Bling in the Ring. How much is too much?
First of all let me be clear that I am not referring to flamboyant colors and costumes with bling in the riding disciplines that have historically always included them. I am talking about the discipline of dressage. Ah...that stuffy old fashioned black or navy blue discipline of "classical" dressage? Yes that's the one. Dressage. I should also make it clear that I am not morally opposed to either color or bling per se. I am currently in the Epicenter of Bling; South Florida. I am actually rather fond of bling on belts, buttons, caps and sandals. I am in favour of bling on browbands if not too excessive. But bling on tall boots, helmets, collars , cuffs and points of tailcoats? Where should the line be drawn?
Yesterday I saw a rider in a pale grey tailcoat with collar and cuffs in a bright pinkish red all outlined with diamond bling. The tails had a bright red lining that flapped into sight as the horse moved . I was, as they say in England, gobsmacked. I found it so distracting and somewhat disturbing that it put me off the whole test. Here was someone riding at the FEI level in a "costume" that bordered on circus. Am I just getting old? Is this a demographic issue?
I doubt it is just a demographic issue with those on the older side of the great divide of 50 frowning on such displays and the younger set seeing this as a move in the right direction, a liberation from the austerity of black and navy and boredom. If any of the older residents of South Florida are anything to go by they are certainly not opposed to varying degrees of Bling in their everyday clothing. But what about their show clothes? I have not see anything like the blinged out tailcoat I saw yesterday on a person over 50 that is true. But it is still creeping in: the line of bling on the patent leather boots, the bling on spurs and bracelets that are worn in the show ring by dressage riders of all ages.
It is my understanding that dressage is judged on the horse and the rider's effectiveness in riding the horse. Showbusiness had long understood the influence of a costume in catching the eye of the audience. But is this the point in a dressage test? Is it the riders costume that should catch the eye of the judges or the quality of the horse's gaits, execution of the movements and harmony with the rider? I would hope it is still the latter. If it becomes all about the costume then the hours, the years, that are put in training a dressage horse will be a waste of time. Being upstaged by bling on multiple surfaces of a tailcoat or jacket and helmet would be a frustrating and disappointing outcome after all the hard work of preparing a horse for a dressage test.
Color is another issue. I was happy to see the grey tailcoat appearing on some of the world's top riders. It looks smart and is just a bit different. At the World Dressage Masters I was interested to see a brown tailcoat and helmet with brown and grey accompanied by brown saddle and bridle. The horse was chestnut and this looked really rather good. However when it came to the evening freestyle I was not so sure about the brown tailcoat. This rider is one of the top riders in the world. Her equivalent in the halls of business or government would have worn a smart suit during the day but in the evening would have been in something much smarter and more elegant. The WDM is not a black tie and ballgown affair but the judges put on outfits more approriate for the evening and the scribes as well were in evening attire. Somehow the chocolate brown tailcoat looked underdressed under the lights.
Amoung the shops at the WDM I saw a lavender blue tailcoat with cherry pink collar and points lined with dimante bling. The underside of the tails was alligator. Yes ...alligator. Who would wear such a thing? The years of effort it takes to get to the FEI levels and to wear a tailcoat and you wear one that looks like this? Well it could be said it is "fun" but really?
Fun or not fun I think the main issue is that at some point too much bling and bright color will distract from the art of dressage. I think it would be a shame to loose the importance of how the movements are executed, how the horse is reacting to the rider, how the rider is communicating with the horse. These are the things that are the most important part of dressage. Will there have to be rules to prevent the encroachment of excessive bling? I have heard that 5* judge Cara Whitham , when judging a Young Riders test, sent a rider with a large stripe of pink bling on her helmet out of the ring and told her to return with something less garish. I do not know if this is a true story or just a dressage myth. But it is an interesting story and begs the question ....where will the bling end?