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Horseback Riding: What to Wear (With Pictures)

horseback riding what to wear
Written by Horse Rookie

Horseback Riding Attire Fashion Guide (English, Western, Vacation, etc.)

Did you know that when it comes to horseback riding, what you wear goes way beyond your sense of fashion? When it comes to horses, safety should always be a top priority, and this includes selecting the proper riding attire and equipment. 

Luckily, equestrian fashion and function can go hand in hand. (Exhibit A: My western style Troxel helmet is comfortable, stylish, and keeps me safe.) And after 30+ years of English and western riding (for pleasure, competition, and horseback riding vacations), I’ve tried more than my fair share of equestrian apparel and equipment.

Before you swing into the saddle, make sure you’re wearing:

  • An ASTM/SEI-compliant horseback riding helmet.
  • Long pants like jeans, breeches, or jodhpurs. (Shorts and inner leg pant seams can chafe.)
  • Boots with a heel so your feet don’t accidentally get caught in your stirrups during a fall.
  • A fitted long or short sleeved shirt that won’t get tangled in the horse’s equipment. 

If you’re new to horses or simply need a refresher on the ins and outs of riding attire, this fashion guide will save you time and money by prioritizing need-to-have, nice-to-have, and don’t-bother gear.

Hitting the trails? Check out our Happy Trails Gear Guide: What to Wear Horseback Trail Riding.


What to Wear English Horseback Riding

Three of the most common English disciplines are dressage, jumping, and eventing. (I’ve trained in all three.) If you’re new to English riding, it can look intimidating.

Dressing the part is easier than you think, and there are practical reasons we use each of the items below.


Every time, every ride, wear a properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified helmet.

Too often I see riders with no helmet at all or with the helmets and/or chin straps so loose they would do little good in the event of a fall.

Click to see my helmet at Amazon.

I have several friends who’ve suffered serious concussions while wearing helmets. One friend had to be airlifted off a trail after her horse tripped and she suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Imagine how much worse her injuries would have been if she hadn’t been taking basic safety precautions!

Feeling the heat? Read about our 8 Best Horse Riding Helmets for Hot Weather Relief.

These days, I ride in a carbon grey Tipperary Sportage helmet. I have a second of the exact same kind one size bigger for winter so I can fit my fleece balaclava underneath.

I choose this helmet because it was ASTM/SEI certified, lightweight, and comes down lower over the back of the skull for additional protection. It also comes with Velcro foam inserts to make fitting a breeze.

It protected me when I fell off riding cross country, so I’m a big fan!

When this helmet wears out, I’ve already decided to upgrade to the Back on Track Trauma Void EQ3. It’s known for its Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (“MIPS”) technology (like that used in motorcycling and ski helmets) and Coolmax lining.

When it comes to “protecting my melon,” it’s worth the investment.

Did you know horse riding helmets expire? Check out How Often to Replace Horseback Riding Helmets to learn more.

Pro Tip: Want to jazz up your helmet? You can purchase inexpensive helmet covers in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Or, check out the Fallon Taylor Horse Riding Helmet Collection from Troxel at Amazon for colorful designs that don’t sacrifice safety for fashion. My favs are the Sunset Serape and Pink Handkerchief designs.

My friend got two of these, one for herself and one for her teenage daughter. “It’s the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever worn.” #fashionandfunction

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Paddock or Dress Boots

Make sure your riding boots have a distinct heel. Any boot specifically made for horseback riding will, but if you’re trying to figure out if you can use your current pair of hiking boots that’s how you know.

A heel is critical to ensure your foot won’t slip through the stirrup. (This happened to me as a child, and I was dragged across the arena. Ouch!)

Paddock boots and half chaps are great choices.

Choose either paddock boots (ankle height) or dress boots (knee height) for english riding. Black or brown boots are both acceptable, though you’ll most often see brown paddock boots vs. black dress boots.

In the market for new boots? See our 9 Best Horseback Riding Boots for Beginners and our 13 Best Horseback Riding Boots for Lessons.

