Having been to more horse shows than I can count, I want to share some guidance in this article about the dress code, what to wear — and what not to wear — as a spectator. After all, looking good is a big part of having fun!
What to Wear as a WEF Spectator
As a hunter/jumper trainer, I travel around the country with my clients to various top-rated horse shows. From December to April, we also attend the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida. It’s the biggest and longest-running hunter/jumper horse show in the world, and people travel from everywhere to compete. Let’s use this event as our fashion example!
If you want to watch the best horses and riders in the business, WEF is one of the best shows from a spectator perspective. There are at least 10 arenas in full swing at any given time, so you’ll never get bored.
Attending high-level dressage or jumping competitions is fun and exciting, but the prospect can also leave you staring into your closet unsure what to wear.
Consider Show Ground Conditions
Before picking your outfit, think carefully about logistics and practicality. While you are usually sitting and in covered areas to spectate, there’s typically still a lot of walking and sunshine involved.
How to fit in as a spectator
- Wear quality sunglasses: It’s no fun to squint for hours!
- Take a hat or visor: I love a wide brim hat that protects my face and neck from the sun. That said, a roll-up visor hat is more versatile and handy because you can easily take it on and off and store it in your bag. Hats are also nice to keep your contained and out of the way. blowing in your face makes it hard to watch the competition.
- Choose comfy, closed-toe shoes: Painful shoes are the quickest way to ruin your show experience. You’re usually trekking across various footing (cement, grass, gravel, etc.) and may even stand at the arena rail for a few hours to get a closer look. Wear shoes that won’t rub and provide at least some protection if you get stepped on — or step in anything — around the horses. Tennis shoes, slip-on sneakers, loafers, or closed-toe espadrilles are all great options.
- Feature equestrian accessories: You don’t have to be a rider to work a few tasteful pieces of equestrian clothing into your attire. Whether it’s simple horseshoe earrings, an equestrian-style belt, or a statement horse necklace, these little touches are fun ways to customize your look.
What to Avoid
- Ill-fitted hats that could blow off and scare horses
- Open-toe shoes, sandals, and flip flops
- Loud, jingly clothing or accessories that could spook horses
Consider Weather Forecasts
As far as attire goes, the weather forecast should play a big part. Wearing a cute summer outfit, only to get drenched by rain and shiver the rest of the day, isn’t worth it.
Yes, equestrian fashion is “proper and classic” in nature, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also be comfortable.
For example, winters in Wellington are usually cool in the mornings and hot come afternoons. So, no matter what I am doing, you’ll usually find me in a light sweater with a collared shirt underneath in the morning. That way, I can simply remove my sweater as the day heats up.
How to fit in as a spectator
- Wear a collared shirt: You can wear a wide variety of shirts, but a nice collared top is also appropriate for an equestrian competition. They make any “look” extra classy, and there are many different types of collared shirts available based on your style preferences. Feeling sporty? Try a long sleeve or short sleeve 1/4 zip tech fabric top that’s breathable and features UV protection. Feeling traditional? Go with a solid or subtle pattern button down.
- Try a flowy top: If it’s going to be quite hot, or you simply prefer a whimsical stye, try an airy button-up or tunic instead with a light for later in the day.
- Pick classic pants or shorts: Pair your top with some nice skinny jeans, black fitted trousers, cute shorts, or even a nice pair of yoga pants.
What to Avoid
- Risque, low-cut tops
- Neon colors or busy, bright patterns
- Very short skirts or shorts
Heading from the horse show to the horse races? Check out Horse Rookie’s Furlong Fashion Guide: What to Wear to a Horse Race to fit in perfectly.
