Janet Rising on What Not to Wear

Welcome to Janet Rising, editor of PONY magazine, with a guest post.

What do you wear when you ride? Sounds a silly question, perhaps. Upon writing this it became clear that planning my riding attire has, throughout my life, occupied far too much of my time.

When I first started to ride at the tender age of nine I was desperate to wear the right clothes. Problem? I couldn’t afford any. I can remember the excitement of buying a riding hat – black velvet, elastic chin strap, probably got change from thirty bob – from a sports shop, and I know I didn’t sleep for excitement the night before. We’re talking the time when jodhpurs were slimming down from the Bedford cord, elephant-ear design, and riding slacks were all the go. Jacatex adverts were poured over and outfits planned. No matter that the jackets – a fraction of what you would pay elsewhere for the same quality – were too short to be elegant and dropped vertically from under the sleeves, disguising any imagined waist you might have. Pile on the black and navy show jackets inconveniently receded before going completely bald. I know this because my friend Jan wore hers to the stables practically on a daily basis and everyone in our riding gang observed warps and wefts coming to the fore as the seasons passed, the cloth flecked by white hair shed from the school ponies. I think that was why I plumped for tweed. No wonder the adverts only ever featured an artist’s impression. 

One very smart livery owner at the stables turned up one day in the height of equestrian fashion, a belted hacking jacket in rather loud tweed, pleated front and back, an experiment in riding design which was outside my budget and didn’t last for long. We all looked on enviously, oblivious to the sad fact that had we been so clad, we would resemble something the feed merchant would dump by the oat bins. Oooo, but I did buy one of those gorgeous Harry Hall black show jackets, with a velvet collar and piping up and down the back. Years later I sold it to a friend, just prior to spotting someone far more stylish than I wearing the very same over a basque whilst out clubbing, and I instantly regretted not having had the imagination to keep it to wear with jeans and a frilly blouse, a la Spandau Ballet.

Aaaaaanyway, as a teenager things changed. Correctness was recklessly overtaken on the outside by cool. At least, our definition of cool. Levis replaced jodhpurs and, as this was the seventies, they were straight-legged. This wouldn’t do. Reluctant to spend riding money we cut triangles from discarded curtains to insert into the outside seams from the knees down, transforming them into bell-bottoms, and many a happy evening was spent painstakingly tweezering out horizontal threads to fringe the ends. This was after you’d worn your Levis was in the bath, shrinking them to fit, to the disgust of your parents. These were then topped by the dubious fashion of a smock top, adorned with badges of whichever pop star was currently favoured – Alice Cooper, in my case. Excuse my misty (blackened) eyes.

What an absolute sight we must have looked.

 When I left school and worked with horses I wanted to look the part. Shirts, ties, hats – even when dismounted and teaching – became my uniform. Everyone knows that the football manager look never suited anyone, not even football managers, but even so sheepskin coats and long leather boots were de rigueur, simply because quilted clothing hadn’t been invented. Except for those paper-thin, cord collared Husky jackets in green or navy. That was your choice – country tones of green or navy. No pink. No purple. Brown was considered racy, the equestrian equivalent of an ankle bracelet. I led winter rides in my hacking jacket and yellow string gloves, froze at the back of rides, sandwiched between blue-faced children atop fluffy, lead-reined ponies on either side, unable to tell whether I was holding the reins or a discarded, frostbitten finger, icy winds whipping my hair and my horse’s tail, rising to the trot without stirrups just to coax some feeling back in the blocks of ice I called my feet.

Then, suddenly, the horsey world discovered colour. Whoopie dah! Instantly I purchased a maroon show jacket and got my hat covered in matching cloth – you can’t teach this girl anything about sartorial elegance (obviously). Matching jackets and hats in plum, brown, grey and green were IT, and the only colour for jodhpurs, darling, was what could only be described as butter. 

