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
‘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.”