The Ariat Heritage III Zip Paddock Boot is my top pick for new riders. This boot is high-quality, has a zipper vs. laces, and includes a pull-on strap on the back.

If you want to go with a dress boot instead (my personal preference), I’m obsessed with the Ariat V Sport Zip. (Dear Santa, pretty please? I’ve been very good this year.)

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Breeches or Jodhpurs

There’s more to skinny, stretchy riding pants than fashion.

Fitted clothing doesn’t accidentally catch or tangle in your horse riding gear, and specially designed riding pants typically feature textured fabric on the inner leg and seat to increase your grip in the saddle.


Riding tights are comfy and practical.

Breeches and jodhpurs are very similar, except jodhpurs have a “stirrup” that runs under the arch of your boot to hold the pant down.

Breeches don’t have a “stirrup” at the bottom. (Personally, I haven’t ridden in jodhpurs since I was a kid.)

Ride without regrets when you check out our 9 Best Riding Breeches Brands and 9 Best Horse Riding Breeches for Hot Weather Relief.

Full seat pants have extra grip along the full length of the inner leg and over the entire seat. Knee patch pants have extra grip on the inside of the knees only.

You may have to try a few different brands to find what fits your body type best, but I almost exclusively ride in Kerrits breeches year-round. In warmer months, I use the Kerrits Ice Fil Tech Tight.

In winter months, I ride in Kerrits Sit Tight ‘N Warm Breeches. I also wear my winter breeches almost every day here in Montana–even when I’m not riding.

They’re that snuggly.

(Plus, the cell phone pockets on each of these breeches are GREAT.)

Pro Tip: Jodhpurs go with paddock boots (and half chaps). Breeches go with dress boots.

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As long as your shirt is fairly fitted (you don’t want to wear anything that can get tangled or caught in your tack), you can wear whatever you prefer.


Click to see my favorite Kerrits Ice-Fil Tights at Amazon.

If you’d like a durable short sleeve option to stay cool and look nice, try the Kerrits Breeze Ice-Fil shirt. I bought several in different colors because they’re so comfy and cool to wear. (They have a collar so you can wear them in riding clinics, too!)

Pro Tip: Tank tops aren’t recommended, as they provide no arm coverage or protection if you happen to fall off. I do ride in tank tops when it’s super hot, but I know it’s a risk for scrapes and bruises.

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Boot Socks

No need to get too complicated here, but you do want to wear nice tall socks that won’t slip or cut off your circulation.

Grab a few pairs of TuffRider CoolMax boot socks (warm weather) or Storm Block winter boot socks (cold weather), and you’ll be good to go.

Check our Horse Riding Essentials Amazon Shopping List for more recommendations.

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Non-Chafing Underwear

Choosing the right underwear is more important than you might think. Chafing, pant lines, and general discomfort can cut your ride short. #wedgiealert

  • Best horse riding underwear for women: Underarmour compression shorts are one of the most popular choices for ladies. They’re form fitting, lightweight, wick moisture/sweat, quick drying, super stretchy, have a wide comfy waistband, won’t give you panty lines on your bum, and feature anti-odor technology. Maidenform makes a similar boyshort (non-compression) that’s a bit cheaper, too.
  • Best men’s underwear for horseback riding: Underarmour has a men’s compression short that ticks all the boxes for gents on a trail ride. They’re lightweight, wick moisture/sweat, quick drying, super stretchy, have a wide performance waistband, and feature anti-odor technology.

Check our Horse Riding Essentials Amazon Shopping List for more recommendations.

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Since you’ll be holding leather or rubber reins, invest in a pair of durable riding gloves. Gloves protect your hands from rubs (and dirt) if your horse pulls on the reins or if you’re riding for several hours at a time.


Breathable crochet-backed gloves are my favorite.

With the exception of winter riding, I’ve found Crochet-Backed Riding Gloves to be the best.

Once I tried them, I immediately bought two more pairs. The crochet backing makes them the coolest gloves for hot weather riding, and the leather palm is high-quality, flexible, and fits like a… glove.

