In the English world, conservative is ‘in.’ Looking back through years and years of riding, exhibitors from ten, twenty, even thirty years ago look very similar to the exhibitors of today. However, in today’s show arena, with the number of highly competitive exhibitors in each class, it is increasingly important to stand out from the competition.
“I recently read that there have been more changes in the English riding sector of the equine trade industry by the manufacturers in the past two years than in the previous 100 years,” said Gayle Singer, of Hartmeyer Saddlery. “There are new colors, new fabrics and, of course, ‘bling,’ as well as technical performance products.”
“At horse shows, I’ve seen the usually conservative English riders of both hunt seat and saddle seat expressing their individuality. The riding public has become tired of the same old colors and patterns, and the manufacturers have come to the rescue,” Singer explained. “The smart thing to do is study the fashion trends outside the horse industry to see what is coming. ‘Regular fashion’ always has an effect on ‘horse show fashion.’”
Cheryllee Hall, of Cheryllee’s English Tack & Apparel, has not noticed anything brand new for the 2006 show season so far. “We saw a lot of newer trends come about in the end of 2005 with more custom collars and custom English blouses. There are a lot more blouses out there with inlayed collars and piping on the collars and cuffs,” said Hall. “There’s not a big difference in the hunt seat clothing, there’s just a little more intricate detailing to the hunt seat blouses. You can certainly see the contrast in the collars, even with subtle monogramming and detailing.
“I’m partial to tradition, but I try to mix it up as much as I can with fabrics and textures.”
Monogramming of the ratcatcher (English collar) can add a finished look to any outfit, as long as it is subtle. In addition to the traditional initials, your name or even your horse’s name can be used, as long as the wording is fairly small. Hall also pointed out that tone on tone monogramming tends to look the best.
Rose Tremmel, of Equus Now!, has sold more of the ‘Crystal & Ribbon’ bands by Truitt Jane to accent collars. “Most high-end English blouses include two collars, so I recommend monogramming one collar and leaving the other collar plain to dress up with a small amount of bling,” Tremmel said. “Whatever you do, do not wear a stock pin.”
Although stock pins were in style for many years, they now have been thrown to the wayside for several reasons. Not only are the monogrammed collars easier, as there is no need to remove and re-pin the decoration, they are safer. It is possible for a stock pin to come unpinned, and possibly poke the rider in the neck or throat if the rider comes unseated.
Although crystals and bling are becoming more and more popular, Tremmel reminds exhibitors to keep it simple. “Remember to keep your look understated. Too much glitz in the English world is a bad thing. A single line of crystals on a ribbon for your choker is ideal; any more than that would be over-kill,” Tremmel said.
Singer has also noticed that monogramming is the most popular option for ratcatchers. Although she has seen crystals at several large Arabian and hunter/jumper shows, Singer doubts the bling collars will catch on in the Morgan or Saddlebred world.
In the hunter/jumper circuits, Singer has also seen some exhibitors experimenting with wearing lapel pins on their jackets. This small amount of jewelry can help dress up an exhibitor without overpowering a traditional, conservative outfit.
When discussing the topic of hunt seat jackets, Singer, Hall and Tremmel all agreed that dark, traditional jackets are the most popular. Chocolate, black, navy and medium to dark gray coats have all been top sellers so far for 2006, proving that ‘traditional is in.’
“I tend to lean more toward the traditional side,” said Hall. “I believe these exhibitors need to express themselves, but they can do it in a conservative style. Dark jackets, muted shirts, traditional breeches. These all give the look of professionalism. I think the crystal collars can easily go too far for hunt seat. I have the ‘ten foot rule:’ if you can’t see it from ten feet away, the judge certainly won’t be able to see it from the rail. For things like crystals, if a small amount makes you feel better about yourself, then go ahead and do it, but keep it simple.”
The same goes for earrings and other jewelry in the English classes. For both hunt and saddle seats, our experts recommended that female exhibitors can wear small earrings, as long as the earrings do not attract attention or dangle below the ears and are kept simple and conservative.
