Friday, February 27, 2015

My daughter is competing in her first horse show. What does she need to wear?

This is a daunting question.  We are about to enter my daughter’s 5th show season and just purchased her 4th set of show attire.  I’m getting better at this but still find the process mystifying.

We were really fortunate that her first shows took place under the guidance of a trainer who liked a nice turnout and worked one night a week at our local tack shop.  It was so easy!  I just showed up while she was working and told her to pick out whatever she liked.  As time went on and my daughter changed disciplines and competition levels, I had to wrap my head around when they wear what.  There are still nuances that are lost on me, especially in the hunter world but I can certainly get you started.

I have 2 universal pieces of advice.  Firstly, if you can borrow or buy a used show coat, shirt, jodhs (pants) or garters, do so.  With so many kids showing at a young age there are always barely used show clothes kicking around.  Save your pennies for later on when they are burning through breeches and boots.   Secondly, keep her in jodhpurs and garters as long as possible (I’ll explain this in a minute).  The girls are in such a rush to grow up but there are several reasons to slow them down.  1) They look adorable.  2) The judges love the adorable, well turned out little girls. 3) It is way less complicated and expensive.

Regarding the information that follows, links will take you directly to appropriate items on the Dover Saddlery website.  Hopefully this will make the whole thing a little less overwhelming!  There are many other good options.  These are just the items we have chosen.

Show coats are generally dark in color.  For rated shows in the equitation ring and dressage or eventing shows, the jacket should be solid black or solid dark navy.  For Elizabeth’s first three show seasons during which she only went to schooling shows, we were able to find beautiful coats on sale for $50.00 but they had a plaid pattern or pin stripe to them.  The pattern was barely noticeable but since Elizabeth plans to do some sanctioned events now, we bought a solid navy coat.  That meant there was nothing on the sale rack.  She is still a child’s size – 14 – in some things so not quite as expensive as women’s but much more than in the past.  I wish we could have gotten one from a friend.  She’ll only use it 10 times and will likely outgrow it by next year.

The upside to them moving up to women's sizes is that you have a ton more to choose from.  The downside is the cost goes up pretty dramatically.

You can never go wrong with a white shirt.  Certainly you can get away with a light color at a schooling show and the jumpers are far less fussy about shirt and coat colors.  But, in most disciplines, the white shirt is the proper choice.  The shirts have a flat collar that snaps or buttons across the throat and they have a loop at the back for the stock tie to pass through so be sure to buy a shirt from a tack shop.  A proper shirt is known as a "rat catcher" but don't ask me why!  White shirts are the easiest to find in numerous sizes and different fabrics for different temperatures.  There are now a number of companies making “cool max” long sleeved white shirts with a dry wicking, breathable material.  Proper dress means a long sleeved shirt with the cuffs poking out from the sleeves of the jacket.  On hot days, the cool max shirts make a big difference.  On super hot days, judges often choose to allow riders to forego the show coat all together.  Try on several brands and styles of shirts.  I know some have huge necks, others tiny necks.  You really need a good fit.  If the neck is too big and you add a stock tie it will look messy.

Short sleeved shirts (this link goes to a women's shirt but we bought a children's size so I know they are out there, just can't find it) are not proper attire.  However, my daughter wears one with a stock tie to most summer shows and she’s not the only one.  Again, my knowledge of A circuit hunter shows is lacking but when it’s been 90 degrees at a show Elizabeth has entered the ring in short sleeves.  For sanctioned shows we always have the long sleeve shirt in the garment bag just in case.  Talk to your trainer about shirts, especially if you are going to rated shows of any type.  They should be able to advise you.

I’m not sure when they need to start wearing a stock tie but it is proper attire.  Elizabeth started wearing one last year.  I think there’s some trial and error involved in stock ties.  There are pre-tied stock ties but we bought the old fashioned kind.  They are white cotton and take some practice to get right.  You also need a stock pin to hold the ties in place.  For Pony Club it needs to be a super plain pin but there are several very fun options out there to add a bit of pizzazz to your show look.

Then there is the boot/pant combination.  Jodhpurs or breeches should be light in color.  We usually go with a light tan but white is also quite popular.  There are several colors of tan, all are acceptable.
If your daughter is under 12 years old she can wear jodhpurs, pictured above, paddock boots and garters.  The boots and garters can be black or brown leather but they should match.  The jodhpurs should be light tan.  Jodhs are longer than breeches and cuffed at the bottom.  They also have elastic straps at the bottom ala 1980’s stirrup pants which button to the inside of the cuff and go under the sole of the paddock boot.  The garters are lengths of leather that buckle around the pants above the calf and below the knee.  My daughter swears they are uncomfortable but the upside is the kids get to wear well broken in paddock boots and they are less crazy hot than tall boots.  For girls going with jodhpurs and garters, they should wear their hair in two long braids finished with hair bows.  They look so fantastic cantering around the ring with braids bouncing and ribbons blowing!