I got a bit carried away. When the washing machine transformed my soft suede strappings into Pringles I unpicked them and replaced them with some grey fabric I had handy (once I’d dried my tears and pulled myself together). Then, when the joddies themselves started to look like the before-whites in the Persil ads I dyed them black. Only they came out charcoal, and the home-made strappings didn’t take the dye but they still looked okay. Well, passable. So I did the same with another pair, only in green. This was when jodhpurs only existed in various shades of white/buff/yellow. I know, I’m such a rebel.

Now there is no need for the Dylon – there are hundreds, if not thousands of clothing items on which to spend our money. We have Gore-tex and breathable fabrics and lightweight quilts. Everyway-stretch Cath Kidson jodhpurs, down coats and storm-proof collars. Lined boots with zips up the back so you can get them on and off without giving yourself a hernia, and reinforced socks. The only hardship is making up your mind which ones to go for.

It’s exhausting, it really is. Excuse me, I’m just off to fringe a pair of jeans because some things don’t change, even when they should.


Unknown said…
Memories of my first green Husky, mucking out in a shirt and tie and the washing machine turning suede into Pringles - brilliant :) Thank you Janet.
My poor parents helped me buy a pair of rubber/vinyl riding boots at the stable and it was ages before we realized the two boots were from two different pairs...and they were both left boots.
ha I had the Jacatex tweed jacket and actually I have to say it wore reasonably well. Also the yellow string gloves, shirt, tie, butter cloured joddies and yes I too rebelled and wore jeans. But only if our BHS riding instructor was away for the day. She even insisted on hair nets!
Jane Badger said…
A friend of mine still insisted on wearing a hairnet even when she was riding in what you could charitably call tat.
Little Me said…
What a great post. It was ages before my mum would even let me get kitted out. Some bizarre reasoning about not deserving jodphurs and proper boots until I wasa ble to do certain random things.
Fiona said…
I did where my black Caldene showing jacket at parties in the late 70s & early 80s.
Maggie Dana said…
Chiming in a bit late, but this post brought back memories even older than any here. In the really good old days, I'd have killed (KILLED) for a black riding jacket. I'd lust after those worn by fancier kids with show ponies and a horse box. One even came to our local shows with a groom in tow.
yvonneinherts said…
I used to buy my riding gear from Jacatex, gloves, jodphurs and my first hacking jacket for showing. This was in the early 70's when I had my 1st horse, I couldn't afford to buy from a Tack shop.
Sue Rix (Davis) said…
Yes Jay I remember the plum velvet and was quite envious. Somewhere I have a short film of you - you may remember the riding club tests we used to "study" for - showing the correct way to tack up and then ending up with you and your mule. Happy days ��.

I really used to enjoy my Tuesday lessons wth you - each week you would get me to shorten my stirrups!! A good few times I would fall off jumping, but as you always used to say you can't say you ride until you've fallen off at least 7 times .

Loved your article above and will always remember your fake ad for Jan G's jodhpurs boots on the board " with air conditioning" X
Julia said…
I loved Jacatex, and still have my Galloway string riding gloves. And my riding mac with the straps that go around my legs as to stop it flapping around. No body protectors back in the early 70s just hung on to dear life. The good old days, We replaced jodhpur boots with Muskets!!!
Julia M Harrison said…
Does anyone know what happened to Jacatex, Were they taken over by anyone or did the company just simply fold. Looking at some of the reviews on this page, we appreciated things more back then than young riders do today. I think we had more fun in our riding days, than they have today. It's to competitive now. We did it because we loved being around horse's, any horse. Helping out at riding schools for free rides. And god did we work. I think we are better people as we did it purely out of love. Barrow Riding School, Great Barrow Nr Chester, owned by Eric Coulter, and and instructor the very strict Pauline. But you learnt to ride well !!!
Jane Badger said…
Julia - Jacatex have done you well then! They might have been cheap (well, to me, they were still expensive, but they were cheaper than the competition) but they were obviously well-made.

I don't know what happened to Jacatex, though I'd love to know. I did try and find out but didn't get anywhere. I do agree that horse life is much more competitive now, and I feel sorry for today's horse-mad children, who can't just turn up at stables and help.

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