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What’s the proper attire for an equestrian?



Ask any equestrian about dress codes and be braced for a spirited and complex debate. A burgundy jacket, or anything remotely flashy, in the hunter ring? Verboten. White breeches and dress boots for dressage competitions? Necessary. And what is a “shadbelly,” where did it come from, and when is it worn? We can explain.

First, being safe around horses is every equestrian’s top priority. That means wearing a helmet (hair neatly tied back), boots (“tall boots” or “paddock boots” with “half chaps”), and riding gloves. Even on the ground in a barn, you’d better have an orthopedic surgeon on speed-dial if you stand near a horse in sandals. Riders should always wear a belt: should a horse escape, the idea goes, you are wearing a make-do lead-rope to catch him with. So much of what horse people wear is about safety and practicality. At formal events, however, each discipline (hunter/jumper, dressage, cross country, fox hunting, western, and eventing) has its own dress codes.

“Starting with clean equipment, clothing, and boots should not be dismissed,” says Joan Brierley, a Bedford-based hunter/jumper trainer who has been teaching for 40 years. Most riders in this division wear a collared shirt, breeches, belt, and tall boots for lessons. A hairnet is always worn under the helmet for clinics and shows (champion Jessica Springsteen has a neat how-to hairnet video online).

“The rider’s appearance should not be a distraction from the horse,” says Brierley. For shows in the hunter or equitation division, she says, “tall boots, tan breeches, black gloves and belt, and a jacket, beautifully tailored in black, navy, dark grey, or dark green” is expected. “The jacket should not be flashy or gaudy.” This goes for the horse’s tack also: “No bling,” Brierley says.

  Natasha Tasarov, owner of The Horse Connection in Bedford Village, has been dressing riders since 1992. She says, “Riders in the jumper division (judged on speed, not form) can have more fun with jackets. Burgundy is a new hot color, as is colored piping and contrasting colors on the jacket collar.” For Grand Prix show jumping—the highest level of jumping—white breeches are worn.

The shadbelly “is a watered-down version of the old hunting attire where the lady riders wore top hats, skirts, and waistcoats,” says Brierley. This coat with tails is still worn in some classic divisions at hunter shows. It is also worn in competition by high-level dressage riders.

Barbara Gatfield has been foxhunting with the Golden’s Bridge Hounds for ten years. The dress code for foxhunting hasn’t changed for centuries, she says, and it follows the English traditions to a “T,” where hunting foxes with hounds began in 1534. Pre-season starts in August when less formal attire is worn, so lightweight tweeds or linen jackets with breeches. “Tattersall stock ties, or ratcatcher ties are required.” she says. 

“Our opening meet is the first weekend in October, and that is when we move into our formal season. Traditional hunt clothing has not changed in 400 or 500 years: The shadbelly”—as above—and a top hat are usually worn on holidays such as Boxing Day, Thanksgiving, and Opening Day,” she says. “If you are a gentleman with colors—meaning you have become a senior member of the hunt—you will wear a scarlet coat. If you are a lady with colors you will wear a black jacket with a red collar sewn in. Everyone wears a canary vest or waistcoat.”   

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