As a New Jersey native I grew up competing at small local horse shows on a very naughty grey pony. Over the years my sister and I moved our way from stable to stable, learning who was who and what was what as we went. The more knowledge we gained, and the more that competing on competitive horses became normal, winning champion ribbons on the bigger local circuit became normal as well. As our riding took us to the level of horses on full-board, chasing Maclay points, and flying to Florida on the weekends… our parents encouraged us to pursue running and our college paths over horses. My sister’s passion for the sport faded, but mine never did.
Many years, a university degree, careers in both equestrian sports and corporate life, a rehabbed ex-race horse, a cross country and a cross continent move later, I find myself writing about horses in Europe! Growing up with my first riding instructor being a Norwegian woman, riding through snow, mucking stalls, and “roughing it” are not foreign to me. As I got older, and began riding and competing in Wellington, automatic fly spray, synthetic arena footing, imported horses, custom saddles, and top notch care became everyday life as well. Having worked and ridden on both spectrums of the industry, trained my own horses, and been a complete type A perfectionist around horses, I am always on the look out for the next best thing, or the most practical methods.
Having moved to Europe just a year ago, I have met tons of European horsewomen from all disciplines, and I am fascinated by the difference between American and European practices. I have already attended about seven horseshows here this year, two from “behind the scenes” and the rest as a guest/blogger. I look forward to writing more from behind the scenes perhaps as the spring comes nearer.
But this weekend in Stockholm really surprised me.
I’d had a very busy morning and by the time I got to the indoor show grounds my hair was a mess, my phone was out of battery and I was pressed for time. In the press area, they took my photo, gave me my pass, and said “ok!”. They then let me change in their private bathroom, and charge my phone behind the desk. I sat impatiently, tapping my foot, and looking all around. Once all was settled, I packed my big winter jacket into a small bag, straightened out my crew neck camel colored cashmere sweater, and made sure the backs to my pearl earrings were securely fastened.
Walking into the arena I passed through the many gates, and flashed my press pass. I grabbed a salad at one of the many cafes and continued on my way. I felt almost overwhelmed as I walked around the upper level, passing by dozens of beautiful boutiques selling various equine products. The price tags, however, were a bit high (Scandinavia for you!). I glanced down into the arena and saw dozens upon dozens more shops set up! I skipped down the arena steps into the convention area and tried to zip around as fast as I could – taking a mental inventory of who was there, what was there, what looked new, what looked cool, and where I wanted to spend more time. I saw everything from deeply bedazzled browbands, to glittery split boots, to an embroidery station, to arena footing and jumps, to modern horseshoes, stuffed animals, trailers, jewelry, saddles, custom boots, big equine suppliers, you name it!
I myself have a few things on my equine wishlist and so I definitely took an interest in those. A new saddle, new boots, full chaps, anything trendy yet affordable, and anything spectacular to dream about putting at my (hopefully soon) farm here in Norway!
I met with the head CWD & Parlanti representative here in Norway and Sweden. She was absolutely lovely and I could tell she loves her job! I have been dreaming about a 2G mademoiselle with hot pink piping since it first came out (and she laughed, and agreed on this!). She will come out to almost any location to measure and fit the perfect saddle and boots for you and your horse.
Along my way I also met with the owner of Smart Riders of Finland, she was selling Parlanti chaps among other beautiful high quality products. They had a magnificent booth that was filled with all kind of fabulous collections.
Trend alert: I saw a lot of sleek designs, with a flair of glitter/rhinestones. The colors mulled wine and dusty rose aren’t only making beauty headlines – but also equine ones. And as per usual, black and navy are king. While browbands are heading in the lavish direction, headstalls are moving in a “no-pressure” direction, crown pieces almost always now have the cavesson extension going overtop rather than below, and some no longer have noseband cavessons at all but rather the noseband is adjustable right beside both cheek pieces. I saw one crown piece on a horse that dipped backwards in an effort to put zero pressure on the pole. The traditional American hunter bridle was a rare sight.
I stopped by the Erre Saddle stand because I couldn’t take my eyes off of the Christian Ahlmann saddle! The striking black panel was so cool! (I’ve always loved Prestige for their signature white cantle, but this takes the cake!). Rebecca helped me be fit for a saddle and deemed the best choice would be a JF saddle in size 17 with a shorter flap as the best, and because I ride many horses right now not just one I would go with a standard tree rather than something custom for one horse. The use wool flocking which is always the wise choice, and a high tech tree.
As I made my way to the actual competition event I was waved over by one of the hosts to sit directly ringside.
It was magnificent to watch the beautiful horses in action, and I loved every minute – but I wanted more. I’ve watched hundreds of Grand Prix’s over the years – and while each is different as riders adapt to position changes, the horses anatomy evolves, and the courses technicality changes – I wanted to see the inside.
I asked if I could stand behind the curtain to see the warm up ring, and they said of course. Standing there with my camera, I watched Bertram Allen, Marlon Módolo Zanotelli, the Philippaerts brothers, Peder Fredricson, Malin Baryard-Johnsson, and John Whitaker among others warming up their horses. They jumped with ease and watched the big screen overhead to see how their competitors were performing. I loved seeing their expressions; some were stressed, but most were calm. This was just another day in the park.
Norway’s own Geir Gulliksen was there and I couldn’t help but ask his groom a few questions, “Hey!” I said. “I’m from Norway, so naturally I have to ask about Firefly.” “Is she fun? Is she sweet?” The young girl replied, “She’s really fun, but she’s a princess. She loves treats and everything has so go her way!”
I stood ringside for hours, studying every last detail. Who was using which stirrup, saddle pad, bridle? Which grooms were relaxed, which horses seemed the most happy? How did each rider interact with their horse?
It was a magnificent afternoon and I am so grateful to H&M for putting on the show, and having me there! It was superb and I can’t wait to return next year.
** Two months ago I was so excited to receive my first set of FEI credentials to attend the Oslo Horseshow here in the city which I live as a journalist… but the morning of the big grand prix I broke my foot and wasn’t able to attend. I was so grateful when the Stockholm Horseshow allowed me to come cover their event!