This article is part of our “Rookies Horsing Around” series, guest authored by Emily and Sarah Harris of Sisters Horsing Around.
Horse shows can throw you some curveballs, but your attire doesn’t have to be one of them
Going to a horse show is lots of fun! Every time show season rolls around, you need to make sure that you are ready to look your best. Having your wardrobe in order is a necessity.
For those who are new to the horse show world, knowing what to wear can be a bit daunting. With all the talk about formal and informal attire, the rules and regulations, etc., there is a lot of show jargon that can be confusing and that can put a damper on one’s enthusiasm. But no need to fear, we’re here to help you!
The first thing we suggest is that you check with the facility that is hosting the show for details about what type of show is being hosted and what the show attire must be.
Find out if your specific show attire needs to be formal or informal.
If the show requires formal attire, we suggest that you check the United States Equestrian Federation for rules on formal attire for the discipline that you will be competing in. If informal attire is acceptable at the show that you will be competing at, then you can follow the guidelines in this article.
*Cover photo provided by Sarah Harris of Sisters Horsing Around
Local English shows—non-discipline specific
These shows are usually considered fun shows or schooling shows. These shows are for those who are just starting out. They generally consist of the walk, trot, canter classes, the Go-As-You-Please classes, a leadline class, and maybe even a few jumping classes.
If this is your first show, things don’t have to get fancy or expensive. You can look your best with some options that are easy on your wallet.
You can choose a(n):
- Simple clean white polo
- Clean white quarter zip sun shirt or sport shirt
- Pair of clean riding breeches or riding tights
- Nice belt if your breeches have belt loops
- Clean paddock boots or tall leather boots
- ASTM-SEI approved equestrian helmet (can be any color, but it is best to stick with conservative colors)
A simple clean polo or long sleeve shirt, like a quarter zip sun shirt or sport shirt will do just fine. We have substituted white performance pullovers for the more expensive equestrian sun shirts and sport shirts, and in appearance, you can’t tell the difference. Plus we save money doing so!
Conservative colors like white, black, navy, grey, or another dark color are good options to go with. Bright colors are fine if they are a pastel shade, but generally bright colors tend to look tacky and gaudy and should only be worn outside the show ring.
Matching your shirt with a clean pair of riding breeches or a pair of riding tights will work as well.
Keep the colors a bit more neutral like tan, beige, or even black. You could even possibly get away with rust or brown breeches.
For your boots, if you only have a pair of paddock boots that’s fine. In local shows, they aren’t too picky about the footwear just as long as you have a good safe shoe. Boots that are closed toe with a one-inch heel and flat sole tread are considered safe. Nowadays, you don’t have to always buy from an equestrian store, shopping at Walmart for polos or performance style quarter zips or Amazon is an excellent place to start in looking.
If you’re not sure what to wear, as the show organizer. For some schooling shows, the dress code is casual and you can wear clean and tidy everyday riding attire.
Local Hunter shows
With hunter shows, the informal attire has more of a distinct look than fun or schooling shows. Think of hunter shows as if it is a beauty pageant. Not only do you have to ride well, but you must also look trim, neat, and polished.
What you wear is based on your age and riding status— meaning if you’re a junior rider, you wouldn’t wear the same thing as an adult amateur rider:
- A clean white button-up show shirt
- A black, navy, or pinstriped show coat
- Black Paddock boots if you’re under 12
- Black Paddock boots and half chaps if you’re a junior over 12
- Black Field boots (for adult riders)
- Garter straps (for youth riders)
- Jodhpurs (for youth riders) or breeches (for adult riders)
- ASTM-SEI approved equestrian helmet (black, navy, or brown—black is more common)
For riders under 12 years of age, a show shirt with a show jacket, a pair of tan jodhpurs with a garter strap, and paddock boots, is the appropriate attire. Female riders under 12 years of age are allowed to wear their hair out under their helmet in a low ponytail or pigtail braids. They also get to wear the pretty show bows in their hair!
For female riders over 12, hair should be put up neatly in a hairnet and tucked under their helmet.
To give the best impression, make sure that there are no wispy strands of hair sticking out from under the helmet or through the hairnet.
Paddock boots are allowed as long as you have half chaps, but if you want to really go for the Hunter look, then go for a pair of field boots. Aside from wearing jodhpurs with a garter strap, how you wear your hair and the type of boots that are appropriate, the rest of your outfit is not based on age. For all riders, the shirt can be a pastel or white-colored button-up shirt and can be worn with a tie, choker collar with a stock pin, or a stock tie and pin.
