Can the right clothes help us ride better?

Animo Nobit Pull on Breeches,  $239 @ usanimo.com. I always wear my breeches with heels, don't you? NOT.

Animo Nobit Pull on Breeches, $239 @ usanimo.com. I always wear my breeches with heels, don’t you? NOT.

When I worked at a large company I used to wear power jackets to certain meetings. I had one particular long tailored coat that I loved because it made me look slimmer, taller, elegant, and as though I knew what I was doing – or so I thought. I walked and talked with confidence when I wore that jacket. I had authority because of that jacket.  My staff called it the POWER COAT.

Can the right clothes help us ride better? Actually, they can! Or let’s put it this way: the WRONG clothes make us ride worse by getting in the way.

Breeches that are slippery, have seams that rub in the wrong places, are too hot, too thick, cut off the circulation, compress the stomach so much that you can’t breathe or give you a stomach ache, make you feel like you are wearing diapers…I could go on and on, but when we’re wearing clothes like that, we’re distracted, uncomfortable, and irritable. At least I am!

Ideally, our breeches should feel comfortable, be functional, and make us look good. Is this holy grail of breeches possible? YES!

Now breeches are like jeans: you have to find what fits your body type and of course your budget, too. I went to the local tack store and tried on, yes, fourteen pairs and found only TWO that actually fit. Allow me to recommend a few of my favorite brands of breeches, at least for my somewhat zaftig physique (zaftig is yiddish for pleasantly ripe and round).

  1. Animo: made in Italy, everyone remarks on how thin and chic I look in these, so you know I never want to take them off
    The beloved Animo Noguarda Breeches $359 @ usanimo.com. I have these in Calla (light beige).

    The beloved Animo Noguarda Breeches $359 @ usanimo.com. I have these in Calla (light beige).

    my body. Ah, Italian styling. Bella! The fabric repels dirt, breathes so that they are cool in the summer (much less hot than any of my others), washes easily and does not stain, non bulky because of their special articulated knee seams and Animo gripping system. No need for full seats, the knee patch gripping system grips just as well and is completely non bulky and cool looking, too! I could go on and on about these. No itchy velcro at the ankles, but nice soft nylon tubes that are long enough for the tallest rider, but scrunch up softly for short people! Even the white ones look good on me! And please, you know everyone looks terrible in white breeches unless they are tiny (I am not). Where is the minor chord in this paean of praise? (a) Availability – almost no one carries them in the USA except http://www.USAnimo.com, and they rarely have sales; http://www.doversaddlery.com carries a few styles, but mostly low-rise  (b) the Rise is QUITE low on most of their styles – let the buyer beware. I prefer Nisotta and Noguarda (two of the “modified rise” styles), because otherwise I’m always feeling like my breeches are falling off, but you might feel differently (c) Cost – they are expensive: MSRP $320 and up. Good luck finding them on sale. But honestly, they’re SO worth it. Best. Breeches. Ever. Really. They do have a new pull on version that I have not yet tried (see the blue Nobit breech featured at the top of this article) – much less expensive! But fewer features and I’m not sure it’s the same fabric, so I can’t yet recommend it.

  2. Kentucky: I like the New York City knee patch breeches because I find full seat breeches too bulky, but their full seats are beautiful, too. I bought them at my local tack store (Carousel Saddlery in Portola Valley) for around $200. They’re not Animo, but they were significantly less money and still quite nice looking and comfortable. They’re wearing and washing beautifully, too. Other friends who have ridden in Kentuckys report that they last well and are worth the initial investment.
  3. FITS: If you can find the right size for you, FITS are super grippy and comfortable. There does seem to be a bit of variation in the sizing (from year to year, or possibly different manufacturing runs?), so be sure to try them on before you buy them. Over time they will stretch out a bit and get baggy in places, but they last pretty well. Mine eventually wore holes in the seat area, but I got a lot of use from them first. For grip, there’s no beating that deerskin full seat. I recommend buying them locally or from http://www.smartpak.com, since they have free shipping and returns on all sized items.
  4. Smartpak has many cute and stylish breeches at all price points – and free shipping and returns so you can find the
    Smart Pak Piper Full Seat Breech $89.95 @ www.smartpakequine.com

    Smart Pak Piper Full Seat Breech $89.95 @ http://www.smartpakequine.com

    right size! I see a lot of the girls and women of all sizes at the Ranch looking good in their Piper breeches. Shipping can be a bit slow so gratification is not instantaneous, but if you can wait, you could score some nice breeches. If they work for you, they are cute, available in many colors and styles, and well priced.

