How about a Saddle Cover with that Curry Comb?
Not only did it look raggedy but it was also the wrong size. I frowned at the mohair western cinch and listed my options. I could borrow a student’s, or I could go buy a new one at the tack store in time for the show in a few days. Show preparations often remind me how insignificantly we trainers prioritize gear and apparel ownership. And it might not be our wimpy finances that explain this minimalism. It might instead owe to a shade of cynicism that arises after participating in something for a considerable length of time. Veterans of any sport seem to arrive eventually at the bare essentials of what they need to do the sport well.
When I first entered the horse world professionally, I was concerned that in terms of equipment and apparatus I had operated on too much of a shoestring. Many of my students owned nearly double the number of splint boots, saddle pads, and snazzy grooming tools. I couldn’t help feeling a little panicked that perhaps I, too, should have this much—or more– stuff even though I never identified any actual need. It relieved me to find my colleagues’ tack rooms stocked with only a handful of brushes, decades old saddles, reins repaired with duct tape. I looked fondly on their shelves with a single Betadine bottle, the lone pair of polo wraps used on every horse in the barn.
At the beginning of any committed hobby, it’s natural—and fun—to rush out and accumulate gear that is nicer than actually needed. In fact, it’s tempting to acquire stuff at a rate that might seem commensurate with your advancement in a sport. Heck, I’ve done it. Before I learned to roll my mountain bike over a log properly, I bought not one but two pairs of new padded shorts. Before I learned to handle a corner or brake correctly, I owned a $35 accessory that promised to dampen the noise of my chain jangling against the bike frame as I descended steep trails I did not yet have the skills to ride. Acquiring these little bits of gear gave me a sense of causality: buy supplies and the skills will follow.
Newbies and amateurs are often the early adopters of new gadgets and training devices, the ones subconsciously believing the magazine ads (Buy this brand of collapsible bucket and watch your riding improve! Own this rain sheet and your horse will be easier to train!) and bolstering any hobby’s economics. And then, cruelly, the years roll past leaving us all with a pile of gear that measures much taller than our pile of technique and expertise. A few more years tick by, and now you notice yourself relying on just a few pieces of gear while everything else collects dust.
And, yes, eventually, you become a little cynical about anyone’s real need for most of the products available today. You flip through catalogues rolling your eyes and wondering who could possibly need all this stuff. Was the sheepskin cinch so much better than the cotton string one? Would your horse honestly notice the Zebra stripes on his new bell boots? Did the electric waterer in his stall actually help him drink more water?
This cynicism endures until you find yourself, like me, prepping for a show which usually results in discovering you lack one or another snazzy tools or tack items. This means tracking down an amateur or newbie who will most assuredly own the item, and chances are good it will still be in its original wrapper, unused until now. After I borrowed the cinch from a student for our upcoming show, I spent five minutes as I often do wondering if I should go out and buy myself one like it. No, I admitted, there was no daily need for one. The minimalist in me maintains an oath to accumulate only the gear that measurably improves me, or my horse, on a daily basis. Perhaps to a fault, my priorities have fixed on keeping the skills/expertise pile taller than the gear/gadgets pile.
Probably my mountain biking foray has only increased this focus. After my initial year of mountain biking, I noticed I stopped going to bike shops. I conceded that I didn’t actually need the $80 padded shorts. What I DID need was more skills. I finally just upgraded to a newer mountain bike several weeks ago. My new ride is fast and lightweight and, no, it did not come with an accessory to dampen chain noise. And this time, I’m not going to go out and buy one. I hope to be tearing down rocky trails like a hellion with my chain tap-tap-tapping the frame as I unleash all the skills I can muster.