I also prefer not having a tight Velcro closure on the wrist when I’m riding, so these are perfect.

Come wintertime, I switch to my SSG Winter Training Gloves. I also bought several pairs of these because they’re SO much better than all the other winter gloves I’ve tried over the years.

Most winter riding gloves are simply too bulky. You don’t have a good feel for the reins or your horse’s mouth, plus most winter gloves aren’t actually warm. The SSGs are my go-to solution for keeping feeling in my hands all winter long.

And, here in Montana, that’s pretty darn long!

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Check our Horse Riding Essentials Amazon Shopping List for more recommendations.

Half Chaps

If you choose paddock boots, you’ll need a good pair of half chaps. These slip on over your boots and zip up the side to just under your knee.

They protect your leg from rubbing and also keep your pants from getting wear and tear.


Mesh half chaps are super breathable in hot summer months.

The Ariat Breeze and the Ovation Ribbed Suede are great options for your first half chap.

Side note: I’m more of a dress boot gal, so I don’t usually ride with half chaps. But, I’m seriously considering a pair of Ariat Terrain II half chaps for my next riding vacation. They’re so much easier to pack than tall boots, and I can wear paddock boots on the plane.

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Jacket or Vest

If it’ll be chilly, you’ll want to take a vest, jacket, or both on your ride. Wear something that’s short enough in the back so it doesn’t get caught on the back of your saddle (dangerous).

Choosing a true riding jacket will ensure you stay both fashionable and safe in the saddle.

The Kerrits On Track Riding Jacket is currently in my cart, and I love the horseshoe stitching, ladies slim fit, and full zip.

They also make a vest in this same style. Find them both on our Amazon Horse Riding Essentials List.

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Safety Vest (Optional)

While not required, I do recommend a safety vest if you’re new to horseback riding (of if you’ll be doing activities like jumping).

They provide a lot of protection for your core (all those super important organs!) and your ribcage.

The key is to buy one with side protection (not just laced sides). I bought the Aerowear Outlyne when I started jumping two years ago and love it.


I bought this for jumping lessons.

In fact, I fell off while wearing my Outlyne and HitAir vest, and I walked away without a scratch. I wrote about “my favorite fall” air vest experience in this Equestrian Hit Air Vest Review.

If you’re an anxious rider, or do jumping and eventing, check my 32 Tips for Nervous Riders.

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Belt (Optional)

If you’re just riding for fun, a belt is optional. But you may prefer having a little extra help keeping your britches in place.

By far the most popular equestrian belt brand is C4.

C4 belts are guaranteed to fit because they can be cut to size, have interchangeable buckles, and come in tons of cool designs.


Click the image to read my C4 Belt Review.

Read about why I ended my 30-year belt boycott in my C4 Belt Review.

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What to Wear Western Horseback Riding

As I mentioned earlier, I also ride western with my reined cow horse. In fact, I spend as much time in English tack as I do in western tack and love both. (Don’t make me choose my favorite child!)

If you’re going to try a western discipline like cow work or trail riding, here’s a guide about what to wear.


As with English riders, you should wear a properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified helmet. Unfortunately, many western riders don’t wear helmets — and there are a lot of avoidable injuries as a result.

Learn why (many) western riders don’t wear helmets.

If you’re worried about fitting in fashion-wise, I understand. Safety comes first, but there are some great options for western riders if this is a concern.

I keep my Troxel Sierra western style helmet in my trailer for riding retreats, drill practice, and trail rides. It’s got a really nice western design that “blends in.”


Click to see my Troxel Sierra helmet at Amazon. It lets me fit in style-wise with other Western riders without sacrificing my safety.

If you like a more colorful western design, check out the Fallon Taylor Collection from Troxel. I follow her on Instagram, and she’s doing a great job of making helmets “cool” in the western arena.

If that’s still not western enough for you, Resistol makes a cowboy hat helmet (available at Amazon) that you might like. (Champion Team Roper Jake Barnes loves his!).

