Does a bit of bling make you a dressage diva?


My mare and I are on the cusp of Third Level. Flying changes come and go – occasionally she does a few easily clean and straight, and other days, it’s, “huh? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” All other third level moves feel fairly easy; the changes will come soon enough. Probably.

So I allowed myself the indulgence of buying a new (admittedly unneeded) show shirt at the Animo Black Friday Sale. 

Admittedly, the shirt above falls in the rather blingy (but oh so fabulous!) category. Does this make me a dressage diva? It is an interesting question.

Such a (negatively) loaded term. I immediately think of a small overweight woman bouncing along on an enormous horse, weighed down with bling everywhere. “NEVER!”quoth I.

Yet one most know oneself. The truth will set you free.


Know Thyself

Diva definition: “a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality.”

Having attained a certain age (well over 50), perhaps I’m entitled to enjoy a little glamour here and there. Well made, glittery shirt? Sure.

As for success, well, it comes and goes. Doing what we can to be successful AND have fun.

Dressage Diva: Yes, in the true sense of the word. Bring it. I’m old enough to enjoy the glitter if I want to. That said, let’s try to stay reasonably tasteful. One can go TOO far. As in this:


desf (32)

Coming soon: Starlight embraces her inner dressage diva with her own glittery coronet (aka browband). Just wait until you see her Christmas Present.



The thrill of cute socks under your riding boots: Priceless


I could choose to wear sensible socks: navy, black, grey, brown. Snooze.

Or ugly socks: I won’t bother to post a picture, maybe you own them (and love them).

But instead, I indulge my inner child with PLAYFUL socks in happy colors with silly animals on them: corgis, otters holding hands (paws), octopi, cowgirls.

Yes, hidden under my sensible black riding boots are fun socks.

Later in the day, the boots come off and I wear tennis shoes or Merrells or some other completely uncool shoes with my riding breeches while I do errands around town or just hang around in my breeches.  I  look down at my socks and smile.

Happy socks.

Like lingerie for the feet, in a way. Maybe not, but they’re a little secret under my boots that is functional but also rather frivolous.

Consider some happy socks for yourself today, whatever they may be. Why not?

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Cool equipment for Hot Summer Days

Finn collecting the canter

Kastel shirt, animo breeches, De niro boots. All very cool and comfy favorites. Finn is my co-model.

A friend of mine once said, “the right equipment makes a difference.”

Or lets put it this way: the WRONG equipment is Really Annoying and can hinder your riding. Not to mention causing you all kinds of unmentionable problems.

Back in the days when the dinosaurs roamed, I was still wearing cotton shirts, ancient breeches with thick leather patches on the knees, and a helmet so very hot that my brains instantly boiled and I got a headache. Ring around the forehead, remember that? That’s when we even wore helmets.

My, how times have changed. Manufacturers have created garments that wick sweat, move comfortably with you, with seams in all the right places (and none in the wrong places), and UPF 50. No more chafing or binding. And rather than struggling with boot hooks and getting leg cramps halfway into wrestling our boots on, we now have the miracle of boot zippers! Thank you. And helmets with venting technology. Wow. I’m so grateful for these small things.

Now if only horses came with iDrive, seat belts, and automatic collision avoidance systems. Or maybe a translator!

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On the other hand, maybe we don’t really want that translator…

But back to equipment recommendations. It’s hot here in California, and some new riding equipment has made my life better (cooler! more comfortable!) and I thought I’d pass it on to you. NOTE: This is not a paid endorsement and I’ll tell you the unvarnished truth. Really.

Best Shirt: Kastel Denmark. These shirts retail for about $75, are widely available, and they come in a rainbow of colors

Kastel shirt - SPF 30 and so comfy and cool.

Kastel shirt – SPF 30 and so comfy and cool.

( I normally wear size 6 or 8 in a shirt, and I can wear either the S (snug) or M (a little looser). They are a very stretchy, thin fabric, with mesh under the arms and along the under side of the sleeve.

The fabric is UPF 50, so no need for sunscreen, yay! Except on your face, of course. When I sweat (which I do when I ride!), it dries instantly. The only downside to these shirts is that I need to pretreat the underarms before I wash them (machine wash and dry) to be sure they don’t hold the smell. Just telling you the whole story…The good news is these shirts really breathe, wick and feel so light you almost feel naked and I love not having to put sunscreen all over myself.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, while I feel almost naked, I’m actually much more clothed.

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Best Breeches: Animo Laguarda or Nisotta. Sadly, these are expensive at about $369 and $399 respectively. They are also only available at and a few tack stores. There are low-rise versions from Dover Saddlery, but I find the low-rise difficult to wear (always pulling them up). What is wonderful about Animo? Several things. 1) Fabric – light but strong, breathes amazingly, stretches, flattering, wears well, better than ANY other on the market. I have Kentucky, Equiline, FITS…and I’ve tried other brands, too, but they don’t fit me well. 2) Construction – Italian tailoring. Beautifully made, with clever and cool looking details, seaming so that nothing anywhere is annoying. The center seam NEVER EVER annoys you. This is the only brand I have ever worn that is never annoying. The lower calves have a soft silky fabric that stretches and is long enough for anyone, even long legged or large calved women, so no velcro fasteners to irritate you, either.