For the show coat, any dark-colored coat is acceptable in either solid or pin-striped style.
For breeches, you can choose from either tan, buff, canary, or rust. If you are having a hard time deciding what color to go with, you can NEVER go wrong with a pair of tan breeches. In hunter shows, they really like to stick with tradition. So we suggest that you try to stay as conservative in style as possible and pick colors that fit your taste, but won’t clash or be distracting in the show ring.
DO NOT wear a polo shirt to these hunter shows. Polo shirts are considered prohibited attire.
Local dressage shows
In local dressage shows, the dress code is not as strict and it is much simpler than a hunter show. You’re probably a bit surprised, but yes, local dressage shows are pretty laid back on what you can wear, just as long as you’re safe and you look neat! If you want to dress up a bit more and look a bit fancier that’s totally okay.
Just don’t feel the need to go running to buy one of those long shadbellies that you see the Olympic riders wearing. That’s not necessary for local shows:
- Any color polo that’s clean is fine
- Any color quarter-zip shirt
- White or tan breeches
- Black Paddock boots or half chaps for Training level and under
- Black Field or Dress boots
- A black or navy show coat
- A white button-up shirt
- ASTM-SEI approved equestrian helmet
Any color polo is fine as long as you tuck in your shirt. You can pair your polo or quarter-zip shirt with white or tan breeches along with a nice plain belt if the breeches have belt loops. You would not wear a jacket with the polo or the quarter-zip shirt.
If you’re younger, paddock boots are perfectly fine. If you’re older, add on some half chaps or you can choose to wear field boots or dress boots. Dress boots differ from field boots as dress boots don’t have laces and field boots do.
If you want to wear a show coat, navy or black are the most commonly worn colors. But if you do choose to wear a black coat, you MUST wear a white button-up shirt underneath with a stock tie and pin. A black coat is considered formal attire so keep this in mind when choosing your attire. If you decide to go with a navy or pinstriped coat, a white shirt with a tie or choker collar and stock pin will do fine.
Local Jumper shows
With Showjumping or “Jumper” shows, your main focus is getting your horse over a course of jumps cleanly and with the fastest time.
Your clothes can be simple, so long as they’re safe and neat:
- Any color polo that is clean
- A pair of clean breeches that are either white, fawn, or canary
- Paddock boots with half chaps (they must be the same color)
- Black or Brown Field Boots
- A light or white button-up shirt
- Any color show coat(!)
- ASTM-SEI approved equestrian helmet
Believe us when we say if you want to let your personality shine, you can do it in jumper shows! Want to wear purple, blue, or even pink, go ahead! But a more conservative color might be better in some areas, so just pay attention to pictures of riders in previous shows. If you want to go simple, a polo or quarter-zip shirt will do just fine.
Again, you would not wear a jacket with the polo or quarter-zip.
You can wear breeches that are white, fawn (tan), or canary.
Paddock boots and half chaps are perfectly fine, just make sure that the half chaps match the same color as your boots. If you want to go the extra mile and have all the bells and whistles, then a white button-up shirt, with any colored show coat, white breeches, a belt, and field boots will do the trick!
Local Eventing shows
An Eventing show is called a Horse Trials. The local shows generally offer a CT or Combined Test (just Show Jumping and Dressage) in addition to the Horse Trials. Eventing is one of the most lenient English disciplines in attire rules. But because Eventing has three phases, Dressage, Show Jumping, and Cross Country the rules differ slightly to suit each phase.
Also, attire requirements are broken up by riding level, the higher you go up the stricter the rules on attire:
- Any color clean polo with sleeves
- Any color quarter-zip sun shirt or sport shirt with sleeves
- Any color Breeches
- Any color show coat
- Black or Brown Paddock boots with matching leather gaiters
- Black or Brown Field Boots
- Medical armband or bracelet
- Body Protector (additional inflatable air vest is optional but encouraged!)
- Any colored ASTM/SEI approved helmet
- Gloves (not required) any color for cross country, dark colors, tan, beige, or white for Dressage and Show Jumping
- Stock tie and pin, for Dressage and Show Jumping
- Choker, for Dressage and Show Jumping
- Tie, for Dressage and Show Jumping
For Beginner through Preliminary level you are allowed to wear any color shirt, like a polo or quarter zip—as long as it has sleeves. Any color breeches are perfectly fine.