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Since you’ll likely be wearing jeans to ride western, you can choose from several boot styles that’ll look great and keep you safe on and off your horse.

The most important thing is to have a distinct heel so your foot can’t slip through the stirrup.


The classic choice is a cowboy boot. Tempting though it may be, don’t buy a purely fashionable boot.

You need one that’ll be comfortable enough for riding and that you won’t freak out about if they get dirty, scuffed, or stepped on (which they will).

Read about our 9 Best Boots for Western Horseback Riding.

The Ariat Autry (ladies) and Ariat Rambler (gents) are both great starter options.

If you want a more versatile style, go with a western paddock boot like the Ariat Heritage Lacer II (ladies) or the Ariat Quest (gents). You can find both on our Horse Riding Essentials Amazon List.

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For western riding, you’ll want to wear a long-sleeve shirt in a nice plaid, paisley, or solid color with some fun accent stitching.

woman kissing horse

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Here are my top western riding shirt choices:

  • Ariat Lottie Snap (Ladies)
  • Panhandle Slim Blue Arrow Print (Ladies)
  • Cowgirl Up Vintage Washed Plaid (Ladies)
  • Ariat Classic Button Down (Gents)
  • Ariat Fitted Button Down (Gents)
  • Rodeo Clothing Co. Cowboy Pearl Snap (Gents)
  • Cinch Modern Fit Plaid (Gents)

Check our Horse Riding Essentials Amazon List for all our favorite shirt options.

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You can make most jeans work for occasional western riding. But, if you’re going to be riding for several hours or routinely swinging into the saddle, it’s worth investing in a pair made for riders.

ariat rebar jeans

Click to see my favorite jeans at

You’ll want flat inside seams so you don’t rub your legs raw against the saddle (been there, done that) and for your jeans to be long enough not to shimmy up your leg and over your boot while you’re riding.

Wrangler makes a great jean for ladies called (appropriately) The Ultimate Riding Jean. They also make a Retro Jean for Men that’s designed for riding and has great reviews.

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Chaps or Chinks

Many western riders like riding in full chaps (pronounced “schaps”) or a shorter version of a chap called chinks (see the Weaver Leather version).

Chaps and chinks not only provide extra grip while you’re riding, they also protect your legs from the elements if you’re riding outdoors.


Chinks help me feel more secure in the saddle.

Recently, I helped a friend gather cattle and decided to leave my chaps behind because it was pretty warm. Soon we were deep in the woods and squeezing between spiky pine trees.

By the time we got back to the trailer a few hours later, I’d taken countless direct hits from branches and even found a whole pinecone under my saddle horn. Lesson learned!

If you plan to compete in western disciplines like reined cow horse, you’re actually required to wear full chaps. That’s why I purchased my long black suede fringe chaps, and I keep them in my trailer so I don’t forget them.

Check the rules for your discipline to see what type of equipment is required.

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Non-Chafing Underwear

Though western riders don’t have to worry about panty lines as much as English riders, it’s still important to wear undies that support the needs of equestrians.

Chafing, moisture, and general discomfort can be avoided (and should be).

  • Best horse riding underwear for women: Underarmour compression shorts are one of the most popular choices for ladies. They’re form fitting, lightweight, wick moisture/sweat, quick drying, super stretchy, have a wide comfy waistband, won’t give you panty lines on your bum, and feature anti-odor technology. Maidenform makes a similar boyshort (non-compression) that’s a bit cheaper, too.
  • Best men’s underwear for horseback riding: Underarmour has a men’s compression short that ticks all the boxes for gents on a trail ride. They’re lightweight, wick moisture/sweat, quick drying, super stretchy, have a wide performance waistband, and feature anti-odor technology.

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If you’re worried about your reins rubbing your hands on a longer ride, gloves are a must.

For ladies, go with the SSG Hybrid Gloves. They’re super soft and flexible, and they have a great western/English style. For gents, the SSG Rancher Glove is a nice choice.

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Western riders typically wear belts, but they don’t have to be anything fancy. Gents can go with something like this simple Nocona, and ladies can try the Ariat Fatbaby. It looks great with everything and lasts forever.

C4 Belts also has cut-to-size belts for western riders with interchangeable buckles and dozens of design options.

Read about why I ended my 30-year belt boycott in my C4 Belt Review.

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What to Wear on Horseback Riding Vacations

If you’re going on a horseback riding vacation, get excited! I love love love riding horses on vacation and have ridden across the U.S. and overseas in places like Costa Rica.

Want to visit the home state of Horse Rookie? Check out the 10 Best Horseback Riding Vacations in Montana.


Here are a few additional pieces of advice for vacation riders:

  • Bring your own helmet: Don’t assume helmets will be available when you get there. Call ahead to double-check, or simply pack your own helmet so you can ensure the proper quality and fit. Helmets are easier to pack than you think (and Troxel helmets are super light). Place it upside down in your luggage and pack small items like socks and underwear inside it. Voila!
  • Consider hiking/riding combo boots: Ariat makes great hiking/riding boots that are sometimes a more practical choice for vacation. If you don’t want to pack a separate pair of riding boots, this is a great option. The Ariat Terrain H2O (gents) and the women’s version have the heel you need to ride and the comfort and structure you need to hike.
  • Try denim breeches: Ladies, this one is a tip for you. Get a pair of denim knee patch breeches you can wear both on your ride and out on the town for dinner. Goode Rider makes really a popular jean breech, and I’ve got my eyes on a dark wash pair from Horze.
  • Remember your phone and keys: It’s easy to forget about where you’ll keep your keys and phone while riding on vacation. I own two of these cell phone leg holsters from WoofHoof, and they’re amazing. (The magnet closure doesn’t spook horses like velcro.) Put your keys on a simple carabiner you can clip to your belt buckle or get a slightly bigger water bottle/pocket carrier like this.

Booked your ticket? Now it’s time to check out our article about what to wear on a horse riding vacation.

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Bonus: What to Wear Horseback Riding in the Summer

Hot weather riding is no joke. Not only can your horse get overheated, you can too.

Feeling the heat? Check out the 9 Best Horse Riding Breeches for Hot Weather Relief.


If you’re riding in the heat of summer, or on the beach, here are a few tips:

  • Soak before you go: I own several soakable neck wraps, and they’re lifesavers in the summer heat. Dunk them in water, and they’ll keep you cool for hours.
  • Think breathable: Kerrits Ice-Fil Breeches are my favorite pants for hot weather and beach rides. They’re durable but lightweight, and the Ice-Fil fabric is designed to lowery your skin temperature by five degrees.
  • Stay hydrated: Bring your own water and carry it in a holster that easily clips to your saddle like this.
  • Bye-bye bathing suit: Don’t try riding in your bathing suit bottoms or shorts. You’ll rub your legs raw (unless you’re riding bareback).

Pro Tip: If you have access to a freezer prior to your ride, toss a few of these mini ice packets in. I started putting one in my helmet before riding in my summer clinics this year, and they saved me.

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Bonus: What to Wear Horseback Riding in the Winter

I’m still out riding until about twenty degrees. That takes a lot of pre-planning to make sure I can keep my hands, feet, and core warm enough to function! (Check out my all-time favorite winter riding coat.)


Here are some tips for winter riding:

  • Battery heat: Last winter I bought my first battery-heated coat, and now I also own a heated vest and heated gloves. They’ve. Changed. My. Life. (This brand has stuff for men, too. I got the gloves for my dad, once I realized how amazing they were. He agrees.)
  • Insulated boots: I HATE riding with cold feet. Now I don’t! After trying several boots that didn’t work at all, I came across the Horze Spirit Montana insulated riding boot. Granted, they’re not the most attractive boots out there…but they’re the only ones that keep these little piggies from going numb. #gamechanger
  • Shoe inserts: I’ve tried them all (including heated socks which didn’t work), and I now buy the Grabbers heated insoles in bulk each winter and put them inside my insulated boots. It is annoying to have to throw them away after one use BUT they’re so effective it’s still worth it.
  • Head heat: Much of your body heat escapes via your head, so put a stop to it. This is the only balaclava I’ve found that is super warm AND fits under my helmet.

