Left front foot

I took lots of riding lessons. Lesson number one was that riding is a very specific and regulated activity. One approaches the horse so, touches him so, grooms him so. One cleans the left front foot first, standing exactly so, moving ones hand so, scraping the dirt so. Only by the good fortune of it being the 1970s I was not required to wear what are now considered required items for riding a horse: tall boots, stretchy pants, helmet, gloves. Sneakers and jeans were enough. And there lies the giveaway that all the enormously expensive gear, and all the elaborate rules of riding, are just upper-class stylish expenditures and military exercises to train cavalry trickling down to the peasant class.

When I finally encountered working horses, something easily encountered when riding in Brazil, I discovered that one can actually ride in shorts and flipflops, with a saddle made of a folded blanket or a girth made of leftover twine, on a horse whose loose shoe can be hammered back in place with a rock found alongside the road.

I then discovered that actually nearly all the thousands of dollars I spent on specialized sports gear over the years was ridiculously wasted. One doesn’t need a different pair of shoes for each activity, nor a special pair of pants for hiking, different from the ones used for bicycling or swimming or fixing the roof. The vast majority of people in the world* don’t have the money for that, and those of us who do are spending it like water in order to show people how cool we are. Outside of a very tiny percentage who are participating in competitions that oblige the use of matching outfits, there is simply no need.

*And not just in foreign countries. I was once at the bus station going back to college, with my sneakers tied to the outside of my duffle bag and my sandals on my feet, when a five year old girl behind me in line said softly, “Mama! She has TWO shoes!!”

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