You only need a show coat for Dressage or Show Jumping but they are not always necessary, and they can be any color. Tail coats (shadbellies) are not permitted for these levels.
Gloves can be worn as long as they are either darkly colored or are tan, beige, or white. A body protector is okay to be worn for Dressage and Show Jumping, but it is REQUIRED to be worn for Cross Country. A medical armband or bracelet is also required.
Any color helmet is fine too, it just has to be ASTM/SEI certified. You can wear black, brown, or any other dark-colored tall field boots. Paddock boots are allowed with leg gaiters, but half chaps are not allowed.
All of your show attire can have minor embellishments like rhinestones, sparkly patches, different colored lapels or collars, etc as long as it is “discrete and tasteful” For Intermediate and Above, the same rules apply except that gloves and a show coat are required and Tail coats are allowed.
Local Saddleseat shows
With Saddleseat, things are a lot different. There are a lot of things that you have to get right when it comes to this discipline’s attire. There are different rules for the attire and not all the time is your outfit suitable for each class. For example, there is informal attire, formal attire, day attire, and evening attire.
But don’t let the different show attire discourage you, you can still have lots of fun without being bogged down by all the specifics:
- Riding Jacket with the same colored collar and lapels matching jodhpurs
- Collared shirt
- Jodhpur boots
- Derby Hat or ASTM-SEI approved helmet (Chief Rookie Aside: Opt for the helmet!)
The show attire for Saddleseat is called a “Riding habit.” The colors must be conservative. If a color is not listed in the show rules then it is considered prohibited and cause for elimination. Colors that are considered appropriate colors for an informal riding habit are black, blue, grey, burgundy, green, beige, or brown and may contain herringbone, pinstripes, and other color combinations that are solid. Generally, a derby hat of the same color is worn, but helmets are also okay and will not be penalized.
Armed Service and Police
Riders that serve our country in any armed service capacity, or in the police force, are granted a special exception. They can wear their uniform while competing in the show ring. Whether you are retired or are currently serving, you can wear your service uniform with pride!
The disciplines that have this special allowance are:
- Show Jumping
Accessories are the things that you don’t actually need, but are still a good idea if you want to take things up a step further. It all depends on what level and what discipline you are showing.
- Spurs (if you know how to use them appropriately)
- Show Bows (especially for kids!)
If you use a hairnet, use one that is similar to your hair color. Show Bows can be worn by girls of all ages, but there are 2 different styles that dictate age appropriateness. The elaborate longtail show bows are only for girls 12 and under. These show bows are cute and fun and can be personalized to fit your little girl’s taste. The smaller show bows with a hair net combo are for girls of any age, including adults! They are more subtle and classy in appearance with a touch of sophistication.
Gloves aren’t needed, but if you are going to use them, black is a very good choice that can work well at any show.
Also, keep in mind to keep jewelry to a minimum. Loose dangling jewelry can be a riding hazard. As such, you should be mindful to refrain from wearing loose bangle bracelets, necklaces, and if you choose to wear earrings, make sure they are small stud style or post earrings.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is some horse show etiquette for spectators?
Check with the show ahead of time to see if spectators are allowed. Always be considerate is perhaps the NUMBER ONE RULE for spectators. Be considerate of the riders and their horses and be considerate to other spectators. Please be conscious to stay quiet while riders are in the show ring and do not do anything that would create any dangerous situations for riders.
Flash photography may be prohibited because of the possibility of causing a horse to spook. We have seen this happen many times in an indoor arena. No smoking! No drinking!
If you have a dog keep him on a leash at ALL TIMES. Not all horses and dogs get along.
Supervise your children at all times and please respect the riders by staying out of the barn areas and away from the trailer parking areas.
If you come upon a rider on their horse, be friendly and nice, and ALWAYS ask before touching their horse. We know this may be a hard one, but some riders do not like people touching their horses. Some riders feel like people who go around touching all the horses at the show are spreading germs from one horse to another.
Do not run on the bleachers or around the horses. Do not leave litter.
What should you wear to a horse show as a spectator?
If you are going to watch a local show, you may want to consult the show office for dress requirements. Generally, shirts and safe shoes are required. Keep in mind the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” and dress appropriately for the venue and discipline that you are going to watch.
Check out Fashion Dos and Don’ts: What to Wear to a Horse Show for Spectators.
Typically it is acceptable to dress casually in comfortable shoes. Horse shows can be pretty long and you want to be comfortable for the event. Also consider dressing modestly. Don’t wear any clothing that could put you in a dangerous situation especially if you’re going to be near a horse. Certainly, no sandals, flip flops or open-toed shoes around horses!
