Horses are undoubtedly some of the most romantic creatures in the animal kingdom. In the Chinese zodiac, the horse is associated with love and in the Celtic tradition, it was a favourite of Epona, also known as the Horse Goddess, who was the embodiment of love and fertility.
With so many romantic links, why wouldn’t you want to incorporate a horsey element into your wedding? Whether you want to go the whole hog, and have your favourite four-legged friend there on the big day, or you simply want touches of equestrian detail threaded throughout, here are our some suggestions for hosting the ultimate equestrian wedding.
You’ve dreamed of competing at Hickstead from the moment you sat on your first hairy pony, but for some reason you’ve always been overlooked for selection. Why not host your big day there instead?
“Hickstead may be best known for our equestrian events, but we’re also really well set up for wedding receptions,” says Jess Crofts, who works on the Hickstead events team. “We’ve got multiple options in terms of venue, from our huge Beethoven Suite or Members’ Restaurants, to smaller spaces such as our Polo Clubhouse or Pommery Champagne Bar. Then there’s the iconic International Arena — a perfect backdrop to the celebrations, and couples always want to be photographed there. We get a range of requests from our brides and grooms, from those who want to arrive by horse and carriage, to those who want to hold their reception during our international shows. A number of people from the horse world have held their wedding here, including supermodel Jodie Kidd.”
(www.hickstead.co.uk; 01273 834 315)
Of course, you’re going to invite your best friend to your wedding, so why would you overlook your best four-legged friend? Surely man’s tireless servant, ultimate dancing partner and faithful companion through the good times and the bad deserves to be present on your big day.
First up, though, you need to make the call: does your horse have the kind of personality to cope with such an occasion? If he’s a bit of a chiller, has the bombproof nature of a police horse and is comfortable being in busy situations then yes, go for it. If he’s a wired Thoroughbred and spooks at the drop of a hat (or bouquet) then perhaps this isn’t such a good idea.
Next, check with your chosen venue. It’s probably easier to have your horse at your wedding if you’ve opted for a country barn with surrounding land or a marquee in a field — less so if you’re getting married in the centre of town.
If you do decide to ‘invite’ your horse, designate a member of your wedding party to be his handler for the day, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time worrying if he’s all right, instead of enjoying yourself. Make sure he has a sectioned off area or a paddock nearby with hay and water he can relax in (this will also help contain the poo). Your handler can fetch him in for a circuit of the venue and photographs, before popping him back. Make sure you invest in a nice headcollar and lead rope so you don’t spoil the photographs.
A simple, understated way of incorporating a horsey element into your wedding is by personalizing your wedding stationery. From initial save-the-date cards and invitations through to orders of service, menus, place cards and thank you notes — they could all feature an equestrian motif or colour scheme of your choice. Why not have a small, stylized horse head engraved on each invitation, or go wild and opt for a scheme based on your cross-country colours, or even the iconic silks of your favourite jockey. Both Wren Press (wrenpress.co.uk; 020 7351 5887) and Smythson (www.smythson.com; 0845 873 2435) offer a beautiful bespoke stationery service.
Horseshoes have long played a role in weddings; being an ancient symbol of good luck, a horseshoe is traditionally given to a bride on the morning of her wedding. For a simple, unique wedding favour, why not ask your farrier if he has any old shoes he can give you for a small fee. Clean them up, give them a jolly good polish and adorn with ribbon and the name of the receiving guest. It’s something they can hang up at home to not only bring them luck, but remind them of your big day.
It’s very easy to add a touch of equestrian elegance to your wedding table. First up, sprinkle the table with metallic accents — this could take the form of miniature horse shoes or tiny model horses. Flowers could be presented in old trophies and chair covers could be finished with beautiful ribbon rosettes hanging from the back.
If you are lucky enough to marry a fellow horse nut, why not consider a honeymoon on horseback? There are a number of travel agents that specialize in riding holidays worldwide. From dude ranching in the States to swimming with horses in Mozambique, there is a riding holiday to suit you. Check out Zara’s Planet (www.zarasplanet.com; 0844 487 0300), In The Saddle (www.inthesaddle.com; 01299 272997) and Equus Journeys (www.equus-journeys.com; 01905 388 977) for some fabulous ideas.
Do consider your riding ability alongside your partner’s. If you’re usually popping 4* fences and he’s still on the lead rein (or vice-versa), don’t book a holiday that is advertised for experienced riders only, because the weaker rider may end up being dismounted if he or she can’t hack the pace. Speak to your chosen agent and be honest about riding abilities.
There are a couple of alternatives to leaving the church in a boring old car. A romantic and enchanting way to start and finish your wedding service is to travel by horse-drawn carriage. Nothing beats a traditional single horse and carriage, or perhaps a matched pair, immaculately turned out. The Ostler (www.theostler.org.uk; 01245 467950) has seven farms that provide horse-drawn carriage hire services across the country. Take your pick from their range of carriages and check out their beautiful driving horses online.
If you’re feeling very brave, why not ride side-saddle away from the church? Whether you’re on your own steed or one that is hired or borrowed you will feel elegant, poised and special — the best way to feel on your wedding day. If you’re new the art of riding side-saddle, contact the Side Saddle Association (www.sidesaddleassociation.co.uk; 01455 208 345) for an up-to-date list of recommended instructors. They will also be able to advise on habit fitters and hirers.
Top tip: if you’re insisting on a white wedding be warned — it doesn’t matter how careful you think you’ve been, inevitably mud, poo or grass will find it’s way on to your frock. If you are going to ride away from the church (whether side-saddle or astride), make sure your chosen horse and tack is spotless and cover the saddle with suitable fabric to protect your habit or dress.
Also, make sure your chosen steed is used to drapery across his quarters well before the big day. Nothing ruins a wedding quite like a bolting bride.
Image by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr, CC BY 2.0