Saddle slipping or riding the round barreled horse

Round bellied Ellie

Round bellied Ellie

It wasn’t Ellie, but another round bellied horse. We were having a pleasant hand gallop out on the polo field, and I was just thinking, “oh how nice this is, how lovely this feels”, when there was a rustle in the bushes, and…

 the horse leapt sideways at 90 mph, my saddle slipped, and as my old riding teacher used to say, “he went east, and I went west.”

Darn. It always hurts when I fall off, and I always cry. I just do, from the shock of it. And there was dirt in my mouth, too, because I landed facedown. Yuck.

These days I seem to pick breeds that are, well, low withered and round bellied. The kind that tend to slip saddles unless you stay really, really well balanced in the center of the horse. I usually am fairly well balanced, but sometimes the horse decides to do something unexpected and your weight can pull the saddle over. Once that saddle rolls, you are toast.

How do you keep saddles stable on rotund horses with low or no withers? Since that accident, I’ve spent a lot of time and experimentation figuring it out.

1) Fastening the Girth SUPER tight is NOT the answer – it decreases performance and is very uncomfortable for the horse. http://www.thehorse.com/articles/33540/girth-pressures-impact-on-equine-performance  NOTE: Horses generally have a hollow along their belly right where we tend to put our hand to check the girth tightness, thus giving us a FALSE sense of how loose we think the girth might be. Instead, put your hand underneath the horse, between the fore legs, and check the girth there. We should be able to get 4 fingers snugly under the girth. If you can’t do that – it’s TOO tight. Poor horse. Of course, you can’t do this once you’re ON the horse. At that point, you’ll have to guesstimate.

2) The RIGHT kind of girth makes a big difference. There will be as many opinions as riders on this, but I have a few thoughts and a few cautions.

(a) Avoid fleecy, very padded girths, as they tend to be slippery

(b) Avoid girths with elastic at only one end as they tend to pull the saddle to one side

(c ) Be cautious with any girth with elastic, as it is easy to over tighten them, especially if you tighten it from the saddle. Our leverage is greatly increased when we girth from the saddle. Elastic is fine, just be cautious.

(d) Anatomic Girths, which are contoured so that they have more surface area on the belly (more gripping area) and cut out around the elbows, DO help. Personally, I use the County Logic (available at http://www.countysaddlerystore.com/county-logic-girth/), which comes in dressage or jumping length, or a Mohair girth (http://www.actionridertack.com/p-78-montana-cincha-dressage-girths-natural-mohair.aspx), which grips and absorbs sweat. Note that many endurance riders use mohair it tends to prevent girth galls. I get my mohair girths from http://www.actionridertack.com.

3) Your saddle should fit well so that you do not need a lot of extra padding or shimming. Thick pads will destabilize your saddle and cause more slippage.

4) An anti-slip pad can be helpful. Here’s one you can put under any saddle pad, between the horse and the saddle, and it will help keep things in place. These really do help, I’ve used them! SmartPak Air + Non-Slip Pad $19.95 www.smartpakequine.com. However, they can be pretty sweaty.

(5) A well fitted breastplate can help to stabilize your saddle but it won’t do much if you don’t have the above pieces in place. I’ve had saddles roll seriously even with a breastplate on, so don’t count on your breastplate to save you.

(6) Be grateful for those round bellied horses. They teach us to be better balanced riders. But do get a good anatomic or mohair girth, a well fitted saddle, and maybe a grippy pad of some sort – just in case. The cost of a good girth is nothing compared to a trip to the doctor or emergency room. Just saying.

Ellie - a fat three year old straight from pasture

Ellie – a fat three year old straight from pasture