Ask The Judge: Horse Show Fashion

The hunter and equitation rings can be a hard place for fashion lovers who thrive on finding pieces that bring a new flair to the horse show. From wild colors to crystalized details, riders have never had more options when it comes to their apparel. But where is the line on what is acceptable for the hunters and equitation? 

We decided to ask a group of top judges their thoughts on rider apparel and turnout to get an insider’s opinion about they think is appropriate for the ring:

How can a rider stand out and express personal style in the hunter ring while still respecting tradition?

Although the hunters have evolved over the years, it’s still important to maintain tradition and respect for the sport. For me, great turn out of horse and rider always stands out. I love to see a horse walk into the ring in top condition including a great coat, weight, tidy pulled mane (if not braided), and generally well cared for. Riders should avoid wearing items that distract from the horse’s performance so that the judge can focus on the horse’s beautiful jump rather than flashy apparel. I personally find sparkly, “bling” accessories on helmets or coats to be particularly distracting. 
– Kathryn Burdett Griffiths, “r”, Shadow Hills, CA

The rider who is well turned out catches the judge’s eye and gives us our first impression. An overall theme of cleanliness of both horse and rider includes well-tailored, properly fitting clothing and tack. Clothes should not just be clean, but pressed. When you come into the ring with your choker collar pressed, the judge notices that. It shows up subconsciously through your entire presentation; there is no detail that is too small. Do the best you can with the clothing you can afford. Keep it clean and simple. Personal style to me is traditional, and it’s mostly about presentation at a high level. 
– Carleton Brooks, “R”, Los Angeles, CA

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I define personal style by beautiful riding and turnout of the horse. The rider’s proper angles in their position, a coats that is not too short or an odd color, and a horse jumping straight.  This is how you “stand out” in the hunter ring. To express your personal style, braid or learn how to checkerboard your horse’s rump. The horse is the focus of hunter classes, and the rider’s position and habit should not distract from the horse.
Diane Carney, “R”, Antioch, IL

I am a staunch traditionalist, so I do not advocate anything flashy, showy, or outside of the norm. I believe that a rider makes his/her mark by their demeanor, turnout, and performance. With that stated, I will say that subtle touches on clothing are sometimes attractive—like piping on a shadbelly, a quiet color on a shirt, a beautiful fabric on a jacket. Please – no bling, no hot colors, no short coats. Let your performance and your attitude be your signature.
Sissy Wickes, “R”, Unionville, PA

As much as we all love to honor the traditions of our sport, the hunter ring can often be a sea of navy and tan. An experienced judge won’t miss you if you give them 8 great jumps no matter what you are wearing, but when showing in a large under saddle class a little special style can be your friend. I have noticed that a few of the pro riders have been wearing subtle colored shirts lately. For guys, it’s pretty easy—just wear a distinctive colored tie. The fact is, you can actually help us in the flat classes by being a little unique!
– Ellen Shevella, “R”, Charlottesville, VA

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Hunters are about the horse and the horse’s personal style and performance, not the rider. Although the color of your coat, boots, breeches doesn’t affect the horses performance, it is distracting. You will stand out for sure, but will you be standing out for the right reasons? Navy blue, black, dark green, or grey hunt coats are more preferred. I’m still undecided on the maroon colored hunt coats. They are not my favorite, but I’ve seen worse. Also, tan breeches, tall black boots with no patent leather on them. If you really want to express your “wild side” and stand out—get some of those loud colored boot socks. 
– John Berkos, “R”, Sugar Grove, IL

The best expression of personal style that I have seen both recently and in the past is when riders have impeccably tailored jackets that are the perfect length and fabric to flatter their physique. From a judge’s perspective, it really stands out to the eye when a jacket fits perfectly. Also for girls and women, a beautifully tailored shirt with a choker that is tall enough and fitted to the neck (possibly with a unique monogram), rather than short and gaping as so many current shirts do, is a real difference as well. For the guys, a cool tie that is tasteful but expressive is always appreciated.
– Connie Tramm Hunt, “R”, East Lansing, MI

About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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