A Field Guide to Identifying Horse People….and tips on how to look like one!
By Julie Reardon
As tailgating and horse sports season gets into full swing, we thought we’d be remiss in not offering a field guide to help you identify the real horse people of the Blue Ridge. You never know when it will come in handy to discern real from fake when the actual subject of horses comes up, whether local or prime time nationally known events like the Triple Crown races. Who is a real horseman and who is just an armchair expert? You’ve probably been subjected to the “experts” stating how a jockey should’ve ridden a race, what the trainer should have done differently and how the mounted outriders should do their jobs. There’s nothing like the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness stakes with their longevity and high national visibility to bring the wanna be and the fakes out of their armchairs and onto your social media and into casual conversations. Those are not real horse people.
Seeing them in real life makes it a bit easier to identify horse people. That’s because social media offers the wannabe horse person a chance to create a whole fake persona. Although fashion goes through cycles, currently it’s trending back to old school prep that always had a heavy equestrian influence: tweed hacking jackets, waxed Barbour raincoats, and polo shirts, so becoming a horse person is fashionable too and a way to pretend you’re classy old money even if it’s all new money or even no money at all. Online, many offer themselves up as “horse people” even if the sum total of their experience is riding lessons at summer camp many years ago. In real life, horse people may look well put together at first glance at a dressier event but you can usually spy one of their trademarks: dirty muck boots, often with the faint aroma of manure, bits of hay stuck randomly to clothes or hair, a hoof pick or piece of baling twine in the pocket and some horse slobber on the shirt or barn jacket. And unlike most animals, female horse people usually sport the brighter flashier plumage, while the males tend toward drabber colors.
Don’t be fooled by those that know little about horses, but aspire to. They may love the preppy clothing and even the horses, and enjoy tailgating at the many horse activities in the hunt country. They may have gone on a few trail rides on rented horses or even a friend’s horse a time or two. They live in a subdivision or on a street called Tally Ho or Fox Den, and have hunt prints adorning the walls of their homes. They’re not true horse people; although with time and involvement many end up hooked.
Newly minted horse people might be considered the advanced beginners/intermediate ranks and they tend to be the easiest to spot because they go overboard with trying to look like they’re fox hunters or polo players out in public and offering up opinions on any and all horse topics that are not necessarily based on facts or experience. Their interest goes beyond a few hunt prints on the wall and going to the horse events as a spectator. They’re invested in getting involved in some aspect of the horse world, whether that be taking lessons, learning to play polo, or competing in the plethora of hunter/jumper or dressage shows. Maybe they moved out to a farm with horse facilities and want to get a horse of their own. There is a social aspect to the horse world many find appealing but the horses themselves can draw you in equally. The latter is more apt to keep you involved and send you on the path to becoming a real horse person.
Real horse people are also separated by their money and, often, how they acquired it. Ideally, it’s old money from their landed gentry family, handed down along with the lifestyle over many generations, often back to the Revolutionary War. The silver at their tailgates might be dented and worn, but it’s sterling and has been in their family for generations. Their dress tends to be understated, their manners impeccable, the accents typically a touch of Southern as they grew up in rural Virginia, not New Jersey or Annandale. But the problem with old money is that eventually it becomes so diluted it disappears. And there are no large fortunes to be made in breeding, training and competing even the finest horses, unless there was an enormous bankroll to begin with. Hence, the new money horse people are just as, if not more, vital to the lifestyle as are the owners, trainers and riders. They own the big beautiful farms and they keep the horse vital to the economy and social fabric of the hunt country.
The newly minted horse people that are in it for the social aspect and the more experienced but super-wealthy are generally the easiest to identify. These are the people who wear the tweed hacking jackets, skirts and/or dresses with dog and horse prints on them, and equestrian themed boots that aren’t real riding boots. The Hermes scarf might be real but it’s worn just a bit too ostentatiously.
Old school prep style dressing seems to be coming back in vogue and equestrian styled hacking jackets, insignia polo shirts and barn jackets were always part of this look; now they’re regaining favor with today’s social climber/wannabe, particularly the bourgeoisie who desire to raise their social standing; we affectionately call them bougie these days. This style never went out of favor with old money horse people but it tends to be understated. Old money that still exists tends to prefer to hide any ostentatious trappings of wealth, and this includes their horse endeavors. The new money wants to broadcast it to everyone, their truck and trailer will be brand new with all the latest bells and whistles and their waxed waterproof jacket a real Filson.