Dying in Beauty

This thought, from a day in Germany, came to me yesterday, when the very nice Mexican guy who cares for our  horses at the winter barn stopped me as I was leaving.

This good gentleman, new this year to the barn, comes and watches sometimes.  He seems fond of the young Dutch Pinto horse I have been working.  Sometimes when Melynnda and I work in the morning, there is a little gathering–which we must ignore and work just the same as if they were not there–no matter who.

Anyway, our caretaker stopped me and said: “You are a very good trainer, are you not?”

Embarrassed, I replied that I tried to be.

“How come you do not dress fancy, like the others?”

I was amused.  Though often I wear breeches under chaps in the winter, on that day I had jeans and my Blundstone winter paddock boots, walking to the car, adorned further in a worn Carhartt barn coat.


These are great–you can fit spurs on them nicely, they are insanely water proof and great to walk in–enough tread not to fall down, not too much for the stirrup.  Good for wide feet.


Carhartt twill, wool-lined. $85. ten years old. Washes great, warmer than my Arc’teyrx, which I also love.


I said back to him, “It matters not what I wear, but what comes out of the horse.”

Yes, he laughed, and still laughing, turned back to his wheel barrow.

In my closet at home I have two pairs of Konig show boots, one pair of $1,100 Dehners, at least seven pairs of well-worn full seat riding breeches.  (I wear Cavallo.) I intend to have these last the rest of my life.  (This is my fourth pair of Dehner boots, by the way.  They “only” last about ten years.)

In the winter, as mentioned before. we walk through ankle-deep muck to get our horses, and once gotten, we trudge across what is sometimes five or six inches of water to get to the arena. Dehners are great, but they are not waterproof. And they are not warm. If I want to ride more than one horse–and not wreck my truly frighteningly expensive boots, I have to make alternate plans.  There are many things one can wear–especially with the addition of some Body Glide!–and ride well.

Here is an amusing post idea that I have yet to write:

“Wall Street Journal home and garden writer Anne Marie Chaker is working on a story about an equestrian ‘look’ that translates well to gardening and sportswear in general. Wondering if retailers are seeing growing consumer interest in breeches as an alternative to leggings? It’s a look that seems to be gaining momentum in the wake of the Downton Abbey craze…”
Though still thinking of how to write it, I am stalled, as I cannot yet wrap my mind around purposely gardening in my $300 breeches! 
Perhaps they are not interested in gardening the way I usually am, but maybe imagine walking in a (hopefully) elegant garden?
That might be nice. . . in or out of riding breeches.
But wait!  I think of my days in Fresno CA with two old ladies following me around as I grocery shopped in riding clothes, muttering, “Must be one of those Nazi people. . .”
This experience may possibly have skewed my appreciation for public outings in equestrian apparel. ?
Back to Dying in Beauty. (You were wondering when this was going to come up again?

Christine Doan, who has a perfectly stunning talent for languages of all sorts, said to me once, watching a simply gorgeous rider at work in Rudolf’s indoor, “It would be fine if he were not ‘dying in beauty’.”

Catching my look, she explained: “That is when it is so important to look good in the moment, that the long-term progress is sacrificed.  Nothing gets done.”

Dying in Beauty could (and does) come in many forms. And since we as humans all have ALL these urges–I am not being critical–we must learn to manage these urges for the good of the horse, and the ultimate progress of the horse.

There is nothing wrong with looking good.  Dressing well is fine, if you want to.  Do so for clinics and lessons–it shows respect.  But, as long as you are warm and dry (or cool enough), wear what you ride best in, and whatever holds up well while not breaking the bank.  Very good riding clothes last a really long time.  But if you can get the job done in jeans, be my guest.

And, more than in attitude than clothing, ‘Dying in Beauty’ means when something must be done in the training that (in the moment) does not look as perfect as it will look in the end, people prefer to fake the end without going through the process.

My opinion?  Be true to the ride.  Really, there is no way around the basics and the longer you put them off the bigger hole you dig for yourself–and the beast.  Corrections in the hand-with very, very rare exception are done gently and in a guiding manner.  Corrections from the leg, more definite.  The ribs are more resilient than the gums!  But further, if the horse refuses to stretch, teach him.  If he refuses to carry himself, insist.  If he is not in front of your leg, make an issue.  (Every time it happens!) Similarly so if he or she runs through the hand or rushes when you give space.  Corrections done kindly are what the sport is about.  Not doing them is not horse training, and it is not in the end kind.  There are certain basics that are true for EVERY school.


Re clothes, sure, if I am going to ride a lot of horses I ALWAYS dress in full seat breeches, gloves, tall boots and appropriate “other wear”.  That is practical.  But for one or two horses, if I’m in a hurry?  Whatever I happen to be in.  Riding is riding, not dressing.  And, barns are where horses live.  Barns contain manure, hay, bedding, dust, and extremes of weather.  As much as the riding clothing industry would have us think they are ski slopes or golf courses, they are not.

So, if you  worry the sport is expensive–which it is–and you have more money in clothes than lessons, more cash in your towing rig and trailer than your horse, more funds in your saddle than your beast, it might be something to look at.  Just a thought.

Though I do admit there are times when jeans prove inconvenient: you should hear my friend Sally’s tirade when on locking herself out of their house, she went to the golf club where her husband was playing and they would not allow her in to see him because she was wearing barn clothes.  REAL barn clothes.  The kind you COULD pick up manure in.  Don’t even get her started. . . .


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