By Delores Kuhlwein
When Debbie Cooper won Ranch Riding at the AQHA World Show two years ago, she wore a vest that had been given to her by Grace Hoyt, who showed in the same outfit over 40 years prior. She didn’t wear the vest to draw attention. She wore it because it was timeless, but she certainly did get noticed for her nod to tradition and authenticity.
If you love classic looks, like Cooper does, it’s your time to shine. Whether you enjoy hunting for antique store finds, or if you simply want to take advantage of the latest fashion trends, not only are vintage Western looks making a big splash in disciplines like Ranch Riding, but elements like buck-stitching and conchos are popping up in all-around show outfits and tack as well.
Exhibitors are incorporating the vintage look into their show ensembles, displaying simple and timeless pieces of tack, and asking designers and saddlemakers to incorporate glimpses of elements reminiscent of the lore of the cowboy and cowgirl. The good news is that the looks range from totally Western to very sophisticated, so read on to learn how the trendsetters are outfitting their horses, and themselves, what elements the designers are celebrating in their creations, and how to get the look for less.
No stranger to the show pen, Scottsdale, Arizona, trainer and AQHA, NRHA, NRCHA judge, Debbie Cooper, has been stopping people in their tracks lately. It’s not intentional. She just appreciates a classic look and well-made tack, and exhibitors are taking notice.
For example, one of her favorite headstalls is a piece she won at the first Silver Dollar Circuit Quarter Horse Show that took place in 1976, complete with 1921-era, antique silver dollars. “We won it for the all-around performance horse award. The original producer of Silver Dollar at the time, Jean Foray, made the whole show revolve around silver dollars,” Cooper explains.
“The silver dollars are antiques, and it was typical of a headstall at that time. We’ve used it for years. Here in the Southwest, we’ve been using silver bits, headstalls, and romal reins made by braiders like Louie Ortega and other craftsmen, forever. When they’re well built, they last a lifetime. It’s not a new trend for me, but I think people are noticing it more and Ranch Riding also gave us a venue for it.”
The headstall is special to her, because her sister was part of the original management team at the time. The vest she wore to win an AQHA World Championship title in Ranch Riding has even more of a poignant story. “The vest was a gift from Grace Hoyt, the wife of late, great trainer John Hoyt. She was cleaning out her closet and came across the vest she showed in during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. She mailed it to me hoping that I might wear it. I thought it would look great in Ranch Riding, but I’ve judged in it too, and I’ve gotten compliments on it every time. It’s classic.”
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