Tack trends We find out whether it is fash­ion or per­for­mance at the fore­front

Eleanor Jones delves into the world of tack to dis­cover the lat­est trends — and whether it’s fash­ion or per­for­mance at the fore­front

Horse & Hound - - News Insider -

‘If I could get ev­ery­one out of flashes and into Mex­i­can grack­les or drops, I’d be very happy’ VANESSA FAIR­FAX

WHETHER you’re all about the plainest, dark­est ha­vana or you sport enough bling to put Ox­ford Street’s Christ­mas lights to shame, you have prob­a­bly changed the tack and equip­ment you buy and use over the years.

Any­one who took proud charge of their first pony in days gone by would no doubt have also been the owner of an un­adorned flat leather bri­dle, egg­butt snaf­fle and plain reins, not to men­tion a hor­ri­ble string girth.

But look for equip­ment now and you’ll be con­fronted with a daz­zling ar­ray of choice, from crys­tals of ev­ery size, shape and de­scrip­tion on any sur­face that could pos­si­bly hold them, to sad­dles that match your hel­met, to boots and bri­dles claim­ing to work all man­ner of won­ders.

And rather than choose a prod­uct and stick­ing with it, it ap­pears many riders are chang­ing their tack as of­ten as they clean it.

“Peo­ple are look­ing for so­lu­tions to their prob­lems,” says Al­bion man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Sherry Bel­ton. “Riders to­day are sub­ject to a huge amount of pres­sure; they see very good prod­ucts on the mar­ket, and they’re try­ing to get the edge.

“Peo­ple spend a huge amount on prod­ucts try­ing to im­prove per­for­mance; the modern sports rider is al­ways look­ing for some­thing that will give them that ex­tra half per­cent.

They spend a lot on com­pet­ing and are look­ing for a so­lu­tion that might help to raise their game. Not ev­ery prod­uct works for ev­ery horse, or ev­ery rider, but peo­ple are more aware of what’s out there that can im­prove things, so they just keep look­ing.”

Sherry says in terms of sad­dles, there has been a huge shift to­wards sin­gle-flap mod­els in the past two to three years, and she thinks they are “here to stay”.

“Riders must be mind­ful to en­sure sad­dles of­fer enough weight-bear­ing sur­face for the horse for ev­ery­day use,” she adds. “It’s some­thing peo­ple need to con­sider, although it’s of course up to the in­di­vid­ual, but cross­coun­try sad­dles were orig­i­nally de­signed to be rid­den in at speed, for a short time, and aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the best thing to ex­er­cise your horse in on a day-to-day ba­sis.”

Sherry says that with the num­bers of new prod­ucts com­ing on to the mar­ket, a sad­dle’s shelf life is of­ten now only two to three years be­fore riders look for the next “su­per thing”.

“There’s def­i­nitely more fash­ion in­flu­ence to­day,” she adds. “Peo­ple see new things on so­cial me­dia all the time.”

In terms of bri­dles, Sherry is pleased to see a “dras­tic” shift to­wards com­fort and anatom­i­cal de­signs over the past three years, and that re­cent stud­ies in this area have led to an­other trend — bri­dle fit­ters.

“I re­mem­ber say­ing to re­tail­ers and sad­dl­e­fit­ters that they could fit bri­dles too, and was met with some re­sis­tance at the time,” she says. “Now it seems ev­ery­one’s do­ing it; it’s great to see this shift in the in­dus­try.”

APART from the on­go­ing trends for ear bon­nets and sheep­skin half-pads, Sherry says drop nose­bands are

“very much the in thing” in dres­sage, ow­ing to ev­i­dence that they are more com­fort­able for the horse.

“But one thing I’ve no­ticed is that although trends are strong, they’re of­ten short-lived,” she adds. “As man­u­fac­tur­ers, we are con­stantly striv­ing to be ahead of the game, but the most im­por­tant thing for us is mak­ing qual­ity prod­ucts that func­tion and per­form.”

Sherry be­lieves trends started to “mo­tor” at the 1990 World Eques­trian Games, thanks to Ger­many’s Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt.

“She was spon­sored by Passier and the press were burst­ing with in­for­ma­tion and pic­tures, and so it started. I think she was the first rider who re­ally be­came a celebrity,” she says.

“From then on, it con­tin­ued with brands mak­ing world-class riders into their celebri­ties. Spon­sored riders and am­bas­sadors are now a must for ev­ery brand; they sell prod­ucts by the mar­ket­ing of their spon­sored riders in all eques­trian sports. My con­clu­sion is that brands create trends through their spon­sored riders.”

Mag­gie White, fi­nance di­rec­tor of

WOW Sad­dles, agrees that com­fort for horses is driv­ing trends in tack, but warns peo­ple to think be­fore they buy, and only in­vest in equip­ment that has been proven to do what its man­u­fac­tur­ers say it does.

