Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Technology and riding

Horse back riding is a pretty old fashioned hobby to have.  In general, it's based off of the idea that a horse was the fastest, easiest way to get around.  Dressage is based on the idea that your mandatory horse riding should look as awesome as possible.  Eventing is based on the idea that your horse should be able to go to war.  None of these are relevant anymore.  We have cars and motorcycles and segways.  It's actually very difficult to find the space and money necessary to keep horses in this age of motors and electricity.

People that see horse back riders assume they're caught in the past.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  It's pretty interesting to see how technology has changed things.  My helmet in the 80's was heavy and smelled like glue when it was hot enough.  I lived in Louisiana, so it was often hot enough.  My current helmet is light, ventilated, and has a microsuede finish that I don't have to protect against the slightest scuff.  Kids these days have no idea the agony we went through with the heavy velvet that faded in the sun and scuffed if you looked at it too hard.  They also don't have the social pressure to 'graduate' to a hunt cap.  No harness, no protection, nothing, and it was the sign that you were a grown up.  Removing that option in the rules has made a huge shift in the way helmets are seen and how often they're worn. 

The entire outfit has evolved.  Spandex is some amazing stuff.  As a middle-aged rider, I don't think I'd be able to keep up with the sport if it wasn't for some of the carefully located support panels found in breeches now.  My last show featured pouring rain.  My coat didn't get heavy and cold like my old wool coats always managed to do, or worse, the polyester in the 90's.  The water beaded and ran off, keeping me completely dry.  It also has some stretch so I don't get button gap over my rather pronounced chest while still fitting neatly through the shoulders and waist.  Thank you to whatever inventor brought out the soft shell coat.  My tech gloves hung on to my reins even when soaked, the elastic panels letting me move freely.  Even the hair nets are more comfortable!

I've heard plenty of whining about how our outfits need to update to keep up with the times, that we look ridiculous and no one takes us seriously.  Let's stop and think about that.  Would we ditch our boots, especially the modern ones with all of their stretch panels and high tech foot beds?  I sure wouldn't!  Tall boots keep my legs comfortable and free of bruises and chafing.  They're my first choice when trail riding as well, since I don't even feel branches.  They're comfortable and practical.  Breeches?  What else would we wear?  We don't want anything baggy.  Knee patches and full seats are life savers.  The modern fits, materials, and colors are just fine and dandy.  The ice fill and wicking fabrics keep our shirts ideal.  Our helmets are serious safety equipment.  The only decorative thing is the coat and these days, most of them are comfortable and easy to manage.  A coat gives the finished picture and is a nod to tradition.  The rest of the outfit has evolved to become something suited to athletes and is more practical than traditional.  It's no different than a football uniform.

There's also the neoprene lined jumping boots that are so easy to keep clean, the anatomically designed bridles that keep our horses comfortable, the new tanning techniques for butter soft saddles with no break in, monitors that allow you to track heart rate and respiration while doing your fitness work, the list goes on.  In my last lesson, my trainer recorded me going over a fence two times, doing a different release each time.  I then watched them both in slow motion while sitting in the saddle to see the difference.  Using what I saw, I went on to jump my course.

Trainer A still has some trouble with technology.   It looks way better on her phone.

But those little bloopers aside, horses have become just as high tech as any other hobby.  I've heard plenty of people say that it's a sport that's stuck in the past.  Laser timers, composite saddle trees, and frangible pins all beg to differ.  The horse itself has evolved through careful breeding programs, generating the wide variety of types we have available today.  Our sport horses are about as removed from their ancestors as my smartpone is removed from a telegraph machine. 

Its common to wax nostalgic about the good old days, but I don't miss them.  My saddle was hard, my helmet was heavy, and my coat was hell.  My horse didn't have the same nutrition or treatment options, x-rays weren't something that could just be done on the fly when needed.  Sure, the basis of the sport is long gone, but I wouldn't say we're stuck in the past.  If anything, the horse people are eagerly embracing the new products coming out. 

We're highly motivated by increased safety, comfort, and sparkles. 


  1. This is so, so true. Especially the coats argument. I just sold my old coats from more than 10 years ago and they were itchy, heavy things. My new coat is light, form-fitting, and water resistant. It's also machine washable!

    So many advances have been made. It's wonderful.

  2. I love breeches and tall boots. They're great. Sports bras also, as long as we're talking about technology for the well-endowed.

    Still hate coats. Still hate white. They may be traditional, but the tradition is stupid in this instance.