Outfitting an Equine (namely Bingo: The Clothes Horse)

by Epy Pengelly, Armiger

Arielle de Pointoise on her horse bingo wearing green, yellow and purple matching clothes and barding.

Photo by Tim Baird

At the Barony of Stierbach’s Holiday Faire 2023, The Honorable Lady Arielle de Pontoise taught an edifying class “The Elegant Equine: Garbing Your Horse with Style”. THL Arielle has been in the SCA for over 30 years, and has made about a dozen different outfits for various equines in her life. The thing that inspires her to make so many outfits for her equines is “I really enjoy expressing myself creatively through sewing. I love starting with a vision of the completed project and making it become reality. I know some people find sewing to be frustrating and stressful, but I find it very relaxing and rewarding.”

Though it is most common for equestrians to make garments for equines, it is worth emphasizing that should a non-equestrian be inspired to outfit an equine, they should reach out to do so. An equestrian buddy could certainly be found to team up with, and it is not unheard of to negotiate split costs for these sorts of projects since they can end up quite expensive in materials and tools. Good places to reach out to would be the Atlantian Cavalry Facebook group, or filling out the contact form for the author, Epy Pengelly, Armiger (mka Mishee Kearney). 

Why and How

While historic recreations of saddles, bridles, and other “hardware” exist, it is more common for equestrians to use their modern equipment – often more developed than a few centuries ago in comfort, safety, and health for rider and equine – paired with period aesthetic garments.

Creating garments for equines and garments for humans are similar in many ways. First off, you need to select a garment that you want to make. Like with human clothing, there are a number of resources online with patterns for equine clothing. Second, you need to get the measurements of your equine so that you can make something to fit them. Third, you need to gather materials and supplies, then finally you can construct your garment!

It is worth noting that measuring and drafting an outfit for an equine is very similar to doing so for a person. The patterns online can give a lot of direction regarding “measure from this point on the horse to this other point”. For other garments, though, patterns do not exist, or things can be vague. It is common that drafting paper will come out, or trial garments made of simplistic fabric will be made before final cuts are made into expensive fabric. Measuring tapes and measuring sticks are always friends, as is chalk and other fabric markers. In creating patterns, it is also common for equestrians to use modern equipment as a pattern guide for making a garment. For example, if someone was making a saddle pad or a saddle pad cover, it would not be unreasonable to use a modern saddle pad –or features from it like the shape of its top edge– to help inform a pattern. Equestrian equipment has evolved over the centuries, and it makes sense to use that knowledge to create something that will fit an equine well. 

A number of equestrians use less expensive fabric for outfitting their equine due to cost (compared to what some people may use for making clothing for themselves). While it isn’t quite as aligning with period aesthetics, it is important to know where to spend resources for a hobby. Additionally – some modern fabrics are easier to wash than historic fabrics, and horses can absolutely get extra sweaty, smelly, and dirty at an event! Making equine clothing out of something easily washable is fairly common, even if that means that then a garment is made out of cotton instead of wool or linen. 

Arielle is very much a person who plans ahead, and it is important that when riding, garments do not move about too much, potentially causing tripping hazards or catching on equestrian games equipment if they slide too much. A modern consideration that Arielle has incorporated into her outfits is velcro. She has perfected adding strategic velcro to help garments stay in place while horses are ridden, as well as utilizing the regular functions of weight and friction to help keep garments in place (ex: extra fabric for security being placed unseen under saddles for the weight of a rider to help keep it on). Depending on the garment, it can also be tied to the saddle, or the girth that goes around the stomach can feed through something to help keep it in place. 

Basic Solutions

A common, basic solution for a lot of equestrians is a saddle pad cover. These are often a piece of light fabric that goes between a modern saddle pad (which is thicker to protect the horse’s back) and saddle. While not period, they are a simple solution that is common throughout the SCA. These saddle pad covers are also useful for warmer climates, like Atlantia in the summer, because they leave a substantial amount of the equine uncovered for air flow.

Leaning very much into the “C-creative” part of the SCA, Arielle has incorporated a variety of artistic endeavors into what is a simple design. She has made saddle pad covers that often incorporate heraldic fabric stamping or larger heraldic emblems. You can see on the green saddle pad cover below that Arielle made a heraldic cover for her husband, Lord Eachann. 

One woman showing off a green saddle pad with a gold pitchfork, a white band and three black ravens. A second woman observing.

Photo from Holiday Faire 2023 by Thomas Beebe

Saddle pad covers can also be easily paired with simple fabric chest pieces for the horses. When coordinated together, saddle pad covers and chest pieces can help create period, aesthetic looks. Arielle has made sets of these clothing inspired by the Kingdom of Atlantia heraldry, as well as for the Barony of Stierbach. Saddle pad covers and fabric chest pieces are often good options for the beginning equine clothier since they can generally be used on a variety of sized animals. One could see in the images below that the white mule, Robin, and the chestnut pony, Bingo, are wearing the same saddle pad cover and chest piece, despite their very different sizes. 