I could compose a love song to Animo breeches. If only they would go on super sale…

Helmet: I am newly in love with UVEX. I have been wearing Tipperary and they are fine and well vented, but Uvex is even better vented and it has a cool dial in the back to finesse the fit. The chin strap is more adjustable and fitted, too. It is a more fitted look than Tipperary and I like that.

Cooling Vest: Some people swear by these but my own experience was disappointing. I bought a Cool Medics vest a couple of years ago. You soak it in cold water. It then becomes cold and heavy and it does cool you down – initially. It all weighs you down. I found it very heavy to wear, and while initially quite cooling, it felt hot after about 20 minutes because the inner layer was warmed by my body and started insulating me. They don’t work for me so I can’t recommend them.

Sunglasses: Too much UV exposure for your eyes may lead to cataracts and macular degeneration. We don’t want that! So wear sunglasses when you ride, good quality ones that won’t shatter if you happen to fall off (God forbid), and that are polarized to reduce glare from sand arenas or hot trail rides.  After trying many pairs, I’m happiest with Maui Jim. Light weight, stay on my face, don’t slip; I don’t even notice them, except that they keep me comfortable. Worth the cost.

There are, I’m sure, many more products out there to keep you cool and comfortable but the important idea is this:

Ride in what works for you. Life is too short to feel uncomfortable.

If it doesn’t fit, rubs you in the wrong place, or you can’t breathe in it, donate or sell it! And find something that fits and feels comfortable. Riding is supposed to be fun!

Happy Trails!


No helmet, I know. But wearing my Kastel UPF shirt, Maui Jim sunglasses, and a big smile while trail riding in Grand Teton National Park in June 2015.

Wait…can you wear that color?

Sometimes the sea of black coats and gloomy faces at a dressage show makes one wonder: Is this a horse show or are we at a funeral?

A few of us bold souls in the past few years have taken advantage of the easing of the rules to branch out into other colors, but there remains confusion over what is allowed and what isn’t. Recently someone admired my lovely green show coat, asking, “is it really o.k.? I thought we all had to wear black at dressage shows.” Nope. Thank God. Black is not my best color and isn’t it more fun to have the wide world of color to choose from?

The green Animo jacket, showing 3rd level in 2014. Yes. it is show legal!

The green Animo jacket, showing 3rd level in 2014. Yes. it is show legal!

O.k., we don’t really have the whole wide world of color. We’re still limited to: “a short coat of conservative color” (for fourth level and below). THE RULES: USEF Rulebook, DR120 Dress

1. The dress code for all Dressage tests and classes through Fourth Level (see .5 below) is a short riding coat of conservative color, with tie, choker or stock tie, white or light-colored breeches or jodhpurs, boots or jodhpur boots, and protective headgear as defined in DR120.5 and in compliance with GR801. A cutaway coat (modified tail- coat) with short tails is permitted. Half chaps, gaiters and/or leggings are not allowed. Gloves of conservative color are recommended. Exception: Riders through First Level may wear half-chaps, gaiters or leggings in solid black or brown, without fringe, matching the color of their boots, and made of smooth leather or leather-like material. (Note that the USDF site says the following: “We discuss general guidelines here; and updated rules and regulations are available in the USEF Rulebook. …..Riders are dressed formally in competition, traditionally with white or light colored breeches, a light-colored shirt and tie or choker with a black or navy blue colored jacket. Gloves may be white or black. For riders at the FEI levels, a shadbelly (tailcoat) is traditional. Except for very young riders, boots are black and come up to the knee.” This seems to contradict the USEF rulebook by prescribing black/navy for jackets rather than “conservative color” (defined even further below by the HSV color scale (see #3). General consensus is that the USEF and FEI rules supersede the USDF “guidelines,” and that yes, Virginia, you CAN wear a green, burgundy, medium blue, gray, brown, or other “conservative” color jacket for rated dressage shows.)
2. For all tests above Fourth Level, the dress code is: a dark tailcoat or a dark jacket with protective headgear, as defined in DR120.5 and in compliance with GR801, and white or light colored breeches, stock or tie, gloves, and black riding boots. Spurs are mandatory for FEI tests (except as noted above under DR120.1). (See DR120.8)

Doesn't look

Doesn’t look “dark enough” to me, but I imagine he had the HSV officially checked…And don’t they look stunning.

