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Equestrian Style

Nikovian Equestrian Enters the Ring

It is amazing what a little frustration can make someone do. Madison Smith, founder of Nikovian Equestrian, never met a horse she didn’t love, but the same could not be said for the apparel she had to wear while riding.

Photo courtesy Nikovian Equestrian

Breeches had a seam on the inside of her leg, which was fine for walking around in, but when you put those breeches in tall boots while riding on a horse, you get that seam embedded in your leg. Her tops pulled out in the back when stretching over a jump – but isn’t horse jumping precisely what the tops were supposed to be designed for? The material didn’t stretch enough which felt binding given the range of motion a rider needs to use. The material also wasn’t thick enough, when wearing a bright white shirt, to give confidence that your sports bra wasn’t showing through. In the modern age, why could she not find a top that allowed her to stay comfortable and look good before, during, and after jumping?

None of this was something you could overcome – every rider was dealing with it. But it was still frustrating – and distracting. Being confident in your appearance isn’t a matter of vanity – a riders’ confidence and focus is incredibly important so when riders wear clothes that don’t fit right and make them feel self-conscious it can impact their performance and even safety. You don’t need to be distracted by physical discomforts and mental insecurities while riding a 1,200 pound (545 kg) animal (with a mind of its own…) over obstacles. You need to be able to focus on what is going on with the horse rather than your own body when competing in Dressage. Riders have enough to worry about – distractions caused by clothing should not be one of them. How about a high waist breech to flatter the body while adding a thick waistband that engages the abs to help balance you in the saddle? What would you say to a top made of material that was stretchy enough to stay tucked in on a jump and was thick enough to not show your bra, even if the top is white?

Those frustrations led to her casting a more critical eye on what she was wearing and realizing that much of the equestrian clothing did not seem to be designed for riders. Beyond the seam, breeches are typically low-waisted, dig in at uncomfortable and unflattering places, and are made with material that did not stretch much. Tops were missing a number of features she wanted and they did not come in colors and styles that made her feel good at home, in the stables, as well as in the ring. Black and white are certainly traditional, but tradition isn’t necessarily what you want *every* time you get on a horse or walk out of the house.

Photo courtesy Nikovian Equestrian

Looking around for better options, Madison couldn’t find any. That is when she realized that if she was this frustrated with her choices, other riders must be too. It seemed like there were only a few major brands, and the rest were more like re-labeled copies of them.

Horses are so much fun – so why are the clothes you have to wear so uncomfortable?

Madison has ridden most of her life. Raised in Bozeman, Montana she started out riding Western while working on the family ranch and competing in Rodeo. She transitioned into English riding in college, at Texas A&M, where she started eventing. Graduating in 2018 from A&M in Sport Conditioning and Neuroscience, she started her first business as a neurotherapist. Later, she added real estate as a second job where she bought run down homes in San Antonio, TX, fixed them up, and resold them for a profit.

Photo courtesy Nikovian Equestrian

But as she entered the professional world that itch for riding horses never left. She always found that no matter how stressful her day could be, at the barn she felt happy and free. You get enough horse hair under your skin, and it is impossible to walk away from them. While Real Estate and Neurotherapy had nothing to do with horses or the equestrian world, her work and cowgirl life experiences had trained her to take the initiative and to challenge base assumptions. So, starting with a love of horses and a frustration with her clothing options, Madison decided to fix those problems and sell her clothing to other riders so she could work in the field she loved most. And thus began Nikovian.

In talking with the cloth mills and actual fabrication plants to make the new designs, Madison found that there were a lot of new fabrics that had not been incorporated into horse riding apparel but were wonderful for what she wanted. She designed and re-designed the breeches and tops to get rid of those frustrating ‘features’ of all the clothes she had been using so far as well as add a few new features. No more seam in the legs! Longer tops on the lower back with a stretching material! A thicker waistband that actually flatters the body! She also expanded the sizing to include from XS – XXXL because not everyone is S or M.

Madison tracked down the actual manufacturers for equestrian wear and established connections. She made some basic changes and when she got the samples back, using the materials she had picked out, she found that she loved some aspects of them, but hated others. Using her own samples and the 15 pairs of breeches from other manufacturers she bought as “research” (hey – if it’s research, it’s much easier to justify buying 15 pairs of breeches…), she really started tearing down the designs and figuring out what she wanted.

The hardest part of the design was working with manufacturers who had become too accustomed to doing things the exact same way: they all said you couldn’t make breeches without the seam, they all didn’t like the high waist with a stretch band. It took time, effort, and persuasion to convince them to push past the “no”, either take her corrections or figure out some of their own, and send her new samples. For the first collection coming out of Nikovian, the Invictus Collection, the seam has been moved and reduced so as to minimize discomfort of riding in tall boots. But Madison kept pushing and now has a design for the next collection that will get rid of the seam altogether. Improvements never stop if you keep challenging even your own assumptions and solutions – design is often an iterative process.

Photo courtesy Nikovian Equestrian

Working with the manufacturers wasn’t all bad, though – the manufacturers, if you listen to them, also had some great ideas, especially when looking at some of the newest materials they were working with that were developed for other uses completely unrelated to horses. That was how Madison found a material that was both, seemingly contradictory, warmer on cool mornings and cooler when the day heated up. The material was thicker, but still breathed better and handled sweat much better than any other clothes she had worn, making the tops so comfortable she started wearing her samples on days she didn’t even make it to the stables. A surprise benefit to the material is that both her and her ‘testing’ friends find they do not need as many layers – or any additional layers at all – when dealing with a day that has a lot of temperature change. That is not exactly a safety concern, but it is still a nice perk!

Madison is also an artist and so, as a designer, she wanted to have a bit of fun with the clothing. Her logo is boldly printed on the upper-arm of the sleeve in shiny gold, which creates an attractive contrast to the bold colors of the material. She chose colors that were not typical or found with other manufacturers, but still looked reserved and appropriate for equestrian standards. On the tops, she made the neck zipper handle bigger, in the shape of her logo, and gilded it, because – why not? She likes that it adds a touch of bling and makes it look like you are wearing a little jewelry but without the risk of losing said jewelry. If you can be comfortable and safe, you might as well be comfortable, safe, and looking good! Elegant style doesn’t have to preclude good function.

When Madison field tested her new designs, her riding friends tried them out and some loved the new design because the clothes fit their body types better – but not everyone did. You just can’t make a one-cut-fits-all given the beautiful variety of shapes and body types in women riders. Seeing another frustration to address, Madison is expanding on that theme and is currently working to include even more designs to fit different body styles.

Photo courtesy Nikovian Equestrian

For Madison Smith, those kinds of clothes – and the chance to do her professional work in the field of horses – were enough of an incentive to organize a company, make designs, work with mills to produce them, and then sell them. At first, Nikovian will be focusing on the super-basics such as tops and breeches, but then moving on quickly to expanding the lines to include different body types and smaller sizes (below XS). She also plans to include different types of clothing such as jackets for colder days, safety clothing for jumping, and even just fun things to wear around the house. The first collection, the Invictus Collection, should be coming out by the time you read this.

Nikovian presents breeches with compression technology increasing blood flow, minimized seams preventing painful seam marks under your boots. Thick, high waisted, textured waistband keeping your shirt tucked in, engaging your core, and accentuating curves. Made for all athletes, offering sizes XS-3XL. Check out more features online—shop now!

This article about Nikovian Equestrian is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine brought to you in partnership with Nikovian EquestrianClick here to subscribe!

James Taylor

James Taylor is a freelance writer who has written a web exclusive article for Horse Illustrated and Young Rider magazines.

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