Moonlighting at Gladstone: Part 4 The Life of the Horse Show Vendor


Vendor Booth at the USEF Festival of Champions (Photo: Tigger Montague)
Vendor Booth at the USEF Festival of Champions (Photo: Tigger Montague)

While my compatriots in the press core are back in the media tent, hard at work, I am engaging in another favorite past-time: shopping at the vendor area. At Gladstone, the vendors are set up in the fabled courtyard in front of the main barn, and USET building with it’s famed archway to the main arena. First stop is The Horse of Course, to check in with Beth and Marty and find out what’s hot in the world of dressage fashions. For a sport that was held in the vice-grip of black and white colors for decades, the past few years has seen a revolution  of grey and brown coats, shadbellies, colored competition shirts, and bling on breeches. Beyond the colors, perhaps the greatest innovation has been in fabric: coats that are Tek fabrics with spandex fibers, allowing for the coats to be machine washed, and providing a greater ease of movement and comfort.

These lighter-weight materials are a big improvement over the old wool blends particularly in the summer. Companies like Kentucky, Grand Prix, Gersame, and Pikeur are really leading the innovation, and also providing some fashion forward detail, like military styling, contrasting collars, pinstripes, and removable points that are also reversible. Beth tells me that Joules shirts and HV Polo from Europe continue to be popular in casual wear, but it is the short coats, shadbellies, and breeches that are flying out the door.

Next stop a hat company called Metier, from Ecuador. Founded by three friends in their 20’s, Metier sells hand-made grass hats made in rural communities in Ecuador. These hats are woven from grass in a centuries’ old tradition. The hat bands are made of recycled neckties. I got a chance to meet the owners: Diana, Hugo, and Alessandro, and was struck by their passion for sustainability that is a hallmark of these rural Ecuadorian communities. They are also an adventurous trio: they were in Wellington this winter for a few shows, then off to Del Mar in California, then drove to Gladstone from California via Yellowstone, where they camped and hiked and took in the splendors of the National Park. Oh to be twenty-something again! I remember an old VW bus, some crazy friends, driving cross country and camping in Estes Park, back before the earth’s crust cooled...

The hats are beautifully made, the craftsmanship is obvious, and being made of grass they are extremely light-weight and cool. I snapped up an ocean-green hat with a wide brim, and didn’t take it off all day.

Had a chance to stop by and check out the Animo line at ShowChic. Michelle and Doug are proud to be able to offer this Italian line of coats and breeches, which offer the unique style of Italian designers and just the right amount of bling.

There were many vendors to choose from: Brow Bands with Bling, Caracol inspired jewelry, Custom Saddlery, Ellerslie Custom Blankets, Flex Equine Trunks, Game Ready, Furrylicious, Horse and Rider, John Deere Tractors, Le Fashion Cottage, J McLaughlin, Lucky Illustrator, Skylands Saddlery, Tack n Rider, Theault America, and the Unique Horse Boutique.



Spectators shopping at the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions (Photo: Tigger Montague)
Spectators shopping at the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions (Photo: Tigger Montague)

The life of vendor, while perhaps looking somewhat exotic and glamorous on the outside, is not an easy, rake-in-the-bucks life. Vendor fees alone that can be moderate to outrageous, coupled with gas, lodging, food, and inventory means that each vendor has a fixed expense amount they must cover at a show. They are on the show grounds from dawn to dusk and even longer when there are night classes. They don’t have an opportunity to watch rides because they have to stay with their booths. When riders and spectators don’t shop, the vendors suffer. And in the end, we riders and spectators suffer too, as fewer and fewer travelling merchants will set up at shows.

Vendors are among the small businesses of our industry. When they come to a dressage competition they are supporting that show with their fees, they provide convenience shopping, and an opportunity to try on, to touch, feel and talk to knowledgeable owners who know their inventory and their products. Online shopping and catalogues just can’t provide that kind of experience.

As I discovered, being a photo journalist for a weekend isn’t glamorous either.  Neither are all the other jobs that support a dressage show: volunteers, show management, judges, announcer, tech support, the TDs, the grooms, the trainers, the riders and the owners. What makes Gladstone such a special competition, is that all these various contributors come together to support the sport over two weekends, in a spirit of comraderie and support, that hopefully each of us can carry forward to every show all year long. Thanks Mary, for giving me the opportunity to stand ringside.