Check our Horse Riding Essentials Amazon List for all our winter recommendations.

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Bonus: What to Wear to a Rodeo

Heading to a rodeo? Check out our article about What to Wear to a Rodeo for of everything you need to know.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Pro Tip: Click here to find pro rodeo events near you!

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Rookie Mistakes (a.k.a. What NOT to Wear Horseback Riding)

Woman on a palamino

Image courtesy of Canva

There are a few common fashion faux pas you should avoid when you’re horseback riding. Plus, most of these are simply unsafe for riders.

  • Shorts (You’ll rub your legs raw on the saddle and/or get your skin pinched!)
  • Yoga pants (Check out Can You Wear Yoga Pants Horseback Riding to see why.)
  • Tennis shoes
  • Sandals, flip flops, or other open-toe shoes
  • Fanny pack (don’t wear one of these anywhere)
  • Hiking boots (unless they’re riding/hiking combo boots like we talked about above)
  • Baseball or floppy hats (Wear a helmet!)
  • Cutoff shirts that don’t protect your arms
  • Cargo pants
  • Low-rise jeans (trust me)
  • Bathing suit bottoms instead of pants

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Frequently Asked Questions

Horse and rider

Image courtesy of Canva

Q: What do you wear horseback riding the first time?

All the guidance in this article still applies if it’s your first time riding a horse.

These are must haves:

We also recommend: 

Q: What are the best clothes for horse riding?

In addition to the guidance in this article, here are a few posts you may be interested in:

Q: Can you put together a horse riding outfit for me?

We sure can!

Here is a great horse riding outfit for men:

Here is a great horse riding outfit for women:

See more options on our Horseback Riding Essentials Amazon List.

Q: Why do horse riders wear white pants?

Like with so many things, white breeches started as a symbol of wealth or status. The meaning has evolved over the years and is now a big part of presentation.

Judges want horses and riders who look clean and polished, and nothing says clean quite like white.

Some trainers and judges also make the argument that white pants against dark saddles make it easier to see the rider’s leg position. Many riders think that white breeches are just another way the competition world seeks to torture them.

After all, keeping breeches of any color clean at a horse show is a real challenge!

Q: What should I wear to my first horse riding lesson?

If you’re just starting, there’s no need to commit to an expensive wardrobe before your first lesson. You probably already own everything you need.

A lightweight, form-fitting t-shirt, a pair of jeans, tall socks (the kind that goes above your ankles), and ankle boots are all you need (tennis shoes work fine if that’s all you have, but if you plan to keep riding, get a pair of boots).

All of your clothes should fit snugly, but be flexible.

Call ahead and make sure the barn has a helmet you can borrow.

Q: What are the best pants to wear horseback riding?

If you’re riding English, check out our article about the 10 best no-regrets riding breech brands.

If you’re riding western, consider Wrangler’s Ultimate Riding Jean or their Retro Jean.

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In Summary

Horseback riding can be a really fun experience for rookies and pros alike. But you can look the part of an experienced equestrian even if it’s your first time in the saddle.

This blog is like having a seasoned horse rider as your buddy, guiding you through the ins and outs of picking the right clothes for a safe and stylish ride. Safety is key, and I share 30+ years of experience, emphasizing the importance of having the right riding gear, especially a top-notch helmet. It’s not just about fashion; it’s about staying safe.

For English riding, we covered everything from dressage to eventing, giving practical advice about why each piece of gear is crucial. I recommend specific brands and models I use and love, so you know all my favorite pieces of gear and apparel.

The blog doesn’t stop at attire – it details gear for different seasons and weather conditions, giving specific tips for winter riding and suggesting products designed for comfort and warmth.

This article hopefully makes you feel like you’re shopping with a friend who knows all the best products. Whether you’re new to riding or a seasoned pro, this blog is a treasure trove of tips and suggestions for a fantastic equestrian experience.

Happy trails!

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!