Photo from Holiday Faire 2023 by Joseph Card

Photo by Natalie Baird

Left photo unknown; Right photo by Tim Baird

In addition to fabric stamping, Arielle also likes to incorporate bias tape trim, applique pieces, fabric painting, and other elements for embellishing her equines’ garments. The bias tape helps create a nice, clean look on the garments, and helps finish off the edges of the fabric. Having dags in the chest pieces is a stylistic choice often seen in historic images, and also is functional in that it helps the fabric move well around the equines’ shoulders while they are in motion.

Elaborate Solutions

THL Arielle has also taken a lot of inspiration from period European sources for some of her more elaborate equine outfits. Due to their intricacies, these outfits generally are limited to the equine that they are made for, or for equines close in size.

In her class handout, Arielle has more examples of historic representation and inspiration for some of the garments she has made. A few are included below.

For saddle pads with dagging, Arielle has seen several examples from 13th – 15th century art. She notes that this style was widely used from peasants to nobility, with different embellishment opportunities based on the aesthetic that an outfitter is aiming for. Again, Arielle emphasized that this is a good option for those equestrians who ride during hot weather because it still lets the horse get air flow to the majority of their body.

Left: Gentile da Fabriano, Detail from Adoration of the Magi, 1423, Tempera on Panel, overall: w2830 x h3000 mm, Uffizi Gallery, accessed December 14, 2023, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/adoration-of-the-magi/DQFJCeCtmALPyg?hl=en

Right: Photo by Tim Baird

Another good option for a warm weather period equine outfit is strap barding. Strap barding was traditionally made out of leather, but also ornate versions were made from velvet covered leather. Again, they are ideal for ventilation as one rides, and do not hinder movement of the equine at all. These garments can have embellishments of bells, metal mounts, and other small ornaments to help show personality. Arielle most often found depictions of strap barding in hunting scenes, but they can also be found in images of warfare and other knightly pursuits. In many cases, the strap barding would have traditionally been used to help hold the saddle in place. One can also see them combined with other garment options, like in the Adoration of the Magi above. 

Left: 9 (Marshal) of France, from The Courtly Household Cards, c. 1450, Woodcut on paper (pasteboard) with watercolor, opaque paint, pen and ink, and tooled gold and silver, 5 1/2 x 3 15/16 in. (14 x 10 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed December 14, 2023, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/697331

Right: Photo by Natalie Baird

One of the most elaborate garments that Arielle has made for her pony, Bingo, has been based off of striped caparisons from the Album of Tournaments and Parades in Nuremberg. Arielle notes that caparisons were popular in parades, tournaments, and other ceremonies throughout Europe in the 13th- 16th centuries. She made her version in her heraldic colors, and spent quite a bit of time ensuring that her stripes lined up appropriately across the two separate pieces that cover the front and back halves of Bingo’s body. While caparisons are magnificent, they do hold more heat to the horse, so it is important to think about climate and type of fabric (and how many layers!) to make one out of. 

 Page 98 from Album of Tournaments and Parades in Nuremberg, late 16th–mid-17th century, Pen and ink, watercolor, gold and silver washes; , page: 13 5/8 x 9 7/8 in. (34.61 x 25.08 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed December 14, 2023, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/25111

Photo by Tannis Baldwin

Caparisons come in a variety of completeness. A full caparison (like those shown above in the manuscript) includes fabric covering the neck and head of the equine. A partial caparison (like the one Arielle made for Bingo above) covers the front part of the equine and their rear, but not the head and neck. Another option to those seen above is making just a half caparison (seen below). This would cover just the rear end of the equine. By removing fabric on each option, more of the equine can be ventilated. The first places that equines sweat (other than under the saddle) are often the neck and chest, so having less covered allows the equine to cool off while still providing plenty of flair and opportunity for personality to shine through.

Left: Detail from fol. 106r from The Book of Hours, c. 1490, vellum, ill. ; 93 x 67 mm, The Morgan Library, accessed December 18, 2023, https://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/44/161023

Right: Photo by Natalie Baird

While this has been a brief overview of equine outfits, hopefully it has still been edifying about the options available for self expression, equine body heat management, and other considerations. Should one ever have the opportunity, they should take Arielle’s excellent “The Elegant Equine: Garbing Your Horse with Style” class. 

Arielle’s Class Handout has patterns diagrammed, detailed garment construction guidance, more historic reference images, and additional resources. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *