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Equestrian Riding 101: Horse Shows, Dress-Code


People have been horse back riding, out of necessity, since the dawn of time. Today, they ride because they love it. Horse riding may have been just a faster means to an end back then, but over time it has evolved into an art. Nowadays, thousands of people gather together to witness horse shows and hundreds of passionate riders compete for the ultimate prize. Most horse shows take place in one day: the rider wakes up early, transports the horse in a trailer, competes then returns home. Very few competitions take place across several days.

Competitors are divided in classes – English and Western. English Classes also have the following sub-disciplines: jumpers, equitation and hunters. When referring to certain competitions the term hunter/jumper is used because most events that organize shows accommodate both classes. Equitation, which is basically a hybridization between jumpers and hunters, is a less common discipline.

Shortly put, hunters participate in simplified courses that are reminiscent of traditional hunting. For this category judges also take into account the overall appearance of a horse: if it is healthy, attractive, well-mannered etc. For jumper competitions the obstacles are more difficult (with twists and turns), but judging isn’t subjective – the scoring system uses ‘faults’ or ‘penalties’. The sub-disciplines of the Western class include western horsemanship, western pleasure etc.

Bay Pony Jumping

How do you get into a horse show & is it worth it?

Every person who enjoys horseback riding will tell you that horse shows are a lot of fun to watch and even more fun to take part in. Training for a competition with equally passionate individuals gives riders a sense of purposes and having your efforts acknowledged is extremely fulfilling.

The most effective way of getting into a horse show is by registering for equestrian lessons with a barn that also offers horse shows as part of its coaching services. The great thing about horse shows is the fact that it gives the opportunity to riders of any background to participate in competitions catered for each age type:

  • Junior: riders under the age of 17
  • Young Rider: non-professional & professional riders under 21
  • Amateur: non-professional riders over the age of 18
  • Professional: professional riders over the age of 18

How Should I Dress for a Horse Show?

This question beckons a very elaborate answer. The first thing you need to know is the type of competition that you will be attending. The requirements for national competition may be very different from the requirements of a small 4-H club. In addition to this, requirements for western and English classes are very different from one-another. Let’s take a closer look at their requirements:

  1. English Classes (with hunter over fences, English equitation, English pleasure, dressage, hunter under saddle competitions etc.): the standard apparel for riders in this class include velvet covered riding helmets, collared “ratcatcher”, special jacket – show jacket or dark-colored/beige hunting coat – belt, English riding boots and beige/white breeches. The style of equestrian boots also depends on the type of competition that the rider is registered for.

Participants are recommended to respect the above rules, but if it isn’t possible to do this they can also show up in minimum-requirements apparel. Minimum requirements entail a helmet, nude-colored polo shirt, a belt, black boots and simple breeches.

Rider at Western Competition

  1. Western Classes (with western horsemanship & pleasure competitions): the standard apparel for this class isn’t as restrictive as the English class. Riders have the freedom to choose their own outfit as long as it includes a Cowboy hat, rail shirt, vest and fringed chaps over pants of the same color. Of course, cowboy horse riding boots are an absolute must. In case a participant cannot acquire all these equestrian clothing items he can show up with a helmet or cowboy hat, long-sleeved shirt, jeans and cowboy boots.

English Class Dress-Code Specifics

As you can see, the English class has more specific requirements for equestrian riding uniforms, so let’s take a closer look at additional details. Not respecting these requirements may lead to a lower score from the judges.

Riding Attire for the English Class

  • Equestrian boots: each age-group has a specific type of boots assigned. For example, participants that are riding larger animals must wear long boots. Alternatively, riders on smaller animals should wear ankle length boots. Needless to say boots have to be coordinated with the rest of the outfit and clean.
  • Riding Helmets: you will not be allowed to take part in the competition if you aren’t wearing a riding helmet. This isn’t simply an accessory, but a safety measure. The preferred color is black and it must meet a recognizable standard. If you are wearing a dark red or velvet hat it should be coordinated with the rest of your outfit.
  • Age Appropriate accessories: riders under the age of 12 must wear their hair in two braids (with bows at both ends) and tan jodhpurs (breeches) with a garter belt and brown paddock boots. They must have matching colors. Male adults must keep their hair short, and Female adults must style their hair under the helmet with a hairnet, but have it visible.
  • Riding Accessories: it is advisable to wear riding gloves that match your outfit. If you have a whip, it should also be coordinated with the outfit and riding tack.
  • Jacket & Shirt: each class wears a specific jacket: hunters have jackets with three buttons and jumpers have jackets with four buttons. Moorland and Mountain hunters are required to wear tweed jackets while participants on pony classes must wear navy blue. It is recommended that you also wear a tie which, of course, must be coordinated with the rest of the outfit.

Image Sources: Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5

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