The last time I went to an estate sale a few streets away from my house I thought, “Never again.” I got too emotional.
I was intrigued by the contents of the home, the items the residents had acquired over the years and in a way it was like a history lesson on what a desirable kitchen looked like decades ago or what patio furniture used to be in vogue.
However, I felt sad not knowing what had become of the homeowners and thinking that all their worldly possessions were basically being presented to random people who were there to simply to get a deal.
I felt like the other estate sale attendees and I were scavengers.
And I didn’t like it.
A Different Kind of Estate Sale
When a friend emailed me recently to inform me there was an estate sale happening for a well-known equestrian who is not in good health, someone who reigned in the show ring decades ago, I had mixed emotions when I said yes.
I was excited at the prospect of finding some vintage equestrian things from yesteryear, but then realized I was the random person looking to get a deal. The reality is the proceeds of the sale are going toward the healthcare expenses of the horsewoman. That made me feel a bit better.
My friend sent an email attachment of a black and white photo of the rider soaring over a huge jump, wearing a derby instead of a riding helmet and cat eye sunglasses. She said there would be lots of old horse show photos.
She was right.
I’m still a bit uneasy over my excitement about the items I found and fell in love with and purchased for a song, but hope that maybe I’m not as random of a person as the woman who walked past the 8×10 color photograph of the equestrian standing next to George Morris as she saw a black and white print of a horse head and said, “Oh! I love horses!” and then walked into the next room empty handed.
Maybe through stewardship of my vintage equestrian purchases, I can be a better horsewoman myself and share a bit of equestrian heritage with my friends and blog readers?
Even though I’m trying to purge items from my closet, drawers, and garage this summer, there were six books, three magazines, four ratcatchers, two hunt coats, two stock ties, and one slightly used Kastel sunshirt that I came home with after my friend and I spent about an hour walking room to room through the Pasadena bungalow. My bill came to $16.49 total.
(By the way, does anyone know why and when we stopped calling riding shirts ratcatchers?)
The Treasures Acquired
I started in the backyard looking at the books. The 1984 Santa Anita Olympic equestrian games program caught my attention immediately! I work about two miles from the track and the day before this sale had seen a video on Facebook of Robert Dover being interviewed about dressage during the 1984 games. I didn’t realize the dressage was held on the race track itself! It kind of blew my mind and so to find the Olympic program the next day was a crazy coincidence.
Then I saw three issues of Practical Horseman dedicated to coverage of the 1984 LA Olympics. My inner history nerd had already been awakened and so these items joined my “buy” pile near the cashier.
I purchased the coffee table book American Stables which is an architectural tour of old horse barns, Vaqueros and Buckeroos which is one man’s account of life on ranches and horsemen and women of California in the early 1900s, Horses, History, and Havoc gripped me because of the inside cover copy:
“She [the author] wades (without boots) into the muck of prehistory, recklessly interpreting cave paintings and explaining how horses were first tamed. She takes us on a seasick-making chariot ride through ancient history all the way to China, and back via the northern route, on horseback with no saddle or stirrups.”
I also bought The Equestrian Woman which highlights women riders from jockeys to jumpers to the Queen Mother herself. And I bought a book on course design with four emphases: equitation, hunters, jumpers, and cross country. George Morris was one of the contributors and even though I don’t own my own jumps or teach, I could pass it along to someone who would love it. (Drop me a line if you think that person is you.)
The Beautiful Riding Clothes
My friend and I longingly adored the gorgeous brown field boots that had the owner’s name labeled in fancy gold letters on the inside. There was no size listed as she presumably had them custom made. The $175 ticketed price and 50% off because it was the last day of the sale made them a steal, but they were too small for our tall girl feet.
Then we discovered a mountain of tan breeches from possibly the 50s and 60s and more recent. We held several of them up, admiring a few pairs that had flared thighs. I have only seen breeches like that in books or movies. The breeches had such a tiny waist we remarked how they looked like they would fit an adolescent girl.
We spotted a pair of rust Tailored Sportsman, appreciating the horse emblem that was sewn on to the left hip. If I remember correctly the breeches were each $10 ($5 with the discount). It occurred to me to buy them all up and re-sell because I’m sure there are some of you readers who would love to own vintage riding wear. But then that didn’t seem right either.
After the breeches table I noticed a plaid riding jacket hanging on a rack. When I put it on and looked in the mirror I noticed a few moth holes and the fact that it fit me like it was tailored for my figure. When I turned to show my friend she said I had to get it and that she knew of a place that specializes in repairing fabrics.
“You have to wear it at a show!” I really want to.
Next I noticed a brown coat with gold stitching. That one also fit me like it was made for me from the length of the sleeves to the tapered waist.
“That would even be cute with leggings! You have to get them both.”
Ratcatchers Galore and a Special Kastel
After I tried on the jackets I ducked into the bathroom and noticed another closet. I saw a Kastel sunshirt hanging in the middle of several sweatshirts. I grabbed it and showed it to my friend and she got a little sad revealing this was a gift she and a few other barn friends had presented the horsewoman a few years ago.
“Here, you need to buy this one. You can remember her when you wear it,” I held it out to her.
She told me it was not the right size for her. I said I have several similar ones and I knew the medium would fit me. And with mixed emotion, I added it to my “keep” pile. I could picture the unsold clothes being shoved into a big bag and dropped off at a donation center where most likely no one would even know that was a riding shirt. When I wear this shirt I will think of the kindness of the gift givers and maybe borrow some riding moxie of its first owner.
At this point we walked back over to the breeches table and noticed a pile of ratcatchers–beautiful cotton shirts that had presumably been starched and pressed. They all were monogrammed and the shirtmaker’s label listed the month and year the shirt was made. The brown one was from 1959!
I tried on one shirt and it fit me as well. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the colors of the fabric and stitching, telling my friend, “They don’t make shirts of this quality any more,” and she agreed.
I noticed a couple of the shirts had small stains on them but rationalized getting them anyway because barn clothes always end up with small spots and dirt and horse slime on them. I snapped up two white stock ties because I don’t have them and maybe some day I’ll need one. And if not me, maybe a friend would enjoy wearing one.
Right before we left I paged through several black and white albums of saddle seat shows and more jumping pictures. There was an album labeled “Del Mar National” and one for a Santa Barbara show. I held up the George Morris picture again wondering if I should get it and try to track down his address and mail it to him. I’m not sure what he’d do with it or what I would even say if I sent it to him. So I set it down a second time.
As we both checked out, one of the sale employees showed us a tote bag that had dozens of pins on it, “I’m surprised no one has snapped this one up yet. Those pins are collectors items.” I noticed the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games pin and a few other Olympic and Pan American games pins. There were pins for some other horse shows. For the right person it would have been a jackpot. But not for me. I’m a books and clothes kind of girl and I had found some special books and clothes that I hope to enjoy for many years to come. Again, I thought about buying the pins to resell, but that seemed to scavenger-y. After making the purchases we went to lunch to cap off our equestrian estate sale experience.
The books are now in a neat pile on my desk and the clothes are in a closet in a spare bedroom. They really aren’t taking up that much space.
And if and when I go through another round of household downsizing or the clothes don’t fit anymore, hopefully I’ll find another kindred spirit equestrian sister or sisters who will want the treasures and appreciate them for their history and the stories they tell about a woman who loved horses.
Your Turn: Are you an estate sale goer? If so, what treasures have you found? If not, why do you avoid them? Please comment with your viewpoint!
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