A New Twist In Wedding Attire

By Cooky McClung

My family refers to it as "The Day of Mother's Fashion Statement." Fashion statement it may have been, born not of my unerring sense of style, but from a situation that grew out of control.

I was reminded of The Outfit once again when we were looking at a photo album the other night. One photo, taken at an elegant wedding reception, showed an exquisitely dressed assembly, chiffon and silk predominant, except for that person towards the end of the first row, the one who stood out. The bride was my niece, daughter of my only brother, who fortunately understood me well enough to expect the unexpected.

The wedding was held the same Saturday in October as the day I'd promised to be an outrider for an international combined training event in Radnor, Pennsylvania. While my family generally attempts to plan such momentous occasions as weddings, christenings, birthdays and, if possible, funerals, around my equestrian activities, some conflicts are inevitable.

I had promised the event organizer that I would serve as an outrider, watching for fallen riders and catching loose horses, warning spectators of approaching competitors, answering questions and giving directions during the morning shift. But I had to leave by noon. NO LATER.

My niece's ceremony was planned for 2 p.m., which, I reasoned, gave me more than an hour and a half to drive home, take care of my horse, get dressed and drive to the nearby chapel. No problem. As it turned out: Big Problem.

Cross-country (and wedding) day dawned crisp, cool and sunny. Perfect. Except for the fact that several outriders had called in to say they were unable to report for duty, leaving me and my mare far more territory to patrol than planned. But, after several years of outriding experience, my mare and I were old hands. And, fortunately, the morning proceeded uneventfully, with only one loose horse to snag.

By 11:45 a.m. I began nervously checking my watch, hoping my replacement would be appearing on the horizon any minute. No such luck. Just as I heard noon bells chiming from a clock tower over the hill, I spotted a horse, covered in lather, crow-hopping towards us as his terrified rider clung to his neck.

Surely, I thought to myself in vain, this was just someone out for a ride who had lost her way. Surely, not this wild-eyed creature nor her horse were fit for the job description: keeping spectators safe from harm and aiding loose horses and riders. Even my calm, old bay mare stiffened at the sight of the horse leaping sideways towards us.

"He's a little edgy and just wants to stand near another horse," his rider apologized. Near, all right, but on top of?

"Perhaps," she sighed, grabbing one ear as the horse spun around and plastered himself against my mare's side, "we should have started with a smaller competition."

"You mean you've never done this before?" I asked, noting my watch read 12:10 p.m., and computing how fast I could drive truck and trailer home without being arrested.

"Do you think you'll be all right if I leave?" I asked hopefully, discovering the answer as her horse began following me downhill.

"Perhaps you could just stay with me a few minutes," she pleaded, "until one or two riders go by."

At three minutes apart, barring mishap, I added another 10 minutes to my dwindling schedule. Maybe I could put my makeup on in the car while I drove to the chapel.

But I agreed to wait, explaining I had to depart no later than 12:30, thus giving me less than an hour to get ready. Did I really need a shower? Perhaps I could just stand under the hose with my horse.

"I'm sure my horse will be fine once he gets used to the other horses going by," his rider said with a wavering smile. Doubtful, I thought, watching his eyes roll around in his head.

As a competitor galloped up the hill towards us, my replacement clutched her reins, closed her eyes, and clearly prepared for the worst. Which, of course, occurred. When the rider flew past on her way to jumping the fence, my fellow outrider let out a shriek as her horse leaped straight into the air, and landed with a series of Wild West buckaroos.

My mare stared in disbelief at this amazing display, repeated, although with less exuberance, when two more riders passed by. It was now 12:40.

"Perhaps I could leave, what do you think?" I asked. "You see, I have to go to a wedding. I have to get dressed. I have to..."

"Oh, you go ahead, now," the girl replied. "Don't you worry about us. We'll be just fine," which was what I said when I was home sick and probably dying from the flu while everyone else left for the party.

