What to Wear at Horse Shows
Posted by Megan Maxwell on
For those new to horse showing and even for those who have been showing for a long time, the question of what is “allowed” in the Hunter, Equitation, and Jumper rings is common due to the ambiguous language of the rules themselves, and trainer preferences. Here is our guide to the written, and unwritten rules to correct horse show attire. When considering the regulations concerning attire for horse shows, United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) reigns supreme. For this reason, we reference the USEF Rule Book 2022 below.
We will walk through the USEF rules and clarify the ambiguous language of much of it. We understand that preparing for your first horse show can be stressful, let us relieve some of the anxiety by answering all your attire questions, but keep in mind, each trainer has individual preferences for what their riders should wear, so always consult with them before shopping.
Most of the rules concerning attire are specific to the division you will be competing in i.e., Hunter, Equitation, or Jumper with the following exceptions. Under Rule GR801(2), all persons while mounted on the show grounds are required to wear an ASTM/SEI equestrian approved helmet that is properly fitted and with the harness secured. A properly fitted helmet is the most important piece of safety equipment an equestrian will have, take the time to have yourself correctly fitted-it’s your brain, once it is damaged it never fully recovers. Moreover, a judge has the authority to disqualify you for improper use or fit of a helmet.
Additionally, with an increase in the use of inflatable safety vests Rule GR801(4) now explicitly allows the use of these vests in any division or class without penalty from the judge. Finally, GR801(9) further provides that all boots used while mounted must have a distinguishable heel. So long as you have a paddock or tall boots designed specifically for riding, this rule has been met.
Keep in mind that the rules do not distinguish between junior and adult attire only division and class. That said, the general rule of thumb is kids 12 years old and younger should be wearing jodhpurs, not breeches, paired with matching paddock boots and garters. For pony classes, girls should wear their hair in two braids with bows, and the boys should wear a tie or bow tie. Kids on horses, and older than 13 years, should wear tall boots, breeches, and their hair up in a hairnet inside their helmet. Now let’s discuss the proper attire based on divisions and classes.
Hunter Show Attire
The Hunter ring is steeped in tradition, as such, riders must be correctly turned out. Under HU107(1-4) the permissible attire differs slightly between conventional and formal classes. Always double-check with your trainer on what their preferences are because while some colors are acceptable under the rule, this is often not the case with individual trainers. Let’s take a closer look at the language.
What’s Allowed in the Hunter Ring
HU107(2) Attire: Conventional attire following the tradition of fox hunting is encouraged and preferred. It is further recommended that the rider’s attire does not distract from the performance of the horse and rider. Judges shall not eliminate a rider for inappropriate attire except for safety (see GR801). Shirts must have a choker, similar collar, or tie. Breeches may be buff, canary, tan, rust, or white.
What exactly does that mean? Traditionally this meant riders were required to wear conservatively colored coats (navy, black, green, grey, brown). While the rule no longer explicitly states acceptable coat colors, leaving room for the possible use of the trendy burgundy coat, this is not the ring to push boundaries or rock the boat, especially because HU107(2) & (4) are internally inconsistent as to when a judge may eliminate a rider for inappropriate attire. Stick with the historically acceptable colors mentioned above.
We typically recommend that you opt for a well-fitted navy coat free from adornments that may be construed as “distracting” paired with tan breeches and a white show shirt like the RJ Classics Maddie Show Shirt. That said, there are some absolutely beautiful green show coat options like the RJ Classics Harmony Show Coat. If you choose to stray from the navy, make sure you check in with your trainer and always choose a tasteful shade of the “traditional” colors—there is a difference between dark hunter green and…well “green.”
Regarding breech and shirt colors, while the rule is silent regarding permissible shirt colors, pastel shirts have been making their way into the Hunter ring… we recommend you refrain from anything that can be construed as distracting and stick with white; but if you want to wear that lavender shirt, then make sure you ask your trainer to learn 1) what is regionally acceptable and, 2) if they would permit a pastel shirt or non-tan breeches--we know a few trainers that would blow their top off if one of their riders was turned-out in canary or rust breeches and a non-white show shirt.
Now let’s take a look at attire for formal hunter classes.
HU107(3) Formal Attire: Riders are required to wear scarlet or dark coats; white shirts with white stock; white, buff, or canary breeches. Members of the Armed Services or the Police may wear the Service Dress Uniform.
Formal classes include derbies, classics, etc. Here the rule is considerably clearer. Riders should wear a dark coat or even better a shadbelly, like the RJ Classics Rhapsody. Scarlet jackets are reserved for those who have earned their colors in a recognized hunt. White show shirts and white stock ties are required. We recommend sticking to white or tan breeches.
