Intro to Upper Class Culture, Part 2: Equestrian Sports
Ahh, equestrianism. It’s a topic I reluctantly know more about than I ever cared to because my boyfriend is obsessed with horses. He owns seven of them now: two Thoroughbreds, two Arabians, one Andalusian, one Appaloosa, and one Quarter Horse. They’re all fairly versatile breeds and pretty popular breeds, often used in equestrian sports. If you’re like me you’ll probably think “A horse is a horse, does it matter?” and the answer is that it matters greatly as horses come in varying sizes, shapes and have different talents specific to their breed.
Although horses have been used in everything from plowing fields to herding cattle (and still are!) I include equestrianism in “Upper Class Culture” because horses are a very expensive investment. I asked D how much it would cost at the very minimum to take care of a horse per year and he estimated at the very least three or four thousand dollars. I asked him how much he spent per horse every year and he laughed and declined to comment, but when I asked if it was more than ten thousand he laughed and said, “A lot more”. I did a little research online and found some sources saying 15K was a decent chunk of change to spend on a horse, so I’ll assume D is spending more since spendthrift isn’t one of his many good qualities. Let’s estimate he spends 20K/year on each horse. That’s $140,000 per year on a hobby. When is the last time you dropped over a hundred grand on a hobby?
So, now that we’ve established how grossly expensive this is, it’s time to learn what people do with these walking money pits! I’m going to focus on a few different activities you can do with horses that are particularly “upper crust” and there are a lot more but as it is this is going to be a pretty lengthy post. The horse industry in the US alone is a $102 billion+ industry so there’s just a lot of facets, and if I don’t cover one you’re interested in message me and maybe I’ll do a “Equestrian Sports Part 2”.
The one that’s on everyone’s mind right now! For the first time in 36 years we have a Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, the beautiful thoroughbred who beat the odds and won it all. Horse racing is a massive industry, mainly because of the gambling that goes along with it, and is probably America’s favorite equestrian sport. There are thousands upon thousands of horse races across the US per year but they vary from very seedy to very classy, and I’ll assume if you’re reading this you’re going to the latter.
Horse racing is pretty straight forward. The gates open and horses, ridden by a jockey, run for a certain distance. Races are generally limited to one different breed of horse (or a couple types) because otherwise there would be unfair advantages between breeds. The most common types of race horses are Thoroughbreds, Arabians and Quarter Horses. The Triple Crown, a set of three races that begins with the Kentucky Derby, then goes to the Preakness and finally Belmont Stakes, is for Thoroughbred horses.
Now, if you’re attending a big fancy horse racing event such as a leg of the Triple Crown, you’re free to dress up like you’d imagine people do. Colorful Lilly Pulitzer sundresses and over the top hats are completely acceptable. For men, tailored suits, bow ties and flower lapels are always classic. If you’re with someone who is upper class, generally you won’t be sitting in the stands but will be seated somewhere more comfortable, so although everyone will be cheering at the end of the race, don’t get too rowdy lest you scare the bourgeois.
Nothing says preppy quite like Polo. It evokes images of men on horseback, bright grassy fields, and, if you’re like me, Ralph Lauren. Polo originated in Persia and was brought to India where it was eventually taught to British military officers and brought back to the UK and via the UK much of the rest of the world. It’s most popular today in Argentina, the US and the UK. Polo is played on horseback with a small, solid plastic ball on the ground that is hit by riders armed with wooden mallets who try to shoot the ball into (weirdly large) goals. There are four players on each team (3 in arena). The riders ride “Polo Ponies” who are frequently rotated out and look absurdly small to be carrying full grown adults. It’s more fun to watch than you’d assume, and actually really fun and a little bit scary to play (10/10 would recommend).
Event Dress: Dress nicely, but don’t look too fancy. A nice sundress, trousers and a good blouse, something flowy, light and summery is all good. Keep it classy, preppy is always a good option. And for all that is good and decent in this world do not come dressed as stereotypically western or British-no top hats or cowgirl boots. No. A word about heels: don’t wear stilettos. Wear wedges. Why? You’ve all seen “Pretty Woman”, don’t feign naivety with me. During the halftime and at the end of the game, it’s tradition for the public to be called onto the field to help fill in the holes left by the horse hooves. If you’re in stilettos you’re going to make walking in the grass harder on yourself, one, and two, make the grass even worse, and three, not be able to participate in the fun part of the game for the spectators. Also, no big crazy hats. I saw some American women do this on a British reality show and cringed. Don’t be those women. Keep things simple and classy, fashion wise.
I’m going to limit this post to those two things because I think those are the most important to touch on. If you’re ever being brought to another equestrian event (dressage, eventing, show jumping, etc.) then you can never go wrong with a nice tight pair of jeans, riding boots and a good cashmere sweater. If you get invited to go riding with someone, do take the opportunity because it’s a lot of fun and less scary the more you do it. Horses are wonderful, very loving and intelligent animals so it’s easy to see how people get roped into pouring their hard earned cash into them.