The horrors of the hairnet

What shall I wear? A difficult question at all walks of life but especially when you are a female four-in-hand carriage driver. At the World Equestrian Games in Normandy four ladies have crashed  the barrier into what has been a closely guarded male domain since centuries. Historically carriage driving is about style as much as about sport and unlike the men women have a far greater choice to express their personalities – or to get it horribly wrong.

The horrors of the hairnet
© PSV Photos

The guideline for men is easy to understand: top hat to go with horses in hard collar or just any hat when harness is breast collar.  The rest is kindly covered by a carriage plaid.

American Misdee Wrigley-Miller had a carriage plaid, too. But there was much more panache to her appearance. The judges were blown away with her style:  9.9 for presentation, wearing a black outfit with Nile green colour touches, matching her carriage.

Long black feathers adorned her hat. Wrigley-Miller explained it’s history.  “My friend Katie makes all my hats. She knows me well, but it is still difficult to find something that is the right shape – and doesn’t move. Guys don’t need all this. It can be a headache. Plus, the outfit needs to go with the carriage colour. Michael (Freund, former world champion and US-team coach) only rolls his eyes about these problems.

For Wrigley-Miller the worries extended to her horses as well. She drove with mixed harness, normally frowned upon. Driving two horses with breast and the other two with hard collar she explained: “I was worried about the mixed harness. But my newest lead horse, Saco, was not used to the hard collar. Therefore I went for the mix and had two each. But there is a historic precedent. Jimmy Fairclough did it, too.”

Alison “Lisa” Stout, the second lady on the American driving team, opted for a short jacket in light green with darker piping, a smaller hat and the five judges thought that stylish, too: 9.6 for presentation. The former pony driver on looks: “That is my greatest fear, not to look right. And I have the whole crew advising me. They all tell me to try this hat or that jacket and if we all agree, then I go for it. This hat I bought in a store in Holland. They know me there and have saved me many times when competing in windblown Germany or elsewhere. Nothing worse than a hat that doesn’t stay on.”

It is the little things that make the difference. Driving into the arena for dressage two black umbrellas stuck out of the basket of her Derby break carriage. “When you have a basket you need to have umbrellas in there. Plus, taking an umbrella is always a good insurance against rain. I thought that a good idea for the world championship.”  Her trick worked for the competition.

Ana Christina Guerreiro from Portugal and Georgina Hunt for Great Britain went for national colours. Guerrero opted for a low black hat picking up the look of the typical Portuguese cavalier and she wears it with nonchalance and little thought. “For ten years it is my good luck hat.” For Georgina Hunt, 44, the saying “mother knows best” is still the guideline. “My good mum made my hat.” Hunt’s scheme of choice is navy, red and white: a two-piece suit with medium-length skirt, lacy white blouse and red adornments on her jacket, matching details at her carriage. “You have to get the balance right, workmanlike but elegant.” She knows what to look for in a hat: not too wide a brim and not too low because the driver needs good vision. And, always the true female: “You don’t want your eyes covered in a photo.” But the worst thing for a lady driver is not to forget the test or take a ball off the cones but to have your hat blown away in competition. “You would never want to disclose the horrors of a hairnet,” says Hunt.  

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