Two words which are guaranteed to increase the price of a product by what feels like 700%: wedding; equestrianism. I’m not here to talk about extortion around the tradition of matrimony though – after all, in theory, you should only be doing it once – I’m more concerned with the expense of my own lifestyle.
The problem is, there’s this false perception that horse people have money to burn. However, much like everything else in life, the Joneses aren’t doing it as much as they tell you they are – it really is just the few among the equestrian community who are able to afford lavish lifestyles most of us can only dream of. Most horse people have very little money, because they spend the majority of their earnings looking after their beloved equine, so much so that they drive a car which might be as old as they are, wear clothes until they fall apart and only enter the supermarket after 8pm (partly because that’s the earliest they’ve finished settling their horse into bed) in order to chase the staff around for the yellow stickered reduced items.
I’ve always known that equestrianism is expensive. You can tell just by looking at it from afar: the glossy horses who stride around showgrounds, ridden by immaculately turned out people who look cool and calm (and followed closely by their harried groom). My parents never complained about the cost of my chosen sport (yes, Dad, I’ve taken liberty with the truth there) – Mum was passionate about my sister and me having some sort of hobby which didn’t involve school. We both picked riding and stuck with it, which I think helped to earn their support: although they were shelling out a lot of money on lessons (and later, loaned ponies) and gear (that which was necessary, mind, rather than every item we begged for or lusted after), they considered the expense worthwhile for our wellbeing. I am incredibly fortunate that they were able to afford weekly lessons for both of us, and the time and cost of transporting us there, plus equipment which met safety and comfort standards. It also helps that we live in an area which is horsey – there are several riding schools to choose from, none of which are an impossible distance away.
As I got older, I began to shoulder the financial responsibility: I passed my driving test as soon as I was able, aged 17, and took on the task of shuttling myself and my sister to our lessons (fortunately, we rode together at the time). I started paying for my own lessons two years later, although I lived at home still, and was strategic with birthday or Christmas gift requests: if I knew a piece of equipment needed replacing, I made sure to ask for what I needed, sometimes adding my own financial contribution. Unlike many of my (non-horsey) friends, my 21st birthday present from my parents was a new highly-practical and absolutely-compulsory riding helmet, rather than a flashy gift. My friends thought I was mad. I thought I’d saved myself £100.
I’m good (too good) at justifying the expense of many items – particularly if the item is made of leather, swings from my arm, can hold all of my necessary accoutrements and bears a subtle “Mulberry” label – but sometimes, even I say, “too much”. Helmets are necessary, there’s no getting around that for me, and I can often be heard saying that my head is priceless (plus, when you consider the cost per wear, given that a helmet can last up to 10,000 hours in the saddle… it comes down to peanuts), but I’d still put an upper limit on how much I’d pay out for a new riding hat. The cost of helmets saddens me, but the cost of another item which I desperately needed recently was what really shocked me.
I was shopping for jodhpurs. I didn’t want any which sang and danced (if they made me ride like William Fox-Pitt… okay, even I’m not that unrealistic), just ones which wouldn’t make me look bigger than the animals I ride, would be comfortable and would last me at least the entire summer (that is a fairly tall order, given that I’ll be in them up to 15 hours per day). Oh, and I wanted them to not be pull-ons, or to be garish. Easy, right? Wrong. Everywhere I searched, I was looking at having to spend at least £30 per pair, without factoring in delivery. I’m a girl who likes to spend money (if she can afford to), but I can’t even remember the last time I spent £30 on a pair of beloved jeans. I don’t spend £30 on a dress if I can help it. I certainly don’t spend £30 on shoes.
Yes, Millennials who are living on shoestrings in the most expensive cities in the world, are fans of the much-maligned “fast fashion”. We have to be. We’re expected to be smart and well turned out day in day out, but we’re not paid smart wages. So we shop smart. I still buy from the stores I love, but I wait patiently for sales, or trek to outlet centres. I compromise on the colour of the item, making sure it fits me and cuts to suit me, and if the colour vaguely flatters me, well that’s a bonus. As long as I know that I’ll get my money’s worth in terms of wear and the price is right, I’ll take it.
But even adding all of my best compromising skills into the mix, I couldn’t get what I wanted. I stomped my foot in frustration at websites which haven’t dared fail my savvy in the past. I pouted mournfully at my bank balance, willing some form of magic to take over. All it did was lead me to a local tack shop, where the cheapest pair of jodhpurs I found were an even more eye-watering £50 (I even saw several pairs for £300). I sighed, I thought about cost per wear (and how amazing my backside was sure to look in them)… I walked away. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. All I could see on this occasion was extortion. To return to my previous analogy, I own three fabulous pairs of jeans which I’ve worked hard to get into. They are from a high street store I am proud to tote the carrier bags of. Only one pair was purchased in the sale, and I bought all three pairs for a total of £60. They will not fall apart at the end of the summer if I wear them daily. No, I won’t get 10,000 hours out of each pair, but I will be satisfied with what I get. I do not feel robbed.
The thought of being forced to spend £50 on a pair of jodhpurs offends me. This cannot be the cheapest a manufacturer is able to produce, market and retail the item for. No, they don’t have the mass appeal of leggings, maxi dresses and bikinis from Primark, H&M or Topshop. But I do feel that retailers expect riders to have money and be willing to hand it over without thinking.
Newsflash: we don’t. This is our sport and our life because we love it, not because it earns us our fortune. And do you know what? Even if it did, and we could afford a Sunseeker yacht moored in Cannes or Monte Carlo, that’s not what we’d be spending our time and money on. Because we’d rather be in the saddle, enjoying the money we have invested there and the effort we have put in to be able to do so.