This past weekend I noticed, at yet another event, the number of what I call “Helping Dads/Spouses.”
There is no question they serve as an underpinning to the horse industry. They often earn the funds to pay the bills, act as cheerleader and support crew and show the best of intentions to do whatever their child (or spouse) needs to have done.
Let’s face it, females dominate the sport as they represent the vast majority of riders and shoppers. There is an automatic assumption that if you are male and over 25 you are a Helping Dad/Spouse. A couple years ago it became a game to see how many men’s pictures or products were in a horse catalogue. These days, pick up any horse catalogue and try to find any men’s products, anywhere? So there is little out there to help the Dads on what to wear and how to act.
What To Wear
Most Helping Dads I know want to feel involved and be considered part of the program. To this end, though, there are some general things they need to do to look the part. The reason you can spot them a mile off is a combination of how they dress and what they do. As for the dressing, this is easy to fix with what probably already exists in your closet. Think of it not as a “total makeover” but as a closet cleaning. Some general tips:
Shave. Yes, we know this is your “weekend look,” and you were hot when Miami Vice was in prime time. But the 5 o’clock scruffle is not only disrespectful to the sport but to your child or wife. When you are shaving out of a cold water bucket in the dark at 5:30 a.m., you will know you have made it to the big leagues.
Collared Shirts. We know you wear that T-shirt in support of your favorite (pick any) college/pro team/ NASCAR driver. But for a horse event, put it under a collared shirt. Best choice: that old, button-down, preppy oxford that is too old to wear to the office. Above 50 degrees, sleeves rolled up two folds, below the elbow (not above). Polos are always great.
Khakis or blue jeans, preferably Wrangler (it’s an inseam thing. Pick up a pair and see if you can figure the difference to a rider.) Boot cut is best and they now have a relaxed fit. Do not wear pressed or “stressed” or designer. A belt is a must, one you can whip off to put around the neck of a loose horse. Shorts are OK but only if khaki and only with a woven fabric surcingle belt.
Hat. This takes a lot of thought, as it is the crowning piece of your wardrobe. Generally, below 50 degrees wear the Irish cap. Above 50 degrees, wear a baseball cap. The logo deserves attention as it says a lot about you and, consequently, your rider.
Any feed store, farm implement or horse-related logo is great. Even if you have one horse, you buy enough feed to get a free cap from the feed store, but you have to ask for it. Any cap from an old horse event is great. I get comments on my Essex cap but only from those old enough to remember this great event. All caps must be soft, with fabrics found in nature and without that stiff, high front.
Shoes. These should be chosen to match the conditions. Leave those old stinky running shoes at home no matter how comfortable. Wear leather, ones that you can slosh through the mud and have a horse step on your toe without permanent damage. Paddock boots are great, western boots are not.
Jackets. Back in style are the blue jean jackets, which are great since they protect but do not extend below the waist to restrict movement, and they make your shoulders look buffed. Any jacket that you can stand to have horse slobber wiped up the arm when you are standing near it is fine. You get bonus points if the color matches your barn colors.
Completing The Look
Now that you are dressed, here is how to create the look of the experienced, wise, horse support crew. A couple rules: never sit while your significant other is working hard to get her horse ready or untacked. This may involve a lot of standing, but think of it as burning more calories than sitting. Sit when they sit, stand when they are up.
Put something in your hands; it makes you look involved. An old towel is great, always needed, and gives you the look of knowing that you are about to do something. When not in your hand, drape it from the back pocket. Bonus points if it barely touches the ground.
If a pitchfork is handy, grab it. The “lean” on the pitchfork is a practiced skill.
You see it regularly at any highway improvement where three men are leaning on a rake or shovel and one is working. You can tell a federal highway job—it has five leaning to every one working. The lean needs to look restful but not enough to put pressure on the tines to bend or break them. One hand always at the top, shaft resting against the shoulder. As with the road crews, you may never have to actually do anything with it, but it completes the look.
I once took a few tongue-in-cheek “lessons” on how to carry water buckets and push a wheelbarrow from my sister’s spouse, a non-horse person but self-proclaimed “master groom.”
We started with an empty wheelbarrow and worked up to actually having real manure in it. The walk needs to be slightly slower than a regular gait, but forward with each step. Water buckets are carried with the spare hand thumb hooked in the pants pocket, conveying that this thing about to rip off your other arm is not really heavy. Holding an empty bucket is another good item.
Most horse events are friendly places. You see the same people over and over. While you may never actually meet formally, there is the head nod and the “mornin’” greeting that is always welcome. No matter how out of place you may feel, giving the greeting helps you and others to promote friendliness. When you start getting them, you will know you have achieved the proper look and actions.
So now you have it—the dress and the actions that will help you fit right in without the burden of having to really do anything or accumulate a lot of horse knowledge. Ultimately, the simple fact that you are there in support of your child or spouse is what really matters.
This piece originally ran on www.coth.com on July 12, 2007.