It is a vintage parade saddle, the kind the Lone Ranger rode Silver in. I am a dressage rider, we are famous for NOT being flamboyant dressers. The saddle is fancy, with a red leather seat and so much flash on it that it’s blinding in the sun. The breast plate was heavy enough to double as body armor. In dressage we use compact saddles built to balance our weight and maximize our horse’s athleticism. Instead of sleek stirrup irons, the parade saddle had large fringed tapaderos, and the browband on the bridle holds two flags! Dressage is a classical riding discipline that has been studied and revered for centuries before we existed as a country. A parade saddle is not welcome in any serious equine competition- a saddle like this one can only be considered loud, garish, and totally American.
In the almost quarter of a century I’ve owned the saddle, it did go to one dressage show. I did an exhibition ride on my ex-reiner/dressage horse to classical music (Patsy Cline and Bob Wills.) The ride was a melting pot of tempi changes and half pass, sliding stops and spins, European and American. Like lots of us, I stand with one foot in each world.
Dressage has grown dramatically in the U.S. in recent years. Still, you wont see it on TV- we haven’t won the gold at the Olympics. It is easy to think that European dressage tradition is better- lots of us wish we were Dutch. (Would I get more training business if I shouted “Yah” with an accent during my lessons?)
The U.S. is still young in comparison but we have a rich equine history too. From Native American horsemen, to our pioneers, to our sisters in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame- we have a unique heritage that combines endless try and a good dose of audacity. Being an American in dressage has some advantages.
This is where the parade saddle comes in. You can throw it on your horse, crank up Willie Nelson’s version of My Way- and get in touch with your inner Cowgirl/Dressage Queen- it is an undeniable combination- the pride of independent spirit and can-do attitude. Horses love it.
The World Equestrian Games will begin next month -in Kentucky- that’s American horse turf. And American hoof beats are coming up fast, parade saddles and all. Yah!
(Photo: Lack of helmets in this photo is totally stupid and absolutely unforgivable.)