Us Brits are sticklers for tradition, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the noble sport of equestrianism. Many of our traditions originated in the British army and on the hunting field, where it was (and is) considered a matter of respect to local landowners for the whole field to be immaculately turned out. But times have changed – should we be moving with them?
1. Plaiting manes to the right
If you’re the proud owner of a horse whose mane lies stubbornly to the left, trying to plait to the right is a giant pain in the nethers. Googling doesn’t reveal any context apart from ‘it was an evil practice invented in the 19th Century to torture grooms’, which sounds like it might be a teeny bit historically inaccurate. Although, strangely, also completely accurate!
2. Mounting from the left
(See also: dismounting to the left.) This is apparently because, in bygone days, cavalry soldiers carried their swords on their left sides, so had to mount from the left otherwise they’d risk impaling themselves. Very few of us carry swords when out riding these days, though. We don’t ride into battle much, either. So why do we still mount from the left? Who knows.
We willingly pull on these truly hideous items in order to look neat and tidy for competing (and reduce the risk of being scalped should we fall off and get our hair trodden on. Although to be honest we can’t recall of a case of this actually happening, but this is what we were always told would occur if we didn’t wear one…) Other athletes survive in their sports without having to wear a fishnet sock on their heads, but then they aren’t also dealing with half a tonne of animal with dinner plate-sized feet, so perhaps it’s better safe than sorry.
4. Brown tack for hunting and showing
Traditionally, black tack was used for driving harness. The tan used for British leather was brown, so that’s why riding tack was brown. And as the horsey world loves nothing more than tradition, that’s how it’s stayed.
5. Hunt horses not being plaited on Mondays
This used to be the hunt grooms’ day off – win!
6. Garter strap
These once had a functional use, to help stop breeches riding up the legs, but in our modern world of stretchy, practical fabrics, they’re basically anachronistic. They’re fiddly to get on, and you have to remember that it’s white garter straps with topped boots for the hunting season, and plain ones to match untopped boots when wearing ratcatcher… or is that the other way round? Argh! See what we mean?
7. Is it a stock or a tie? Who knows? Who cares?
Apparently it originated on the hunting field, like nearly all good horsey traditions, as a means of carrying a bandage around in case of injury. Nobody can say us equestrians aren’t practical.
8. White/beige/cream jodhpurs
Correct attire for nearly all competitive riding, they’re also the least practical items ever for wearing round horses, which have a tendency to moult and to wipe mud and green slobber all over you. Whoever invented this particular tradition either wasn’t very practical – or had shares in a detergent company. (See also: white dressage numnahs).