Today, I’m going to broach a sensitive subject and discuss something as personally distressing as anything I’ve witnessed in horse sport: a practice that would once have been met with dismay and disapproval but is now accepted and even embraced. The controversy surrounding this topic has polarized proponents of both sides, and its insidious insinuation into more and more disciplines threatens the literal fabric of our sport.
For the purpose of this discussion, I’m defining “bling” as “unnecessary embellishments to items of tack and apparel that were, heretofore, and should be henceforth, unadorned.”
The Urban Dictionary puts it a bit more bluntly, defining bling as “any unnecessary accumulation of metal or jewelry which impresses the simple minded.” It further asserts that bling is “the single most shallow, boring and willfully superficial cultural phenomenon ever to excite humankind.”
As for where the term “bling” itself came from? Some say its origin was in hip-hop culture. I personally think the word was invented out of necessity after, “Hey, wanna stick a bunch of sparkly %$#@ on your helmet?” proved ineffective as a sales pitch.
The first appearance of bling was subtle, almost subliminal. A flash of silver piping here, the gleam of a faceted button there—a tasteful, single-jewel accent. It seemed harmless enough, so we let it pass.
What we should have done was hauled those people out behind the barn and dunked them in the water trough repeatedly, shouting, “What the hell were you thinking, wearing that shiny s#@t in the show ring?” until they repented. We should have had Blinging-Man festivals where giant bejeweled effigies were burned as a warning to others. We should have hung glitter-coated stick figures from the barn rafters to ward off the Spirits of Unnecessary Embellishment like a sort of Bling Witch Project.
But we did none of that. And our inaction enabled mere blips of bling to evolve into the inglorious aggrandizement of absolutely E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. equestrian.
Coats. Helmets. Shirts. Gloves. Belts. Bridles. Crops. Saddle Pads. Boots. Spurs. Stirrup Irons. Even HORSE SHOES, for crying out loud, have been bling-ified. It’s a full-blown blingademic.
It was hard enough for traditionalists like myself to make peace with a world where all saddle pads weren’t white. Then we had to endure that ghastly matchy-matchy-everything craze, where having color-coordinated tack and equipment was apparently more important than knowing how to actually put any of it on your horse.
Combine that with those Darth Vader-inspired helmet designs, and we thought we’d seen the worst that equestrian turnout had to offer.
Then came the blingfest.
For the love of Pete, people……why??? What is up with the blingapalooza?
“Show clothes are boring.”
Seriously? Once upon a time your choices for riding clothes were black, white and tan. I guess the fact that you can now get boots made with purple Brontosaurus hide and breeches greener than your 3-year-old jumper prospect have desensitized you to the truly banal.
If your priority when choosing an activity is non-boring attire, join the circus. It’s a virtual bling-a-rama. You can sport as much sparkly silliness as you want. As a bonus, you can squirt people with your seltzer bottle if you don’t like what they have to say (just try doing that to the judge in your medal final).
If you want to stick with a bling-y equestrian pursuit, you might try the Color Guard. Once your kookoo-for-cocoa-puffs mare gets an eyeful of those flapping flags, the word “boring” will fly out of your vocabulary almost as fast as you’ll fly out of the saddle.
“I want to express my individuality.”
Maybe you should be less concerned about expressing your individuality and more concerned with learning to pilot your 1,300-lb. flight animal so as not to bowl over the people in the warm-up ring.
If you’re OK with trending on social media as #crazypinkrhinestonechick then go forth and destroy. But don’t blame us when the victims of your devastation can pick you and your pimped-out apparel right out of the police lineup. The best reason for looking exactly like everybody else in a hunt coat and breeches? Two words, my friend: reasonable doubt.
“If you can’t impress them with your riding, blind them with your bling.”
While smoke and mirrors might work in a magician’s act (or as a really cool name for a gray horse), such show ring tactics succeed only when the sun is correctly angled between you, the judge and the single oxer that you can never, ever find a distance to. In other words, much like your riding skill, you just can’t depend on it when you really need it.
“I want to spend even more money on riding apparel.”
Said no one, ever. Aren’t the accouterments of riding expensive enough without adding a swag surcharge?
That crushed-crystal-crusted helmet won’t keep your brains in your skull any better than an unadorned, more economical equivalent. Hey, but it’ll probably strip the winter coat off your hairy Hanoverian tout suite.
The rhinestone embellished shirt and coat won’t get you extra points in your equitation class. But you’ll be a bling-tastic hit at the sing-along showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Chicago.” I’d tone it down a bit for “Sing-Along Sound Of Music,” though. Baron Von Trapp would be displeased by your egregious display of profligacy.
And maybe….just maaaaaybe, you wouldn’t have rolled that last rail in the jump-off if your horse hadn’t been toting your extra 5 pounds of Swarovski sparkles. I’m just sayin’.
How much bling is too much bling? That’s like asking how much contraband one can carry before it becomes a felony. I’m hopeful that conservative heads will prevail before the governing bodies of our sport need to form a Bling Rules Committee. You know that’ll just make the member fees go up, right?
If it were solely up to me, the guidelines would be very simple.
Bling is acceptable:
- If your horse’s name is Liberace
- If you have a second job as an equestrian Elvis impersonator
- If you have been the victim of a drive-by bedazzling (copy of police report required)
- If you are participating in a Cavalia-esque production on the Las Vegas strip
- If said bling is permanently embedded in your skin because you were standing too close to Dolly Parton when she exploded.
Bling is not acceptable:
- For any other reason
It wouldn’t bother me a bit if bling went straight to the top of the prohibited substances list. But I’m old school.
I’m still waiting for rust-colored breeches to come back.
After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now, she’s an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle’s first writing competition. Her work also appears in print editions of The Chronicle of the Horse. Read all of Jody’s humor columns for coth.com here.