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Dressage tack -- is brown okay?

From: Danielle

Dear Jessica, thank you SO much for this service, there's nothing like it anywhere. You're the best. I hope you'll help me find a new saddle. I love dressage and did it for a long time, then took three years off when I had my baby. Colin is now old enough to be in day care part of the day, he loves it, I'm not quite as nervous about not having him with me every second, and I'm starting to ride again. My gelding was ridden my a friend of mine, so he's fit and ready to go, and I'm pretty fit, so no problem there. The biggest problem is that I need a new saddle, because my dressage saddle was just a little bit too small for me before I stopped riding, and now it's too small for my horse too! So I'm looking for a new dressage saddle to fit both of us. My instructor found a great saddle that I like a lot, and I can buy it for a reasonable price. It's used.

The problem is, the saddle is brown and so there are two problems with it: one is that I would have to buy a new bridle to match it, and the other is that I really would like to go to some shows this year, and even though I know I shouldn't be all competitive about it, when I go to shows I want to win! Would I even be allowed to ride in a "real" dressage show with brown tack, or would I have to buy a black saddle to show in? Or could I dye this saddle if I bought it, so that it would be black and okay for shows? I really like it, but I can't afford two saddles, even used ones. Why is black tack the official color anyway?

Thanks Jessica! Danielle

Hi Danielle! Relax, all your troubles are over. Buy the saddle and enjoy it -- and take it to the shows. Black tack is NOT official, it's NOT required, and it's not even quite as popular as it was for a while. Black tack appeals to some people, looks good on some horses, and was very fashionable at some point. You can still find a lot of it, but you'll also find a lot of very nice, traditional BROWN leather tack. Get a few tack catalogues and look at the dressage saddles -- you may be surprised, especially if you look at the more upmarket saddles such as Courbette and Stubben. Most make models that are available in several shades of brown, some are also available in black. The choice really SHOULD come down to your personal preference.

If you've found a saddle that fits your horse well and that fits you well, for heaven's sake get it and enjoy it.

I wouldn't advise trying to change the colour of the saddle. I've seen four or five examples of saddles that came out of this process looking dull and blotchy, and heard a lot of complaints from riders who bought used saddles that someone else had tried to dye. The dye doesn't necessarily stay in the saddle -- sometimes it ends up on the rider's breeches... not a very nice look. ;-)

There will always be people who leap onto the bandwagon and follow the latest fashion or fad, whether this means a type or style of tack, a particular leather colour, a particular shape of saddle pad, or a particular bit metal. If you try to track and keep up with what's trendy, you'll spend a LOT of money, and you may also find yourself a "fashion victim".

Know your horse, know what your discipline actually requires, know what you like, and what looks good, and what you're going to enjoy year after year. Not all horses look good wearing narrow rolled bridles, for example. Not all horses look good in bridles that have buckles instead of hook studs on the reins and cheekpieces. Not all horses look good in bridles that are raised and have contrasting linings! Why not just take a good long look at YOUR horse, determine what will suit him best, and then use that as a starting point?

Keep your eye on what matters, and when you go to a show, be READY. Dazzle the judge with your horse's physique and training, and with your own riding, and with the wonderful communication between you and your horse. The rider's clothing and the horse's tack should be quiet and conservative, fit well, be comfortable and clean, and not draw the judge's attention away from what really matters: performance. If your tack is conservative, well-fitting, and clean, and if it suits your horse, it won't interfere with your placing.


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