3. At all test levels, riders may wear jackets in other colors within the international HSV color scale, as described in FEI Dressage Regulations, Art. 427.1. Contrast coloring and piping is allowed. Protective headgear, stocks, ties, gloves and riding boots maybe the same color as the coat. For Grand Prix Freestyle only: any single color tailcoat will be allowed; striped or multi-colored coats are not permitted, and tasteful and discreet accents, such as a collar of a different hue or modest piping or crystal decorations, are acceptable. FEI Rule 427.1 states: “a black or dark blue tail coat or other dark colours may be worn within in the international HSV colour scale. Colours having a value for“V” smaller than thirty two percent (32%) according to the HSV model may be approved.”

Animo tail coat - gorgeous on that grey horse, don't you think?

Animo tail coat in a shade of blue – gorgeous on that grey horse, don’t you think?

Here’s the color tracker so you can plug in color values and get an idea of the range of colors that can work:

THE REALITY Who has time for playing with color values online? Besides, computer monitors may not be accurate. Oh well, truth be told, I’ve been know to waste an hour (or two) online playing with color and looking at dressage coats. Yeah, well.

So let me cut to the chase: as long as it’s not too light and bright, no show official will hassle you about the color of your dressage coat.

People who don’t know (e.g. other competitors) may say, in an overly helpful voice, “you should be wearing black or navy!” Your trainer may wish wistfully that you wore a traditional black coat. But you may wear what looks good, feels good, and makes you feel confident and beautiful. You can even carry in your pocket (as I do) a copy of the DR 120 rule in case you get an uneducated Technical Delegate. I have never had anyone yet question my green coat and I’ve worn it at many 3*** shows and will until I get to the FEI levels, when I plan to graduate to this lovely grey shadbelly with crystal embellishments and matching helmet:

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 3.13.52 PM Meanwhile, to inspire your colorful jacket dreams, here are some more examples.

Kelly Casey and Golden State sporting a gorgeous blue jacket

Kelly Casey and Golden State sporting a gorgeous blue jacket

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For the really bold among us, how about that purple?

For the really bold among us, how about that purple?

Oh, the possibilities!

All I want for Christmas (besides love, joy, and peace, of course)

Sing with me!

On the First day of Christmas, my true love gave to me One Blingy Bridle... (

Look at it glow!

Look at it glow!


On the Second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Two Fancy Boots…(

No break in! Lots of calf widths/heights, too.

No break in! Lots of calf widths/heights, too.


On the Third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Three Favorite Saddles

Lemke dressage saddle

Lemke dressage saddle

Voltaire jump saddle

Voltaire jump saddl



On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Four Black Patent Leather Horse Boots

People on Horses boots

People on Horses boots


On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Five Perfect Ponies!

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Finn - Perfect Pony

Finn – Perfect Pony

Ellie - Perfect Pony

Ellie – Perfect Pony

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Six Saddle Pads (super pads available in almost any color/trim combo, wash beautifully and hold up well), Mattes eurofit pads would look so nice on my ponies (but are expensive), BucasMax pads are always a favorite

Bucas pads come in four colors

Bucas pads come in four colors


On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Seven Back on Track products…

A blanket to soothe my horse's sore muscles and promote recovery.

A blanket to soothe my horse’s sore muscles and promote recovery.

Gloves to keep my hands warm on cold days!

Gloves to keep my hands warm on cold days!

a back brace for when my back hurts

a back brace for when my back hurts



On the Eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Eight Kastel shirts (in eight different colors!)…

Find at your local tack store or

Kastel shirt - SPF 30 and so comfy and cool.

Kastel shirt – SPF 30 and so comfy and cool.


On the Ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Nine Mikmar Comfort girths (for those five perfect ponies)…

Mikmar Comfort Girth - stretchy, grippy, revolutionary comfort for your horse. Comes in jump sizes, too!

Mikmar Comfort Girth – stretchy, grippy, revolutionary comfort for your horse. Comes in jump sizes, too!


On the Tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Ten cans of Effax Lederbalsam (to keep all that tack conditioned).

Effax - available just about everywhere and the best product I've found.

Effax – available just about everywhere and the best product I’ve found.


On the Eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Eleven bottles of Equifuse Gleam (for all those pony tails)….

Smells great and works wonderfully. Even Finn's scrawny tail looks good with this stuff, and Ellie's thick Haflinger tail combs out easily.

Smells great and works wonderfully. Even Finn’s scrawny tail looks good with this stuff, and Ellie’s thick Haflinger tail combs out easily.


On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve Massage Gift Certificates…because after riding those Five Perfect Ponies, I think I will need it!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Blessed are the meek...

Blessed are the meek…

May your season be filled with peace, joy, and love, and Ponies of all sizes and shapes!

Can the right clothes help us ride better?

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

Animo Nobit Pull on Breeches, $239 @ 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 @ I have these in Calla (light beige).

    The beloved Animo Noguarda Breeches $359 @ 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, and they rarely have sales; 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, 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 @

    Smart Pak Piper Full Seat Breech $89.95 @

    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.