They say that fashion has no limits, but in the show ring, that’s not exactly true. It can be so confusing to keep track of when and where you can wear certain colors, styles, and tack, and you shouldn’t have to dig through rule books and wordy web pages to find answers. In this guide, we’re laying out the dos and don'ts of dressing yourself and your horse to compete.
In the rulebook, there are three distinct categories that your class might fall under. In order from most strict to least, you might be competing in a formal, proper, or standard class. The show should specify which category it falls under. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to go for a more classic look (tan/white pants, white shirt, black or navy coat). Remember, you will never be eliminated or penalized for looking too formal.
White or tan (fawn) breeches will always be a safe bet. In standard classes, however, any color of breeches are acceptable.
For all classes, shirts must be tucked in. In formal and proper classes, wear a white shirt or very lightly colored shirt with a choker–don’t forget to fasten the choker before you go in the ring! In formal classes, the choker must be white and the shirt also must have white cuffs on the sleeves. If you wear a tie, wear white in formal classes and wear any color you please in a proper class. Standard classes only require that you wear a shirt with a collar and either short or long sleeves. No tank tops and no hoodies!
Admittedly, the rules on coat colors are a bit vague. In the most formal classes, USEF describes acceptable coat colors as “Dark, muted or similar colored, or red (scarlet)” (JP111). Although there may be some room to experiment with these indefinite terms, you should be safe in black, navy blue, dark grey, and hunter green for your next Grand Prix. In proper classes, you may wear coats of any color–it’s your chance to pull out the coat with pink piping! Lastly, in standard classes, you don’t even have to wear a coat at all.
Belts and Gloves:
The rulebook makes no specifications for what belts or gloves may or may not be worn. Plain black will be universally accepted, but you could try something more fun in any standard class.
The only outlined rules are that you wear one! Your helmet must meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials)/SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) standards. Again, plain black is the least risky move for sure.
Tall boots or paddock boots with the same color of half chaps must be worn.
It’s forbidden to carry a cell phone, walkie talkie, or any other “electronic communication device”. This rule applies to all disciplines and divisions, including everything in hunters and equitation as well.
As for your show number, your number card may be either worn on your back or pinned to your saddle pad.
Lastly, you may wear a safety vest designed for riding in any class or division. This also applies in hunters and equitation!
You may not have your leg or foot secured to your saddle or stirrups in any way, otherwise you will be disqualified. Other than that, there are no listed restrictions for saddles. Time for your blue stirrups to make an appearance!
Nothing is specified in the rulebook for saddle pads–choose at your discretion.
You don’t even have to have one! Hackamores are welcomed. Curbs are permitted only under certain circumstances. With the horse’s comfort and safety in mind, it is required that it’s “constructed of loose links, joints, and/or [lies] smooth against the jaw of the horse and [is] free of twists, sharp objects or anything inhumane” (JP111).
If you’re competing in 1.30m or below, there are no martingale restrictions other than allowing only one stopper per rein. When competing above 1.30m or in classes limited to young horses, only running martingales are allowed (also with only one stopper per rein). Irish martingales are the exception to all of these rules and are welcomed in all classes. Draw reins and German martingales have the same restrictions. They are only allowed in classes 1.20m and lower that offer no prize money. A junior rider may not ride a pony in draw reins or a german martingale at any time. They’re also forbidden in age restricted classes.
The only rule here is that your boots or polos don’t weigh more than 17.637 ounces.
You can carry one whip that is shorter than 30 inches and does not have a weighted end.
Hunter divisions are definitely strict about what is considered acceptable attire. The idea is that what you’re wearing shouldn’t be a distraction from you or your horse in any way. As the name suggests, the idea is to mimic the style of fox hunting attire.
Variations of tan (buff, canary), rust, or white are all allowed. Rust and white breeches are not usually what people opt for in the hunters–most people wear a shade of tan.
