What to Wear at an English Horse Show

Girl in English riding clothes, riding a horse as it jumps an obstacle

Tim Graham / Getty Images 

If you are planning on showing your horse in an English horse show, you will need to make sure you are properly dressed. The presentation is important. Looks can make or break how well you do. You should be wearing the correct clothes to make the best impression on the judge.

Specific shows may have rules about the dress and tack (horse equipment and accessories) they require and you should peruse all rules to make sure your horse complies. The tack includes the saddle, stirrups, bridle, bit, halter, reins, and so on. 

It is important to know the clothing and tack differences between styles of English horse shows, too, such as the hunter class, jumper class, and dressage. 

Why Clothes Matter

When it comes to smaller shows, the best strategy is to stick to conservative and traditional. Your clothes should look neat and well pressed. It is respectful to the judge and show's organizers to take care of the horse and rider. Everything should be spotless and your boots well polished and clean.

Chances are you do not have to go out and buy all new clothing or tack. You may be able to find used items, or even borrow a few things until you decide what you need and want. Also, keep in mind that unless you want to draw attention to your hands (and you probably do not) your gloves should match your sleeves as much as possible.

If you are an English rider but will be competing in line, conformation, turn-out classes, trail classes, or speed games learn more about Western horse show to get a grasp on the expectations there, which are different from the English guidelines.

Hunter Class

Expert horsemen judge hunters subjectively on the basis of their style and movement, conformation (horse bone structure and musculature), and overall picture. There are two types of hunter classes, the show hunter, which exhibits on flat terrain, and the working hunter, which may have to jump fences.

In regard to riding clothes, the hunter world is one place where the English discipline relaxes a tad and strays a bit beyond the strictly traditional. While the conventional black velvet helmet (American Society for Testing and Materials-approved) may be worn, jackets and shirts may be a little more creative. Something like a brown check jacket with a peach-colored shirt would be appropriate, although it is never wrong to go with hunter green, navy, or black jacket with a white shirt. Coordinating breeches (or riding pants) may be in tan, fawn, olive, brown, or another neutral. You should include a belt and field boots.

For horse tack, an all-purpose or close contact saddle is appropriate along with a regular English bridle. Depending on specific rules, certain types of bits, martingales, or nosebands may or may not be used.

Jumper Class

In the jumper divisions, judging is entirely objective, based on physical completion of the course and points are awarded or deducted based on faults and rails down, and so on. Quite simply, a hunter is judged based on personal judgment; and in the jumper round, the fastest clean round always wins—regardless of style.

The rider in a jumper class wears a helmet and boots somewhat similar to a hunter rider except the jacket is somewhat shorter. Jackets can be in any dark color, subtle check, or tweed. In some shows, polo shirts without a jacket may be acceptable. Field or dress boots may be worn with neutral-colored beige, taupe, tan, olive, brown riding pants. Shirts may be worn with a tie, choker collar, or a stock collar and shirttails should be tucked into the top of the breeches. Dress or field boots or matching paddock boots and half-chaps can be worn. Children can wear jodhpur boots with gaiters. Helmets can be any color and some may sport decorative embellishments, as long as they are ASTM-approved. Your hair should be tucked up neatly in a net or bun. Ponytails may be allowed, but the fewer dangling ends you have when your ride, the better.

For the horse, an all-purpose saddle may be sufficient for small shows, but a jumping saddle will help the rider maintain a secure seat.

Dressage Class

Dressage is a word that comes from French meaning "training." Dressage is a highly skilled equestrian sport defined by the International Equestrian Federation, where the horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.

The dressage ring is very traditional. Each rider will be wearing almost identical clothing with little room for personal touches. Your hair should be neatly secured. During your presentation, you will want to emphasize the smoothness of your horse's gaits making sure no part of your apparel, including your hair, bounces. A low bun or hair net is appropriate. If your hair is curly, you will need a fine mesh net to prevent straggling curls from escaping. Keep makeup to a minimum. Your helmet should be black velvet or covered by a black velvet cover.

At schooling shows, you can wear subtly checked or modest tweed jackets, although deep navy is acceptable and black is more proper. Dressage jackets are rather longer than those worn in the jumper or hunter ring. When you sit on a chair, the hem of your jacket should just rest on the seat when you sit nice and straight. Riding pants may be fawn, pale beige, or white. White breeches are the classic color for the dressage ring, but unless you have an entourage of grooms to look after your horse, it is almost impossible to stay clean. It is best to present at a show in a pair of smudge-hiding beige breeches than dirt-marked white ones.

Your shirt should be white. In very hot weather a tank top can hide beneath your jacket, while a snowy dickey or bib and stock collar shows in the front. A choker collar is also acceptable at low levels. Be prepared, though, in case jackets are excused in hot weather. In that event, you will want a neat and presentable shirt. A stock pin is pinned so it secures the stock tie, and this is the one bit of personalization you can indulge in. A fine filigree initial or other subtle design is acceptable. You may use stock ties subtly patterned or in very light pastels at the lower levels.

Boots should be classic dress boots, not the field boots with laces that you often see in the hunter ring. But, if that is all you have, they are acceptable at the lowest levels. Kids can wear jodhpur boots with gaiters. Unless the show is very casual, half chaps are not appropriate. Of course, boots should be polished. Learn how to spit polish and make sure all other clothing is clean and pressed.

For the horse, an English bridle and saddle are appropriate, and as you advance in levels, you will want a dressage saddle. Your saddle pad should be a square dressage pad, snowy white, and spotlessly clean. Your horse's mane should be braided and bound with elastics or thread that matches its color. Leg wraps are generally not used.