Guiltily, I began to creep down the hill towards my truck and trailer, furtively peering over my shoulder to see her horse standing still as a statue. Not a good sign. I rode a bit further when, suddenly, my replacement's horse reared straight up, flipping over backwards and flinging his rider to the ground where she lay, apparently unconscious.

I caught her horse; easy enough since he had followed us and was nearly draped over my mare's neck. Then I signaled for an ambulance. It arrived immediately and a substitute outrider was finally located so I could be on my way. It was now 1:15.

No time to go home. No time to shower and dress. If I was going to make the start of the wedding, I would have to drive straight to the chapel. Perhaps my mare could pretend the reception was just another hunt breakfast. Surely she'd be content to stand with water and full hay net.

But what could I wear? I was muddy. My boots were caked with dirt and dried horse sweat, two things I didn't usually wear to weddings. Suddenly, a brilliant thought occurred. I could stop by the dry cleaners on the way to the chapel and pick up a longish, print skirt I'd left there the week before. Though my riding shirt was grungy, I could take the paisley scarf my daughter left in the back seat and wrap it around the worst parts. Of course I'd have to get dressed in the trailer, but I could make it work.

Double-parking in front of the dry cleaners, I frantically convinced the young boy behind the counter that even though I didn't have my ticket, it was my skirt and I could describe it. But he was even more reluctant to hand it over when I discovered I had just 35 cents in my pocket.

"Well lady, I guess you'll have to come back Monday," the boy smirked. "We're closing."

"I need that skirt NOW!" I bellowed, much to the entertainment of everyone else inside and out. "Look, I'll leave you my watch for collateral." He still looked dubious. "All right; all right. How about my watch and birthstone ring? I'd give you my first born, but he's already at the wedding."

Taking pity, or convinced he was dealing with the deranged, the young man released the skirt. Sharing space with my horse, who was well accustomed to my bizarre behavior, I hopped in the trailer and struggled to change from hunt coat and breeches to skirt and scarf. Twice I whacked my head on the chest bar, evoking strong language and an angry red lump on my forehead.

Furiously, I tugged my boots off and replaced my breeches with the silk skirt that was now covered in the hay. My mare continued to munch placidly while watching my frantic dance. I rolled up the dingy sleeves of my riding shirt, tucked it into my silk skirt, and attempted to artfully drape the scarf to cover most of the stains. Though it kind of worked, I was well aware the hot pink and bright orange paisley scarf clashed violently with the pale yellow and blue silk skirt. At least I wasn't going to a funeral.

Then there was the shoe problem. I didn't have any, and it was now 1:45. Though I was but a few minutes from the chapel, there was clearly no time for new shoe shopping, leaving me to tug my riding boots back on (after removing my spurs). I attempted to look at my unique ensemble in the side view mirror. In pity, my mare nuzzled the side of my head, depositing a small clump of wet hay in my hair. Nice touch.

At the church I parked truck and trailer in the adjoining lot, pinched my cheeks, dabbed Vaseline on my lips in lieu of makeup, combed most of the debris from my hair, and used a lead shank to fashion a belt for the loose-waisted skirt. While not fit for a Paris runway, it covered all my body parts. Dashing in the church, I found the rest of my family, none of whom appeared only slightly surprised at my makeshift garb. "Mom," my daughter whispered, "if you wanted to borrow a scarf, why did you pick the one I used to clean the windshield?"

Stopping to make a quick phone call, I learned the outrider had regained consciousness, and except for a few bumps and bruises, had fully recovered. Just as I hung up, I overheard two elegantly dressed guests discussing the horse trailer in the parking lot. "That must belong to Kathy's Aunt Cooky," one remarked. "I hear she takes her horse everywhere."

"Really," her friend replied snidely. "I wonder why she didn't bring it in the church."

"I'm sure she would," my brother interrupted, coming up behind the ladies, "But the mare just didn't have the right shoes."

icon Subscribe

to Our Newsletter