The rule does discuss inappropriate attire under HU107(4), which states:
When management permits Hunter or Hunter Seat Equitation riders to ride without jackets, riders must wear traditional, short, or long-sleeved riding shirts with chokers or ties. Polo shirts and full chaps are not permitted except in unjudged warm-up classes. Management or Judge may eliminate an exhibitor who is inappropriately attired.
Always approach your attire for this ring with respect for the history and origin of the discipline. Doing that will ensure that the potential “distractibility” is to a minimum, the risk of elimination for inappropriate attire is a non-issue, and that all eyes are on your horse--exactly where they should be for this class.
To sum it up, keep it classy and stick with conservative styling in this ring. Finish your look with black tall boots, black gloves, a black unadorned helmet, and a neutral-colored belt.
The rules concerning Equitation attire (EQ106 (1-4)) are fundamentally the same as Hunters. In this discipline, the rider is being judged, as such the fit and style of the attire are even more critical, you do not want to stand out because of overly distracting or ill-fitting clothing, you want your riding to shine.
Follow these guidelines for proper fit of your show coat:
- When standing your coat should fall just below the top of the euro seat stitching of your breeches, and just sweep your saddle when you are in the tack.
- The sleeve of your coat should just hit your wrist when your arms are straight so that when you are riding just a hint of your shirt cuff is visible.
- Make sure that the shoulders fit i.e. they are not too tight or too big falling past your actual shoulder. Prioritize shoulder fit to the torso. This does not mean wearing a coat that is enormous through the torso, it means you need to get the midsection brought in/altered by a tailor.
- If the buttons or zipper are puckering, the coat is too small, the coat should fall naturally without needing to pull it down or adjust it much.
Finally, spurs, crops, or bats are optional in the Equitation ring, but if used, must be a conservative color- so leave your Mane Jane spur straps at home. For this ring, we recommend you stick with tradition and pair a navy or black coat with a white shirt, tan breeches, black tall boots, and black gloves.
Jumper Show Attire
While Jumpers is often viewed as the ring with the most relaxed attire rules, there are actually three categories, so know beforehand which rule applies to the classes you are competing in.
JP 1119(a). Formal Jumper Attire. Dark, muted, or similar colored, or red (scarlet) coats are required; team or sponsored coats of different colors are also permitted; white or fawn breeches; a white tie, choker (unless the shirt, by design, has the chocker built-in for its intended use) or hunting stock, and a white or lightly colored shirt must be worn. Shirts must have a white collar and white cuffs. Shirts must be fastened at the neck and tucked into breeches. Boots are required. Half chaps are permitted as long as the color matches the paddock boots being worn. Members of the Armed Services or the police may wear the service dress uniform with protective headgear. (See General Rules, GR801(2)).
Because a “team or sponsored” jacket can be something other than “dark, muted, or scarlet” just about any color is acceptable, although we would not recommend going out and getting neon orange team show coats. Keep it tasteful out of respect for the sport, then pair it with white or tan breeches like the Equiline X-Shape breeches, a show shirt with a white collar and cuffs, and tall boots or half chaps with matching paddock boots.
JP1119(b). Proper Jumper Attire. Coats of any color are required. Breeches must be light color (white, fawn, or canary). Pastel and dark-colored breeches are not allowed. Shirts, light in color, must be tucked into breeches and fastened at the top of the neck. Ties or chokers of any color must be worn (unless the shirt, by design, has the choker built-in for its intended use). Boots are required. Half chaps are permitted as long as the color matches the paddock boots being worn.
This rule is pretty self-explanatory, you can have some fun here with your coat, so why not go for that pretty burgundy that has been on-trend.
JP1119(c). Standard Jumper Attire. Coats are not required. Breeches of any color are permitted. Shirts (polo shirts are permitted) must have collars and sleeves (sleeves may be either long or short) and must be tucked into breeches. Sleeveless shirts and shirts with exposed hoods are prohibited. Boots are required. Half chaps are permitted as long as the color matches the paddock boots being worn.
This is the broadest category for show attire, just make sure your shirt has sleeves, a collar and is tucked in neatly to your breeches. Subsection (d) of this rule permits the use of sweaters, raincoats, or jackets (with or without hoods) in extreme weather conditions, but only after show management and/or the Jumper judge have approved the use of these articles of clothing.
While it may be tempting to push the envelope with the Jumper attire rules, be careful because subsection (e) expressly states that any exhibitor that violates the rules can be eliminated after a first warning.
So here’s the takeaway, horse showing is founded in tradition, being well turned-out will only ever help you with the subjective nature of judging. While there is room for expressing personality in some classes, always choose tasteful pieces and save the wild colors for schooling (if your trainer will permit it).