Should You Have to Earn Your Jumper Bonnet?

Recently I was talking to a friend at the barn about jumper bonnets, a topic I’m perhaps unreasonably passionate about. I asked if she was going to get a bonnet for her new jumper.

“Well, I want to but I don’t think so. My sister says you shouldn’t wear a bonnet until you’re showing at least 1.0m at rated shows.”

I, someone who legitimately learned to crochet just so I could make my own bonnets before I even started the jumpers, was a little surprised at this comment. Why set rules on unarguably the best accessory to ever reach horsedom? But in other ways, I get it. I always joke that the only people who should ride with hair swinging out of their helmet in a Euro style pony tail are those who ride as well as the top Euro jumpers. By this logic, I’ll be wearing my blonde ponytail safely tucked up in my helmet until I die.

My friend’s bonnet rule seemed as arbitrary as my hair one. This jumper accessory has been growing in popularity for the past several years, and doesn’t seem to show any sign of stopping. After all, why would it? Bonnets have a wide variety of uses, and can offer a splash of sparkle in an otherwise muted, traditional world.

They can market your barn or trainer…

Pin Oak Charity Horse Show 2015. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Show love for a cause…

Pin Oak Charity Horse Show 2015. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Support your sponsor if you’re a pro…

Winter Equestrian Festival 2014. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

And let’s not forget their original design like keeping flies away or helping soundproof spooky horses.

Winter Equestrian Festival 2014. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Plus, let’s be honest here — bonnets are snazzy! They’re fun to mix and match and create “outfits” for your horse. For me, they give the jumper ring, an intimidating and sometimes scary place, a little bit of flair that I’d never been able to experience with hunter attire. A bonnet doesn’t have to be dripping in crystals and hand crafted by the most expensive vendor in jumperland. When it’s well made and fitted, even the simplest ones can polish off a jumper’s turnout.

Winter Equestrian Festival 2014. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

If I waited until I showed 1.0m rated, I might never put a bonnet on my horse’s big fuzzy ears that can’t be clipped without two people and a twitch (another plus for bonnets!). When I’m planning for a show, sewing trim on a new bonnet is a way I relax and find my zen before I cross the timers. It gives me a little boost of confidence in the ring. It makes me feel a smidge fancy, which is hard to do when you’re riding a freebie racehorse flunky from Texas.

Rocking the bonnet at 2’3″. Photo courtesy of Heather French

This is a hard sport filled with heartbreak and obstacles everywhere you look — and I’m not talking about the jumps themselves. If a bonnet makes showing more fun for you, I say rock it regardless how big the poles are set. Some things are just worth enjoying.

What do you think? Should accessories like fancy bonnets be reserved above an arbitrary line, or open to local weenie amateurs like me?