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In The Country Magazine
make do and mend old leather saddle on horse
In The Country Lifestyle

Make-do and mend

A lifelong equestrian, from taping up riding boots and tying gates with twine, to the joys of a tack sale, Hollie shares her rural and rugged approach to making things last.

As an equestrian through and through – if you examine my hair most days, you’ll likely find more strands of hay, remnants of chaff from Simba’s breakfast or loose shavings than you would hair – our lot are actually generally pretty darn good at making do and mending things, partly because our kit is so bloomin’ expensive! Whilst there are certainly aspects of equestrian life that aren’t particularly healthy for Mother Nature, such as driving hefty diesel towing machines, when it comes to preserving the longevity of our kit and that of our horses’, we do a pretty nifty job.

We get things fixed: equestrians are probably keeping traditional cobblers in business these days. We eagerly present dirty, smelly and expensive riding boots, begging their expertise in replacing bust zips or repairing worn soles because we can’t bare to part with trustee boots – when you find the right pair, you’ll know what I mean. Don’t look a gift horse (rider) in the mouth.

We are masters of bodge-jobs: along with farmers we have an amazing knack for patching things up. Torn horse rug? No problem, nothing some heavy duty duct tape can’t sort out to get me through another winter. That broken gate on the farm? Hand me some balling twine and I will do the job! Perhaps the prime example of this is saddles… Never one to chuck out a saddle when it isn’t fitting well, despite being used regularly, we seek the expert help of a saddler to re-flock or adjust it instead, which can be done time and time again without needing to replace altogether. The same goes for bridles or leather head collars, taking them in to be mended or revamped is always the first port, rather than simply buying new. Particularly with bridles there are cheaper, mass-produced options on the market, but investing in a English leather rather than cheaper Indian leather or even synthetic will pay dividends in the long run as it will likely outlive you and your horse!

We certainly get the most out of our stuff: equestrians wear our products to the bitter end. Wellies are worn day in, day out – I often wonder how many trips to the muck they make a year? Or how many times do you walk up and down your field cleaning up after your horses (or dare I say it looking for lost shoes?). Farmers and gamekeepers spend pretty much every day in their boots, sometimes patched up with emergency tape to keep water out. How often have you heard of someone wearing plastic bags as socks, because they cannot bare to throw away their comfiest, perfectly worn-in boots.

We’re great at hand-me-downs: equestrianism as a sport has a strong resale culture, where, unlike fashion buying secondhand isn’t seen as a lesser option. The same can be said of the shooting industry when it comes to guns. I love the huge community feel within the equestrian world (at times), where many gift their old or unused items to others: I have most definitely given away things I no longer use and I recently received a lunge roller from a fellow stable friend who’s horse it didn’t fit.

As a collective we love a good bargain and nothing is as exciting to as as a tack sale, where you can pick up everything from 50p grooming brushes to second-hand rugs, saddles and clothing. We value quality because we need to. This can be true for both the shooting and equestrian worlds where quality, well-made products are valued, because they are tools to be relied upon. Cheap boots and tack are not always built to last and the risk of a stirrup leather snapping halfway round a cross-country course is not a risk I’m willing to take.

The equestrian industry is often said to lag behind, but we uphold high standards when it comes to quality manufacturing, though there is still a way to go in terms of eco-friendly fabrics and ethical manufacturing and I struggled to find many British-made, sustainable equestrian brands when researching another article.

We’re dirt magnets: real equestrians, ie those of us who tend to our horses most days, twice a day ourselves, rather than turning up at the yard to be presented with a pristinely groomed, tacked-up horse to ride occasionally – will know that mud, dust, loose hairs and is a daily battle. I wouldn’t dare wear my favourite top to the yard as I know, my horse will likely and lovingly give me a slobbery kiss.

Stains, dirt and the like are unavoidable and part of the package, so we dress and shop with this in mind. I sit writing this, in my (at least) five-year-old yard jacket with a familiar fragrance I adore, (but I fear might repel others), riding leggings splattered with mud and long riding socks pulled up to my knees. My hair resembles a lion’s mane and yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I guess you could say, us equestrians were rocking the sustainability vibe before it came into vogue although looking at me right now, I’m not sure anyone would call me fashion-forward.

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