For older girls, you will need tan breeches and black field boots or dress boots, though field boots seem to be the current fashion in the shows we attend.  Dress boots pull on, field boots have laces in the front on the foot and zip up the back.  Two years ago Elizabeth wore her first pair of tall boots and they were a children’s size.  Last year she was 11 ½ and had to buy women’s.  We haven't gotten that far yet this year.  Tall boots are a little complicated to fit.  Choose show britches first.  These tend to be a little more structured than schooling britches. You should be sure your daughter wears her show britches when trying on boots.  The boots are meant to be extremely fitted.  If she wears thinner pants to buy the boots she may run into trouble on show day being unable to get them zipped up.  Same goes for socks.  For the most part, field boots zip all the way up the back.  They are easy to get your foot into but can easily take 2 people to zip.  Tall boots must be broken in so buy them at least a month in advance of your first show.  Be sure the person helping you knows what they are doing.  I’m finally getting the hang of how boots should fit but could never have figured it out on my own.  They fit illogically high up the leg and so tightly I’m sure they must be the wrong size!  However, that’s just the way they need to fit.  They do stretch out but it takes time and wear to stretch them.  I make my daughter wear hers around the house for at least 2 hours a day for the first few weeks we have them and that seems to do the trick.  When broken in they "drop" so what looks excessively high when you buy then is truly the correct fit down the road.  There is also spray called boot stretch.  We spray the boots inside and out before zipping which helps.  And sometimes the boots simply cut off circulation!

If you went with breeches and tall boots, her hair can no longer go in cute braids with ribbons.  Hair can either go up into the helmet or be collected neatly at the nape of the neck.  In either case, a hair net should be involved.  No hair should be hanging down her back.  The issue with putting it in the helmet is fit.  A helmet should be snug.  If you buy a helmet to fit with hair up, she will need to wear her hair up all the time.  My daughter’s helmet is snug without hair in it so we do a neat bun in a net at the nape of her neck.  Honestly we have yet to perfect this whole thing so I wish you luck!  The braids and bows were so much simpler!!!!

The helmet should be solid black.  There are some fancy helmets out there now with stripes down the middle but just like the white shirt, you can never go wrong with a solid black helmet.  For a schooling show the little velvet helmet covers you can buy are fine to cover up an inexpensive helmet but at a certain point it is worth investing in a really good helmet to protect your child's head.  We keep a neoprene cover on it most of the time so it looks nice and clean on show day.  For the cross country portion of eventing we cover it with a helmet cover in Elizabeth's eventing colors.

Gloves should be solid in color.  White is the proper color in dressage but as long as they are solid you should be fine.  We keep a separate pair of show gloves.  Schooling gloves get really grimy and we want a crisp turnout on show day.  My daughter chooses to wear black at this point which seems to be acceptable.

The pony turnout is a whole other story but mainly involves well cleaned tack and a clean saddle pad.  The pony should be bathed if possible and a braided mane is always nice.  For dressage the pad should be entirely white with absolutely nothing on it.  In the hunter ring the pad is a little sheepskin in a saddle shape that goes under the saddle.  In jumpers and the jumping phases of eventing, any saddle pad is fine.  In dressage the horses should not wear anything on their legs - no wraps, bell boots or brushing boots.  For jumping most of them wear some kind of boot.

If your child is an eventer they will wear their formal wear for their dressage test and a different outfit for cross country.  They will sometimes have the option of wearing cross country gear for show jumping.  That is generally a factor of how much time they have between phases.  If you have more than an hour, go to show jumping in formal attire and change into cross country gear afterwards.  If the order of go has your rider traveling directly from show jumping to cross country, they should show jump in their cross country gear.

For cross country the kids love to have colors.  Some are subtle and others deck out everything - my daughter is among the latter.  The horse's boots, ear net, saddle pad, the rider's shirt, helmet cover, vest all display a matching color combination.  This is really fun and the distraction is often a good one. My daughter can get a bit intense and stressed out so distracting her with dressing up herself and her horse in fabulous matching gear alleviates the stress.  

Now just add your fabulous rider with a great smile and go out and have some fun!!!  Happy showing!


  1. Great advice for choosing the best Thanks for sharing. Equestrian Riding Lessons

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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