it’s much easier to blame the fact that I don’t own the horsey world’s most fashionable item du jour.

Since when did an obsession with horses mean an obsession with tack, gadgets and trends?

Chatting to some eventing friends of mine, it appears I’m not the only one who feels this way. We see these incredible equestrian athletes wearing the latest ergonomic bridle and it’s pretty difficult for our brains not to associate these pieces of (expensive) equipment with equestrian success.

That somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that just buying a new type of stirrup leather will transform our ex-racehorses into Valegro and suddenly we are going to be catapulted into international fame (or, at the very least, Tokyo 2020).

I’m no economist, but I’m fully aware that consumerism is at the heart of Western society. Damn, it’s what Instagram is based on. And let me reiterate, I’m a huge fan of the stash. Little is more exciting in a horse-person’s life than the anticipation of a delivery the day after an online tack sale. And the shops at Badminton? Don’t get me started.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that humans have been riding horses for 6000 years.

Twenty years ago, Andrew Nicholson and Mary King were clearing the Vicarage Vee in little more than hot pants and a snaffle.

With all the developments in the equestrian world and the latest pieces of fancy tack, are we really competing at a better standard today? It depends how you measure it, but nobody has ever jumped higher than Capt. Alberto Morales, the Chiliean who cleared a casual 2.47m on his horse Huaso ex-Faithful seventy years ago.

Of course, with developments in horsey gadgets come developments in safety. And this is a crucial factor, even more so when rebuilding confidence after a fall. No price can be put on anything that keeps our heads, bodies and horses safe in this insane, ridiculous and dangerous sport we do for kicks. But I’m talking about the emphasis on aesthetics and the equine trends of the moment. And most importantly, the kids in pony club who can’t afford them.

I wonder what effect these fashions are having on them?

Staying on my Welsh Mountain Pony and wondering if my DC would ever bust me for not being able to do a tail bandage was my biggest concern in Pony Club, not whether I was wearing the latest dressage gloves. I wonder if it’s the same now.

Eventers are a hard working bunch. We are gluttons for punishment. Never satisfied. Why else would you compete in a sport with three phases? So you can always be obsessing over at least one, obviously!

But when it comes to the crunch, what is important are the hours spent in the saddle, not the cash spent on the saddle.

Graft alone will determine our success, not whether our brushing boots match our saddle cloths. In short, I’m probably best taking my savings for a new saddle and spending them on a few good riding lessons instead. That buffalo leather though….