What Not to Wear — The Equestrian Version

With apologies to Stacey and Clinton . . . but there’s been a thread on the Chronicle of the Horse that has had me chuckling. I have cared that much about being in style, so predictably, I am a big offender of what not to wear when it comes to equestrian sporting attire.

But let’s face it, when it comes to most forms of English riding, we rider look a bit, well, anachronistic. Tweed jackets, top hats and britches have remained the same for hundreds of years, at least if you look at men’s attire. It’s the intricacies of fashion (and tradition) that can catch you up.

For example, I fox hunt. I wore the stock pin that used for dressage and eventing competitions with a pre-tied stock tie. That’s a big no-no on the hunt field. Since stock ties sometimes need to double as slings or bandages, it’s important to use the real thing (and to learn to tie it correctly) and fasten it with a plain horizontal gold stock pin (looks like a safety pin).

Foxhunting attire is well defined.
Foxhunting attire is well defined.

In fox hunting there are formal and informal seasons. During the informal season you can dress like you came out of a Ralph Lauren ad: tweed or hacking jackets in earth tones with three buttons, small lapels and a vented back. Breeches can be beige tan or gray and boots can be brown or black. Stock ties can have colors or patterns. Women must wear hair nets.

In the formal season, jackets should be navy or black, shirts and stock ties must be white, breeches beige and boots black. No field boots during formal season and coats must remain buttoned while mounted. Depending on the specific hunt, gentleman with Colors wear a scarlet coat (pinque) with hunt colors on their collar, hunt buttons, white breeches and regulation boots with brown tops. Ladies with Colors  wear hunt colors on their colors, hunt buttons, and patent leather tops to their boots.

Equestrian Show Attire
This rider looks good, but the dark breeches are a no-no for showing or hunting, the stock tie wouldn’t cut it in the show ring, and the blue gloves are only appropriate for schooling.

The rules for show hunters are harder as they are not written down and do seem to be driven by trends and fashion. Here are a few ways you can show yourself to be an outsider:

  • Don’t wear hair bags or show bows. You should always wear a hairnet, but not a heavy duty one. In fact, some people wear hair nets whenever they ride.
  • Boots must fit properly. Most of all, they need to be so tall that the first few time you wear them they create blisters on the backs of your knees. I had a pair like that and while they looked marvelous, I had to grit my teeth to keep from crying out in pain. Often this means that custom made boots are necessary.
  • Hunter hair must be artfully arranged.
  • No belt is bad form. A non-leather belt is worse.
  • Do not wear a hunting style stock pin or a stock tie. Your collar should be monogrammed instead. Plus, there’s an urban legend about stock pins: If you fall off and they open up, they could stab you in the neck. I’ve fallen several times wearing one and the pin has been the least of my problems.
  • Helmet covers (like eventers use over skull caps) are not done.
  • Green hunt coats.
  • Visible panty lines should be avoided at all costs, a somewhat difficult task when wearing stretchy tight pants in pale colors.
  • Faded helmets.
  • Short sleeved or no-sleeved shirts under jackets. Long sleeves only, please!

Next time, we’ll talk about eventing . . . where almost anything goes when it comes to cross country!

9 thoughts on “What Not to Wear — The Equestrian Version

  1. Hilarious! Especially the part about tall boots, mine are beautiful too but massively painful. I can’t walk straight for a week after I show, but they look so “pretty”! Also, I’ve fallen off with a stock pin on too, and while my arm suffered brokenness, my throat was completely safe. But to avoid verbal beatings from hunter fashionistas, I stick with monogramming.

  2. 🙂 When reading this I was taken back in time to my first horse-show… I was a little girl from a back woods farm, and I broke nearly every one of those rules. Lucky I learned my lesson soon enough, but I wish my mom had seen an article like this before she picked out my clothes!

  3. I’m old school and hadn’t shown in years. Imagine my shock when my oldest daughter started leadline this season! Riders with sleeveless shirts, grosgrain belts, pink saddle pads, and the biggest shock…RHINESTONES on gloves,collars, and spurs!
    Braedan’s trainer found my reaction funny. The only thing I’ve caved on is braids with bows at the end to match. On the little girls it is really cute.

  4. I am a designer/dressmaker & horse person. I am starting to make custom tailored show hunt coats for ladies, (and children)..Please send me an e-mail if you would like more info. I will up a website up and running soon.
    Cheers! Reita

  5. Wow, just wow. Makes me glad I don’t show. Of course, I ride Western and my horses are used for pleasure riding and working the farm so my usual dress is jeans, cowboy boots and a flannel. I always admired the beautiful attire the dressage and eventing riders wear but wondered if they were as uncomfortable as they looked. Now I know! LOL. I would never survive.

  6. Great post!

    Four responses:

    Did you mention vests?
    It actually is written down in the booklet, Riding to Hounds in America: An Introduction for Foshunters by William P. Wadsworth, which is given to all newcomers at my hunt, Farmington Hunt Club. No excuse for showing up poorly turned out. The other hunt I’ve ridden out with, Oak Ridge Hunt Club, whose master is Rita Mae Brown, gives newcomers a year to get their kit together, recognizing it’s an expensive sport. I rather like Rita Mae’s more relaxed approach.

    To USMC Ranch Girl: once your boots are broken in, you’re not uncomfortable. All those clothes help keep you warm.

    To Cor: The horse should be wearing an English saddle (never a western saddle or endurance saddle) with a fuzzy, shaped saddle pad. A square pad is a no-no. Hunt bridle required also. A regular show bridle marks you as someone who doesn’t are enough to make sure your tack is going to stay on while you’re blazing through the underbrush.

    1. They aren’t “vests” they’re “waistcoats”, vests are terribly informal for showing or hunting. Don’t forget evening wear (not ballgowns) Top hat and tails are the order of the day there.

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