WOW is also see­ing a de­mand for more sup­port­ive, er­gonom­i­cally de­signed seat and flap com­bi­na­tions on sad­dles, for those want­ing to ride de­spite their back or joint prob­lems.

“The abil­ity of the med­i­cal sec­tor to re­place worn or dam­aged joints means peo­ple have greater ex­pec­ta­tions of what they wish to do in their leisure time,” she ex­plains, adding that an­other big trend is for big knee rolls.

“They give peo­ple sup­port and con­fi­dence, and rid­ing’s all about con­fi­dence. Or if you’ve got a big-mov­ing horse, big knee rolls can help. This is a fash­ion, but it’s for a good rea­son.”

Mag­gie also agrees that peo­ple are look­ing for prod­ucts that give them the edge, as com­pet­ing is ex­pen­sive and they want re­turn on their in­vest­ment, but it’s also see­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of “pret­tier, more eye-catch­ing, cus­tomised sad­dles”.

And she thinks these are good for the sport. “Gov­ern­ing bod­ies are lag­ging be­hind on the need to make eques­trian sport more at­trac­tive to the pub­lic,” she says. “Other coun­tries are more flex­i­ble; we pro­duce some amaz­ing prod­ucts but, here, if you want to com­pete in dres­sage, you can’t have lots of dif­fer­ent colours on your tack.

“We need to be more ‘theatre’ about it,” she adds. “If we want rid­ing as a sport on TV, we’ve got to have a bit of theatre to at­tract peo­ple’s at­ten­tion, and a bit more colour will make it more in­ter­est­ing. If we lose TV cov­er­age and fund­ing, what hap­pens to the bot­tom of the sport if there’s less in­ter­est?”

Mag­gie says one “sad” thing that does not seem to be hot is buy­ing Bri­tish sad­dles, with riders favour­ing Eu­ro­pean brands.

But she warns that these tend to be more ex­pen­sive, and dif­fi­cult to ad­just when horses change shape, as well as the fact that Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ers pro­duce top-qual­ity equip­ment.

She hopes fu­ture trends will con­tinue to fea­ture more com­fort for horses and more sci­en­tific re­search be­hind prod­ucts’ claims.

“Many in­flu­encers pay lip ser­vice to the com­fort of the horse, but in re­al­ity are fash­ion or spon­sor-led,” she says. “They are ig­no­rant about tech­nol­ogy cre­ated and used by the sad­dle man­u­fac­tur­ers that do in­no­vate.

“It would be nice to think this might change, so my hope is for gov­ern­ing bod­ies to be more open to ed­u­cat­ing riders on what’s avail­able, with open days es­pe­cially benefiting Bri­tish com­pa­nies. It’s strange we voted to leave the EU, but do not sup­port Bri­tish com­pa­nies when they pro­duce some of the best sad­dles in the world.”

FAIR­FAX SAD­DLES di­rec­tor Vanessa Fair­fax says there has been a “huge shift” in the mar­ket this year, with riders opt­ing for per­for­mance over fash­ion.

“They’re think­ing about their horses, their way of go­ing and their com­fort, what­ever level they’re at,” she says. “We spend time talk­ing to cus­tomers, and we hear what they re­ally want.”

Vanessa says peo­ple are also keen to en­sure they are buy­ing qual­ity, durable prod­ucts, and that she has seen a shift to more dis­ci­pline-spe­cific pur­chases, some of which she at­tributes to the suc­cess of Team GBR at Lon­don 2012.

She agrees that peo­ple are more aware of the fact bri­dles can cause dis­com­fort if they are not ap­pro­pri­ate, adding: “They re­ally want to think things through and try to find what works, rather than grab­bing the near­est bri­dle off the peg and away they go. The whole trend of how the bri­dle in­ter­acts with your horse is a re­ally big thing.”

Vanessa ex­plains that there is a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion on nose­bands’ ac­tion, cit­ing Fair­fax re­search show­ing a crank al­lows more ar­tic­u­la­tion and moves more in har­mony with the horse than a caves­son, but she adds: “If I could get ev­ery­one out of flashes and into Mex­i­can grack­les or drops, I’d be very happy. The flash is the worst thing any­one can put on a horse in terms of pres­sure and ef­fect on gait — but it’s still the num­ber one go-to nose­band.”

Vanessa finds the “en masse” move to riders con­sid­er­ing horses’ com­fort and wel­fare a “heart­en­ing” trend, and she says that while the in­ter­net can be a neg­a­tive in­flu­encer, for the savvy rider there is a wealth of sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion avail­able, which should be used when mak­ing pur­chases.

All the man­u­fac­tur­ers agree that re­gard­less of trends, the most im­por­tant thing is to buy qual­ity equip­ment, cho­sen for suit­abil­ity for horse and rider.

As man­u­fac­turer Bates sums up: “We fo­cus on the com­fort of the horse, and the in­no­va­tions for the rider, be­fore meet­ing any fash­ion trends.”

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