It all started with a simple saddle pad.
Back in 2016, George Scott Waters was just embarking on his eventing career with his Thoroughbred-cross mare, An American Girl (Salute The Truth—Olney Emmy Lou). A lifelong Maryland resident, Waters thought it would be cool to have a saddle pad adorned with the distinctive Maryland state flag.
“I knew I couldn’t make it myself, so I hit the internet, and I just kept searching and searching and searching, and I finally found someone on Etsy that would do it,” said Waters, 51, an information technology professional from Abingdon, Maryland.
And then, it became a thing.
You know how it goes—you have a thing, and all of your friends and family know about the thing, and suddenly every gift you ever receive from there on out is related to that thing, whether it’s ceramic cats or collectible spoons or, as in the case of Waters, Maryland-flag related equestrian couture. “I’m hard to shop for, apparently,” Waters said sheepishly.
Over the years his ensemble has grown and now includes a new-and-improved saddle pad (made from an actual Maryland flag rather than printed fabric—more durable!), fly bonnet, belt, helmet cover, socks, shirt, pants, gloves, and even a tie and pocket square (along with a tastefully flag-trimmed saddle pad) for dressage.
Let’s just say you won’t ever have trouble telling who he is on the cross-country course.
It’s kind of a running joke in the Mid-Atlantic that Marylanders are a bit fanatical about their state flag. It’s featured on the Baltimore Ravens’ uniforms. If flies prominently at the Preakness Stakes. There’s even a local clothing company, Route One Apparel, dedicated to all things Maryland, and it carries almost any product you can think of adorned with the flag.
“I don’t remember Marylanders being so attached to the flag growing up,” said Waters. “Maybe I just had my head in the sand, but it seems like recently, everybody’s really got this great Maryland flag pride. But we rated as one of the top flags, the coolest state flags.” (No. 3 on a list compiled by jetpunk.com, to be exact. The perhaps more credentialed North American Vexillological Association—billed as “the world’s largest organization of flag enthusiasts and scholars”—rated it fourth.)
“I can’t explain it; it’s just Maryland pride I guess,” Waters continued. “It’s nothing specific; I just think it’s a really cool flag.”
In fact, this is a relationship that goes beyond the horse world—he has a custom mailbox created by a local artist that features the flag with a rendition of his horse on the side, and he recently made a birdhouse for his mother-in-law that included elements of the flag.
But before you get inspired and think you might need to rep your own state’s awesome flag in a similar fashion, a word to the wise from Waters: It requires creativity. Most of his ensemble isn’t actually equestrian gear.
“You have to improvise a lot, especially when you’re a dude in horseback riding. It’s tough to find horse stuff,” he said. His gloves were baseball or football gloves, until the manufacturer, Maryland-based Under Armour, discontinued them. His cross-country shirts are lacrosse jerseys, and his current “breeches” are actually leggings. Before his sister, Sarah Kane, found the leggings, he wore women’s yoga pants.
“I’ve had so many people, they’ll come up to my sister, who’s my coach, and ask: ‘Oh where did he get those custom breeches?’ She doesn’t hesitate to tell them, ‘Oh, he got them at Route One Apparel. They’re women’s yoga pants!’ ” Waters said with a laugh.
Waters was even approached at an event by an Under Armour employee, who noticed he was wearing the company’s gloves and sunglasses. She said she’d been trying to convince them to start a line of equestrian apparel, to no avail.
The faux breeches have actually become a point of pride. “I can go around a cross-country course with no knee patches, no full-seat breeches; it’s spandex and nylon, and that’s it!” Waters said with a laugh.
Waters said he always gets a lot of looks, but his outfit makes most people smile. Except the time he wore the Maryland tie at an event in West Virginia. “Someone was like, ‘Son, you’re in the wrong state for that,’ ” he joked.
As a frequent competitor at local events, he’s become friends with announcer Brian O’Connor, who always loves a good story to promote. “We talk all the time, and he is fantastic; my sister, she rolls her eyes because every time he sees me on the course he talks me up,” said Waters.
Earlier this summer during the Horse Park of New Jersey Horse Trials II, where O’Connor was announcing, “as I’m crossing the finish line, he goes, ‘George, I know you can hear me down there; the cross-country judges were cracking up over the radio. Take a victory lap!’ ” Waters recalled.
Waters first got into eventing back in 2013. Although he’d ridden as a child, he lost interest in middle school, but he maintained his connection to horses through his sister by helping her at competitions.
“I would go along with her, and I would—we say ‘groom’ in quotes because I would hold the horse, and I would drive the trailer and pitch in where I could. [Eventing] always interested me, but there were times we’d go to events that I’d never see the cross-country course because I would be at the trailer holding the horse or whatever. But the parts that I could see were really interesting.”
Waters eventually waded back into horses himself as a form of solace. His wife passed away in 2013, and as he struggled with that loss, his sister suggested he come out to the barn with her to ride a little bit. And it just so happened that she had a horse that was coming off a year-long rehab for an OCD lesion on her stifle, who, it was thought, was only going to be serviceable as a trail horse.
“It started off like all things horse—she was a field-boarded horse, and I had a half-lease on her, so I would get her three days a week,” Waters said. “Then the other person [on the lease] didn’t want to continue, so I picked it up. And then there was a big snowstorm, and my poor horse was standing out in the snow all by herself, and I was carrying hay out to her, and I was like, ‘You know what, the next stall that’s available, I want her to have it.’ ”
Since the mare appeared to have recovered well from her injury, she was rechecked by a vet and cleared for jumping. “By the end of 2013, I started in my first competition—unrecognized, at the farm so we didn’t have to go anywhere. It was great! It was me and like 10 12-year-olds; yeah, I kicked their butts!” Waters said with a laugh. “We were doing like 18-inch or max 2-foot jumps and my horse was just stepping over them. After that, it snowballed.”
Waters eventually moved up to novice level, where he’s been competing for the last four years. “I’m just not that good at dressage!” he said, with an air of exasperation. “The horse will jump anything. We’ve schooled modified, but I just can’t get the dressage down.”
Although his sister jokes that he’ll be “novice for life,” Waters always keeps a year-end goal of competing in the Waredaca Classic Three-Day Event (Maryland), which offers a long-format competition from novice through preliminary. This will be Waters’ sixth year competing at the event. “I’m a huge fan and supporter of the long-format three-day,” he said.