By: Brittany Bevis
With only a mere 21 days left until Christmas, happy holiday-lovers everywhere are getting into the spirit of the season by decking the halls with boughs of holly, sprigs of mistletoe, and bright, red bows. Another trend that has been rapidly growing over the past decade is that of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. It has become so much of a national pastime that Time Magazine chronicled its evolution in a humorous 2011 piece entitled, “Ugly Christmas Sweaters: How The Trend Got Its Start.”
At the recent Gordyville Turkey Run in Illinois, exhibitors wholeheartedly embraced this tradition with a timely addition to the show schedule, the Ugly Christmas Sweater Pleasure class. We spoke with one participant, Elisabeth Cox, to get the low-down on this festive holiday celebration.
“I’ve only been showing at Gorydville for a year, and I’ve never competed in an Ugly Sweater class before,” Cox says. “Last year, at this show, I was very sick.”
“[The class requirements] were left pretty open. All they told us was that it was Ugly Sweater Pleasure and it could be ridden western or hunt-seat. I chose western because I could decorate my saddle a little bit, and I wouldn’t have to post in my costume!”
Coming into the four-day AQHA event in Illinois over Thanksgiving weekend, Cox wasn’t necessarily planning on competing in an Ugly Christmas Sweater class. She was still in the mindset of dining on roast turkey and stuffing. However, a friend volunteered the use of an ugly Christmas sweater she had brought along, so Cox decided to give it a try.
“I thought it sounded fun, so I volunteered,” she says. “I was riding Last Vegas Detail, my all-around horse, who I bought last year. We just finished the year as the ILQHA All-Around Novice Amateur Champion with Championships in Hunter Under Saddle and Equitation and Reserve in Showmanship. He’s primarily a hunt seat horse (he LOVES to jump!) but we added the western this summer.”
“This was only our third western pleasure class ever, and we did not place in the top three, unfortunately. It was judged based on pleasure, not based on costume. Otherwise, we had a great show and missed being High Point Novice Amateur by just a few points! Vegas is the sweetest, kindest horse, and he didn’t care one bit about decorations on his tail and the saddle or tossing candy canes off his back. He’s a wonderful horse.”
In hopes of gaining a few extra bonus points from the judges, Cox had the idea of carrying a bag of candy canes that she tossed to the crowd on her way around the pen. To give her ride a bit more festive flair, she turned her iPhone on full blast to a playlist of her all-time Christmas favorites.
While her horse trainers, Kathy Fitzpatrick and Travis Tieman of KKT Performance Horses, assisted with the preparation of Vegas, Cox relied on the help of friends and fellow equestrians to create her costume.
“I had TONS of help from friends!” she says. “Kate Stewart, whose daughter Cara shows, had a couple Christmas gifts with her (Barbies), so we secured those to the back of my costume. Then, she and Teresa Tapling, whose daughter Hannah shows, took some ribbon that we had around for hair bows and draped those. We cut out some Christmasey decorations and added them to my saddle and my horse’s tail. Then, Kate and Rachel Fortune, who show hunter under saddle, went out and grabbed some additional decorations from the Dollar Store including flashing lights and bows. With the help of Closet Space, I had a bag full of candy canes to toss to the crowd!”
Although the main purpose of this class was simply to help everyone get into the holiday spirit, Cox feels it might have done something more.
“It’s so tough for people to leave their families and come to a horse show over Thanksgiving weekend, with many people arriving on Thanksgiving Day,” she says. “It was a wonderful reminder that Christmas is coming up and that there are other things to think about than our placings and our next classes.”
“I think it gives everyone a chance to relax and have fun together. It cuts the tension quite a bit, and there’s no true feeling of competing when you go into the class. People were cheering, the announcer was giving us funny names, and everyone was laughing and having fun. At the end, there were a few children who hadn’t gotten any of the candy canes I was tossing, and I rode over to them and handed out my last few. We all had so much fun.”
“It’s also a great chance to get to know people that you may not have known before. I know I’d never ridden against several people in the class, but we all had fun laughing about our costumes! It really makes everything light and fun at the end of a long day of classes.”
Participating in the 2013 Ugly Christmas Sweater Pleasure alongside Cox were Joey Stillwell with Born Twice As Hot, Alyssa Christensen with Hesa Special Coosa, Dylan Easley with Hunk, Denise Judy with First Impulsions, and Tanna Nicole Petersak with One Hot Natural. The Grand Champion in the class was Linda Pingleton with her reindeer, Hot In Cleveland.
Dylan Easley, aka “Santa,” hadn’t planned on showing in the Ugly Sweater Pleasure class prior to that evening. Luckily, he had a spare Santa suit just lying around…
“My mom and some friends convinced me to show when they found out I had a Santa suit in my car,” he says. “I really didn’t want to show in the class, but it was for a good cause and I had fun when I got into the class. The class was supposed to be a Calcutta with the proceeds going to the victims of the tornado that tore through the town of Gifford, IL a few weeks prior to the show. Due to how late the show ran that night, they did not Calcutta the class but instead asked for donations.”
Easley’s handmade Santa suit came complete with a pillow stomach, beard, and hat. He made the decision to infuse a little cowboy spirit into his outfit with the addition of a cowboy hat.
“What made this class so entertaining were all of the hysterical outfits,” he says. “It wasn’t just the people that were dressed up, most of the horses were adorned with Christmas spirit including garland, reindeer antlers, Christmas lights, and ornaments. It was a really fun time for all, whether they were watching or participating.”
“These classes are most definitely important to have at shows! They remind all of the people attending about the real reason why we go to horse shows, and that is to have fun.”
Check out more show results and fun photos from the 2013 Gordyville Turkey Run by clicking here. If you have any entertaining Christmas-themed horse photos, we’d love to see them! Send your pictures to email@example.com
Scroll below to view more great photos from the class, courtesy of Impulsive Concept Designs Photography.