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Thank you so much... you solved my problem! I went and checked my saddle... the stirrups were way too short!

BUT now I have another question... how fancy is too fancy, for western show wear?


Let me ask you a question first -- How much makeup should a woman wear?

Obviously, the answers to both your question and mine are as individualized as the people and their surroundings. Sometimes any makeup is too much. On a theatrical stage, however, even a lady who is naturally gorgeous will need a heavy dose of makeup to keep from looking deathly pale.

Likewise, suitable attire for a formal reception at the White House will be far different from that for a trail ride. How fancy is too fancy? Let me give you some guidelines that may help:

1. What will most of the other competitors be wearing? A county fair is normally more down-to-earth than the national finals. If you are competing in a Peruvian Paso championship, however, the garb for all riders is virtually identical: a simple white shirt, pants, and scarf, with a Peruvian-style poncho and straw hat.

2. How will your outfit look with your horse and his tack? Pretend that you wanted the judge to ask you for a date (assuming the judge is of the opposite gender!). You want to catch that judge's eye with an appearance that says "I'm someone you should like. I'm smart, capable, charming, balanced... and several notches above the others in the ring! And my horse isn't bad, either!" The silver trim on the saddle and bridle shouldn't make you look like a stablehand by comparison - and neither should your clothes out-shine your horse. The idea is to present a unified package that will catch the judge's attention and accentuate your strong points while effectively hiding your weaknesses.

You can get downright sneaky here. Let's say your horse is almost always on his correct lead when circling to the left, but has a problem with circling to the right. When shopping for a top, you may want to look for something that's kinda flashy on the left side (which will be toward the judge when you circle to the left), but be downright recessive on the right. That way the judge will be more likely to notice you when your mount is picture-perfect than when he's not!

3. How does the outfit fit you? Send a message to the judge that you are someone who pays attention to details. If you are hard to fit, you may want to spend a bit more on duds that really look good on you instead of gapping or bunching in the wrong places. And you may want to consider separate outfits for the halter and saddle classes. Have the tailor fit you standing for the halter outfit -- and take a saddle to the store so you can be fitted in a correct riding position for your saddle outfit! (Guys, take a hint from the womenfolk - wearing a tailored bodysuit can keep your shirt from developing an artificial beer-belly in the saddle, if you catch my drift!)

4. Are they going to look neat and clean? Think about the colors and material. Will they show dirt? Are they sturdy enough to stand up to the rigors of the horse world? Will they wrinkle easily? And when you find the right look, buy at least two sets! We've all seen the competitor who went to pieces emotionally because his or her clothes got splashed with mud (or something worse) and there was no change of clothes available at the last moment.

5. Does the outfit suit your own self-image? If wearing a flashy outfit makes you feel self-conscious, it's likely to distract you from your primary tasks of controlling your horse and following the judge's instructions. On the other hand, if you constantly feel yourself being overshadowed by other competitors, you may want to think about buying an outfit in the $1,000.00 range. Before you laugh, think about it. If you are a serious competitor, you've probably invested tens of thousands of dollars in your horse and all the care and trappings he requires. Aren't you just as important as your horse? And when you enter the ring, you'll have the confidence that comes from knowing that absolutely no one is better turned-out than you -- and your horse is every bit as good as you are.

From there on, it's a matter of personal taste.

From the American Quarter Horse Association Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations:

"In halter, speed events, team penning and other western classes, it is mandatory to wear appropriate western attire, including long sleeves and collar (band, standup, tuxedo, etc.) western hat and cowboy boots. The hat must be on the rider's head when the exhibitor enters the arena. Spurs and chaps are optional."

Kelly wearing her grandfather's colors When Kelly's grandparents heard that she was going to compete at the county fair, her grandmother made a couple of blouses with material that featured the same colors as her grandfather's racing silks from the days when he was a sulky jockey.

Too fancy? Not fancy enough? I don't know. But everyone who knew the story behind those blouses had a warm feeling in their heart when they saw Kelly wearing them. And it didn't hurt Kelly's harvest of ribbons any.

Happy Riding!

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