If it is an outdoor show, be prepared to have sunglasses and a hat or cap for the sun. Also prepare for rain with a raincoat or rain poncho.
DO NOT USE UMBRELLAS around horses. This would pose a danger to the riders.
What else do you need to pack for a horse show? Lots of riders prepare a “tack trunk” with everything that they will need for their horse and for themselves for showing. Also, you may want to consider a show backpack also called a “ringside” bag to keep those things that you may need right outside the ring before heading in. In your show backpack you can include things like baby wipes to spot clean your horse or touch up yourself, boot shine, spurs, a crop, etc.
Next, be sure to pack lots and lots to drink! If you know it’s going to be hot, then drinks are really necessary to avoid heat-related illnesses! Consider packing snacks to save money on food costs, and extra pairs of clothes in case of emergencies.
See our ultimate horse show packing list for more tips.
Other items include: a first-aid kit for both horse and rider; a battery pack to charge your phone (just in case there are no outlets); and the rules for the classes that you will be showing in.
Other tips, tricks, and suggestions:
Now that we have gone over what to wear for each English discipline, there are some other things we would suggest that you keep in mind when preparing for horse shows.
- Get Organized: Along with being prepared, at the top of the list of things to keep in mind would be organization. Being organized will definitely help your show experience be less stressful. A packing list is key.
- Keep It Clean: Once you have everything for your show outfit, we suggest keeping your show outfit in a garment bag. A garment bag will keep everything organized and clean. There are boot bags that you can get for your show boots. Looking your best doesn’t have to mean having the most expensive items you can buy. Looking your best can be as simple as presenting a well put together outfit that fits well and that is neat and clean.
- DO Sweat It: When you get to the show and you are working and preparing for your ride, you can put on a pair of sweats over your show outfit if it is in the winter time or a pair of scrubs (think nursing scrubs) to make sure your outfit doesn’t get dirty while you are getting your horse ready.
- Roll with It: Packing a lint roller along with a soft dusting brush that you can use to brush away lint or horse hair that may have attached itself to your show outfit is also a good idea.
- Swap Shoes: Also consider bringing another pair of comfortable safe shoes (creek boots, muck boots, old pair of riding boots, etc.) to wear while you are working with your horse before your class. That way you can keep your show boots clean. Only wear your tall boots when you are either on the horse or about to get on. While you are not wearing your tall or show boots keep them in a boot bag. If your show boots are tall boots make sure they have their boot trees in them, this will help keep them tall and straight.
- Shine On: Because you want to make sure that your boots are clean before you go in the ring, we suggest getting an inexpensive microfiber cloth to wipe off your boots if they get dusty. It would also help to give your boots a wipe down of boot shine right before entering the ring.
- Don’t Be Tacky: Also, make sure that your tack is clean and in good condition. Tack does not need to be new, but it should be clean and safe. Be sure to check the rules for each discipline to know what the acceptable tack requirements are. Certain bits are not allowed in certain disciplines.
- Mind Your Manners: Lastly, one of our favorite things to keep in mind is that “you are never fully dressed without a smile” (a song from the movie “Annie”) We encourage you to HAVE A GOOD ATTITUDE. This goes a LONG way in the show ring. Be pleasant, smile and be polite to the other riders, the show officials, and the judge.
No matter what goes wrong, how your horse is acting before you enter the show ring, how your horse acts in the show ring, and if you don’t win your class, keep that good attitude showing. Attitude makes as much of an impression as the clothes you are wearing.
You are always a winner with a good attitude!
We hope that this has given you some insight into what you can wear at a show for competing. Showing should be an exciting opportunity to demonstrate the progress you and your horse have made.
We understand how finding the right clothing can be difficult. But no matter what discipline you are riding, your clothing must always be safe, neat, and clean. You don’t need the most expensive outfit to look good. A well-put-together outfit, that didn’t cost an arm and leg, can look just as good as a tailored outfit.
If you have any doubts about whether or not your show attire is correct or legal, be sure to check the competition rules. These rules are here to help you so that you show up prepared at the show!
If you are not able to buy yourself the clothes you need at the moment, asking an equestrian friend to borrow theirs is something you may want to consider. Most riders are happy to help, especially if you’re only showing a few times per year. Just be sure that you take good care of anything that you borrow. And don’t feel like you have to go formal at your first show. This should be fun! So grab your boots and helmet—it’s time to hit the show ring!
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