When the Summer show leaflets went out I looked down the list of classes I could compete in. The afternoon classes were all jumping, the morning classes all showing. Between the two, at lunchtime, was the fancy dress competition. I asked a few questions about showing but didn’t feel like Best rider was somewhere I could show my face and Best turned out just isn’t my cup of tea. Best cob/coloured horse/pony seemed like a possibility for the future but I wasn’t sure what was involved. The only one that worked for us was fancy dress.
The decision to make him into a dragon came about quite organically. I considered it as I sat in traffic jams and as I groomed. I wanted to do something with 4 legs, but fancy-dress-ish, so a dragon fit the bill nicely. Early on I came up with the idea of attaching wings to a roller and having spikes down his back. His red fly-ears would come in handy, so red would be the theme.
I made the wings first, because I was concerned that if he was afraid of the wings it would not be a good idea to proceed with the rest. I would have liked to make larger wings, but I was keen not to make anything too intimidating and also aware that the larger the wings, the harder it would be to make them structurally robust enough. Also I wanted to do it on the smallest possible budget, which ruled out buying stronger materials to help me make larger wings.
I began by stretching a pair of metal coat-hangers to diamond shapes. Then I made 3 long cardboard “bones” for each wing from the cardboard centre of a roll of wrapping paper, sliced longways and then folded up so they had a strong triangular cross-section, like a very narrow long toblerone box. I attached the bones to the coat-hangers with sticky tape at either side of the diamond shapes and one across the middle. At the top of each wing I attached a key ring and a clip to attach them to the roller. I had these in my craft cupboard, having seen them cheaply a few months ago and thinking they were bound to come in handy.
Now I needed some membranes for the wings. In a world where I put more money and less time into this, I would have gone out and bought big sheets of red paper. I don’t live in that world, so I ransacked my craft cupboard. Ruling out the origami paper as too expensive, I came across a roll of stiff cream parchment-type papers which I had saved as usable post-consumer-waste from work.* They seemed ideal, as they would have a little more substance than a thinner paper.
They were not large enough to cover the entire wing, but I’d already thought that it might be nicer to cut wavy pieces to give a scaly dragonlike appearance, so I could work around that. I marked and cut my pieces, intending to attach them to the frame with tape. Unfortunately the slightly waxy finish on the paper was resistant to the glue on the tape, so I ended up having to use the tape only to hold the paper and then stitch the pieces to the frame. At this stage I thought I would conceal the stitching with a strip of paper or ribbon glued over the stitching, but when I got towards that stage I liked the slightly fierce textured look of the stitching and thought it was more dragonish than concealing it under a pretty finish.
At this stage I introduced Drifter to the wings. I introduced treats as well, and so he didn’t bother about the wings. That’s his style. He did try shaking while they were on and, apart from a look of mild surprise, didn’t seem at all bothered. So project dragon was still on.
Then I applied most of a bottle of red ink to my cream wings. It went on like blood; a fierce dragon-birthing-blood. Some parts needed more coats than others, leaving a slightly blotchy finish. In most of my craft projects this would disappoint me, but again I felt it made them more dragonish and less pretty.
But a dragon needs more than wings. The next challenge was constructing some rhombic pyramids. Without buying a protractor. This proved to be hard until I remembered the giant resource of printable wonder that is the internet. I found www.korthalsaltes.com which was amazingly useful. There were various suitable pyramids to choose from and I selected this one as the best for dragon spikes. Once I’d chosen my pyramid I made 8 large ones for his back and neck and 3 smaller ones for his head, again out of post consumer waste, much of which was from frozen pizza boxes. I bought some wide black grosgrain ribbon to attach them to which looped over the roller at one end and under the tail like a crupper at the other end, with a clip to do up the crupper.
Painting them proved more challenging than the wings had. I tried the ink but it was dark on the card, not bright like on the wings. I needed an opaque red paint. I had some red gouache, but that dried too pink. I tried a coat of red ink over a coat of gouache and that looked OK wet but dried streaky and pinkish. How could I make them look redder and wetter? I hit on mixing up water, PVA glue (for shine), ink (for redness), and a bit more gouache (because it was there) and added that as a third coat and was then satisfied that my dragon would be red not pink!
The tail also involved purchasing some ribbon, but really was the simplest part of the costume: drawn, cut out, painted and ready to be tied on.
For the headdress I needed to buy a new headcollar. I needed one I could sew things to. I was pleased to pick one up for £3.50. I also needed a piece of white ribbon to go down the white stripe on his face. I fitted it all on him with safety pins and then took it home to sew. It’s quite awkward to get it on and off all sewn together, but he is a very obliging horse, so it’s quite manageable.
The most difficult part of the costume was attaching the spines to his neck. I toyed with the idea of attaching them to a ribbon from the roller to the head, but thought it would be impractical because of how the neck lengthens and shortens when he moves. I thought about putting strings through the spines and tying them into the mane somehow but couldn’t see how to make it work. In the end I came up with the idea of cutting a hole in the bottom, into which mane could be inserted, and cutting notches in the spike through which mane from each side could be threaded to hold the spine down into the mane.
It also occurred to me that I needed to dress up myself, but a princess captured by the dragon was easy enough to do. I had some twisted wire for a crown that I was playing with before my wedding when thinking of tiara ideas, and with a red dress, a white long sleeved t-shirt and a diamante belt I was good to go. My footwear did cross my mind, but I felt it was more important to be safe and wear my riding boots than wear pretty shoes and get a broken toe if I got stepped on. So my long boots were pressed into service. I’m pretty sure any princess worth her salt wears riding boots a lot anyway.
Now all I had to do was dress him up on the day and create Drifter-as-Dragon.
*In the library I work in book jackets are placed in the recycling before the book reaches the shelves. These jackets were an attractive plain paper with lettering only on the spine and had come off a set of hefty tomes. Each sheet was larger than A3 size, with just the spine lettering to work around. So I rescued them for future use.