"Dance Belts for Horseback Riding” - by “Deepseat"

Dancebelts for horseback?
One Rider's Experience. 

I have never taken ballet and I don’t recall how I first heard about dance belts: possibly, it was from chit-chat about the male dancer’s appearance. I do remember thinking, on taking up riding horses as an adult, that they would be good for riding and started wearing one for lessons. I will usually wear one, apart from during the most casual trail rides, or hacks as we call them where I am from (the UK). I have largely ridden in the style called ‘English’ in the US, but some of my comments may also be relevant for ‘Western’ and other styles. I know a few other riders who wear a belt, but I do not believe they are entirely mainstream. Perhaps this will change, but riding in both the US and UK is a predominantly female activity in which the needs of male riders are rarely discussed.

As with ballet, riding poses particular challenges for the male anatomy. It is not uncommon for men to bruise their testicles against the saddle, particularly when learning how to sit the trot – a bouncy gait in which the rider strives to move seamlessly with the horse’s motion. A relaxed, balanced ‘seat’ (what riders call the whole of their body in contact with the horse, or even the entirety of the way one sits) is essential. The abdomen and lower back must be allowed to flex in response to the horse’s movements; the thighs and buttocks must relax; and overall the rider must - this is hard to explain - “actively sit”. That is to say, the rider must ride.

Nothing breaks the rhythm and poise required to ride like testicular pain! This problem is documented on numerous equestrian forums and resources (see for example, http://www.horse-sense.org/archives/20050911123125.php, which is unusual in discussing the dance belt). The commonly recommended solution, is simply to learn how to sit correctly, but that’s not much comfort when you are just starting out. Saddle fit may be part of the issue, particularly with a dressage saddle, in which one sits deeper in the saddle, with its high pommel close to sensitive male parts. Supportive underwear is also often recommended, in respect of which I believe that a dance belt is close to ideal for equestrians. The support for one’s genitals, which are ‘scooped up’ and held in place in a way that no other underwear achieves - is very reassuring. One can still get bruised: the belt is no substitute for learning to sit correctly, but it does provide a lot of security and confidence. 

Aesthetics are perhaps less of a concern for riders than it is for dancers, but some riders may appreciate the invisibility of underwear lines visible through the light-coloured riding breeches or jodhpurs worn for formal events, although breech fabric is thicker and less revealing than ballet dancers’ tights – for this reason, a padded belt is probably not strictly necessary for aesthetic reasons, although the additional protection is worthwhile. Endurance riders wear thin riding tights, so a belt would go well together with their apparel. Dressage riders will appreciate the neat appearance in front and the visual suppression of anatomical details which may be visible in those light-coloured breeches. 

Turning to the back side of the rider, I was interested to read that Dr. Dancebelt once recommended a full-seat belt in a discussion of this particular subject. I haven’t tried one, but I believe that the thong back has some of the same merits as for ballet. A thong-backed belt does not restrain the gluteal muscles, which are used in riding to send cues to the horse and to actively balance the rider. Riders, particularly in dressage, need to spread or tense the buttocks together and engage each independently.  Another issue is chafing: the motion of riding can cause fabric to rub, which is why English-style riders typically wear tight breeches, jodhpurs or riding tights. We want as little material between us and the saddle as possible, and we want it to stay put. As the thong-back includes less material to chafe or to ride up, I believe that this style of dancebelt makes the most sense, if one can get over the initial unfamiliarity. Comfort is certainly an issue, so a well-fitting thong of the correct length and the preferred width is essential. 

I have tried several brands of belt. A cotton Capezio belt (N5930 model) provided excellent support, while an M. Stevens nylon-lycra model which, while comfortable, was not particularly supportive. Support should be balanced with the need to allow one’s abdomen and lower back to flex freely, which old-style cotton belts with very wide waist-bands may hinder, which is my only objection to the Capezio. The Wear Moi ‘new style’ belt with a one-inch waistband provides a good compromise between support and flexibility, but the best by far has been the BodyWrappers ProBelt. The thong is the most comfortable I’ve worn; the side-straps sit above the hips, allowing them to move freely; and the pouch provides good support for the genitals, and just enough padding to provide some protection without being bulky. As others have noted, the sizing runs large.    

Although as I have said they are far from mainstream, I have the sense that more male equestrians are discovering and appreciating dance belts once they have got used to both the idea and the sensation of wearing one. This is probably more true of dressage riders than other disciplines -  like male dancers, we are used to being a minority and to wearing close-fitting attire -  but riders in other disciplines may also benefit. The internet, as in so many ways, helps spread the word on a somewhat intimate topic that may not come up during a lesson at a busy yard or in tack-room talk, and is liable to provoke hilarity or incomprehension. But safety and comfort are no laughing matters, and If wearing a dance belt helps riders to ride with security that can only be a good thing. Who knows, perhaps one day there will be specialist ‘riding belts’ on the market, although I’d put my money on the term ‘sports belt’ being more likely to win men over!

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