Preparing for Your Fashion (Horse) Show
I asked my followers over on My Equestrian Style about this topic, and I wanted to address a few questions that came up.Q: I usually will dress like I’m going riding, but I always get stumped on what shoes and socks to wear. Help!A lot of spectators will dress like they just got off a horse and wear breeches, a belt, and a riding top (1/4 zip button up or a proper white show shirt). Sounds easy, but it can actually be a little tricky because some bottoms of breeches are different colors, have elastic or even velcro, which are usually covered with knee high socks for riding. The look of riding pants without tall socks can be a bit awkward. If I really want to cover the bottom of my breeches, I will wear subtle knee high socks (not crazy ones like bright colors or polka dots) and pair with sneakers or a slip-on loafers.
Pro Tip: You can wear your tall riding boots or field boots even as a spectator, as long as they won’t give you blisters.
Another route is to find breeches that have a very simple ankle closure. I have a few pairs that genuinely look like “street-style” breeches. They let me throw on a pair of espadrilles or loafers and a button up, and voila! You’re horse show ready.Q: What do you think about wearing white pants or shorts to spectate at a horse show?White pants and shorts are extremely classic and beautiful. The only problem is… they’re white! Now, don’t get me wrong: I wore white pants to Junior Hunter Finals this year, and loved them. As long as you know the weather and seating conditions, you can risk it.Rain is a no-go. Wind isn’t great either because it can get pretty sandy at the horse show, and that white can get very dirty. If you are watching a few classes then going to the Grand Prix ring for drinks or dinner, however, white pants are a really classy option. I typically pair mine with a wide brim hat, button up shirt, belt, coat, and espadrilles. While I don’t normally wear shorts (white or otherwise) to a horse show, I do see other spectators wearing them. Your legs may get a bit dirty, but if it’s going to be a hot day, go ahead and sport them with some sneakers, belt, and 1/4 zip top!Q: What’s the etiquette for spectators with rain gear?Ah, rain gear — the bane of our collective fashion existence. If you go to watch at Wellington for a week, let’s say, chances are you’ll encounter some rain. If you need to bring rain gear, please be mindful of your surroundings, as well as the equine athletes around you. We have all ridden past the spectator flapping around in their neon rain jacket, scaring all the horses in proximity. Stick to dark or neutral colors for your rain jackets, and be very careful where and how you open any umbrella. Pro Tip: When in doubt, if you don’t see any other umbrellas open around you, don’t open yours! Instead, find a covered seating area. (They’re all over.) Horses can get easily spooked from things like umbrellas, and we can all help keep horses and riders safe. Q: What should you wear to watch a local schooling show?
For local schooling shows, casual and comfortable is key.
You will see most people in riding clothes or jeans, so feel free to wear jeans or leggings, sneakers and a casual top. The top doesn’t even have to have a collar, as long as it is well-fitted and conservative.
Dress to Impress (& Be Comfy)
At the end of the day, your best bet is to wear whatever is most comfortable for the venue and weather so can focus on the mane event (pun intended), not your aching feet.
Pro Tip: The more prestigious of show, the more upscale you can go with your look!
Sometimes the best way to explain fashion trends is by example. I put together a few looks that would be perfect for a horse show spectator, along with a bunch of fashion faux pas.
I’m so excited for you to experience a day at the horse show, and I hope my guide helps you have fun AND look the part!
Looking for some one-on-one stying help?
I launched a new service called My Equestrian Stylist, where you can fill out a form online with your style, budget and preferences. Then, I will hop on a call with you (or even meet in person!) with specific outfit ideas! Visit my website to learn more.
About Bethany Lee
My name is Bethany Lee and combining ponies and fashion are my thing! I have been riding since I was 5 years old and now ride as a professional in Northern Florida. Follow my journey on My Equestrian Style blog, The Equestrian Podcast, and @myequestrianstyle and @equestrianpodcast on Instagram.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Horse Rookie Media Guide: The Equestrian Podcast by Bethany Lee
- Furlong Fashion Guide: What to Wear to a Horse Race
- What to Wear: Summer Horseback Riding
- 20 Fashionista Tips: How to Wear Cowboy Boots in the Summer
- What to Wear Horseback Riding (With Pictures)