Pastel or white shirts with a choker are considered acceptable attire. A completely white shirt with a white choker is the most classic look, though, which is always a good idea!
Again, the rulebook uses vague terms to describe what colors are allowed. “Dark” is a subjective way to describe permitted coat colors, so use your best judgment. Navy blue, hunter green, and black are your safest options, but certain shades of gray and brown are also fair game.
Belts and Gloves:
Wear black. A dark brown belt is probably fine, but black will match your boots and your gloves, to tie your whole look together.
You won’t want anything flashy or distracting, so plain black is your best bet. Another way of keeping things looking clean is to put your hair up in your helmet with a hair net. Although it’s not in the rulebook, it’s the traditional hunter look.
Wear black tall boots. Don’t forget to polish them before you go in the ring!
In the case the show allows riders to compete without coats, you must still wear a traditional top with a choker in an appropriate color. Regardless of whether you wear a coat or not, your number card must be worn on your back.
Just as in the jumpers, you cannot be attached to the saddle or stirrups in any way. It’s not legal and it’s not safe. Although no specifications are made about what colors and styles are allowed, in keeping with the idea of having no distractions for the judge, you’ll want to avoid anything with bright colors or bling. For stirrups, you’ll want the plain stainless steel irons paired with simple leathers to follow the traditions of the hunter ring.
Although it’s surprisingly not outlined in the rulebook, all hunters should compete with a white, shaped, fleece pad that can be synthetic or genuine sheepskin. Technically there are no rules in this department, but this is one scenario where it actually is a good idea to do what everyone else is doing…
Bit and Bridle:
You must have a full bridle with a cavesson noseband and a snaffle or pelham bit used in a conventional manner–that means no rein converters! Another rule is that you must have a bit, so you can’t use a hackamore. Beyond the accepted bits, certain bits are grounds for elimination and others may only penalize you, but since neither of those punishments are desirable, just go for snaffles, pelhams, and full bridles used conventionally. As for the bridle itself, the only rulebook specifications refer to the noseband. Your horse must wear a cavesson noseband, and flashes, drop nosebands, and figure eights are all illegal. As for reins, you’ll want some beautiful braided reins to complete your elegant look.
Standing and running martingales are allowed only in jumping classes. Be sure to pull it off before you step in for your under saddle or hack!
Boots are considered “artificial appliances” according to the rulebook (HU106). Boots are not allowed, in addition to belly bands, wraps/polos, nose nets and nasal strips, which all also fall under the category of artificial appliances.
The same rule applies here as in jumpers. However, if you can get by without your crop, you should try to do so. The less you have going on, the less there is to divert the judge’s attention from your amazing round.
The requirements for attire and tack for hunters and equitation are very similar. Anything not specified below follows the same rules as those listed above for hunters.
All rules for equitation attire are the same as hunters!
The handbook here does specifically ask for traditional stainless steel stirrup irons, so be sure to have them.
Bit and Bridle:
There are two different categories in which your equitation class might fall into, either jumping seat equitation or hunter seat equitation. Jumping seat equitation allows more flexibility in what you use. Snaffles, pelhams, gags, kimberwickes, two or three ring bits, and full bridles are all acceptable tack. Regarding nosebands, cavesson, flash, drop, and figure eights are all permissible. Hunter seat equitation has a few more restrictions. The only bits that are listed as legal are snaffles, pelhams, kimberwickes, and full bridles, and the only noseband you should use is a cavesson.
In jumping seat equitation, running martingales are the only permitted martingale, and they’re only allowed in over fences classes. In hunter seat equitation, any martingales are permitted in the jumping classes.
Boots and plainly-colored wraps are acceptable. Look for some beautiful equitation boots to keep your horse’s legs protected and help you stand out for looking so well put together.
Nose nets are allowed.
The information used to lay out this guide came from the official USEF rulebooks, so if you’re looking for more information, you can check out their website. Be sure to also browse the amazing tack and clothing options available here on Equivont so that you can dazzle the judges at your next show!