The hair should also be kept up so it will not attract any attention. According to these three experts, the hair should either be placed in a tight, low bun or placed entirely up under the helmet. The main point is to keep all the hair contained (either through bobby pins, hair spray, hair nets or all three) and neat.
For jewelry and accessories for the saddle seat rider, a lapel pin is a must for all saddle seat riders, as well as non-dangly, glitzy earrings for women. Singer also pointed out that more female exhibitors are wearing their hair in a small, tight, neat bun with no fly-aways, as opposed to the bows that used to be the norm. Many Arabian female exhibitors are also wearing three small flowers on each side of their buns, as well as jeweled pins in the bun.
In terms of shirts, long-sleeved shirts are the most traditional. A well-fitted, long-sleeved shirt in a muted, conservative tone will provide a clean and professional look. However, it is acceptable to wear a short-sleeved shirt at smaller shows, if the temperature gets too warm.
If using a short-sleeved shirt, Hall recommends that exhibitors keep a long-sleeved shirt as a back up. Occasionally, exhibitors will be allowed to show without a jacket if the day gets too hot. In these cases, the exhibitor must wear a long-sleeved shirt.
Singer pointed out that exhibitors should never wear a sleeveless shirt under the jacket, as perspiration can then get on the coat lining and can prove very difficult, if not impossible, to get out.
No matter which type of shirt an exhibitor chooses to go with, soft, muted colors are in, as well as textured materials and subtle patterns. The most important thing for a hunt seat outfit to portray is a conservative, classic look with a subtle hint of personality.
Another way Tremmel recommended retaining the ‘classic’ look is through breeches. “Khaki or greenish beige breeches are the color of choice, with the lighter beige also popular,” Tremmel said. “The preferred style now is side zip, which has a cleaner look. Exhibitors should remember that show breeches are not meant to fit skin-tight, you want a form-fitting look with a little bit of give. There are several brands that come in a relaxed fit and also in a low rise, which is becoming very popular.”
For saddle seat riders, the color combination chosen for each outfit can be the most important aspect of the suit. “In saddle seat, for equitation, the coat and jodhpur pants must match,” said Singer. “It is acceptable and attractive to have a tastefully colored or patterned vest that complements the suit color.
“The color of the suit varies by the precision of the rider. Although every level of exhibitor can wear a dark suit, beginners should not stray from black, brown or navy with a matching derby. Extremely advanced riders can often wear lighter colors that will call attention to the quietness of their hands and legs.”
The advanced riders also may dress up their outfit for the evening with a white pique shirt, vest and tie. They can also wear white gloves, patent leather boots, a top hat and carry a white whip. Other advanced riders will choose to wear a white pin tuck shirt, dark vest, dark gloves, dark patent leather boots, a top hat and carry a dark whip in the evening.
In the matter of jodhpur boots, patent leather, as well as traditional leather, boots are acceptable for any level of exhibitor during the day, according to Singer.
Amateur and junior saddle seat exhibitors tend to wear colorful and patterned day coats with dark jodhpur pants and boots. These exhibitors also wear gloves that match the outfit and a traditional, well-shaped derby. “Day coats are perfectly acceptable for the day, but amateur and junior exhibitors should dress up their appearance for the evenings,” Singer said. “In the evenings, as well as for championship classes, amateur and junior exhibitors tend to wear a day coat, formal pants and a top hat. A traditional formal suit is also acceptable.”
Singer pointed out that not all saddle seat exhibitors dress with the same styles. “Arabian riders tend to wear darker, more conservative saddle suits. Most will wear a colorful shirt, a very colorful tie, derby and a lapel pin,” Singer said. “Some Saddlebred riders are wearing homburgs in the Country Pleasure classes.”
There are also several differences in clothing between the levels of riders, according to Singer. Trainers tend to wear conservative suits, while amateurs and junior exhibitors can get away with more colors and patterns.
Singer also pointed out that she has seen several changes in saddle seat apparel over the past four years. “More people are wearing saddle suits in place of day coats now. Saddlebred and Arabian riders are not wearing flashy day coats, similar to the Morgan riders. I’m also seeing fewer trainers wearing gloves.”
Hall pointed out that hunt seat exhibitors should stick to tradition with boots, helmets and gloves as well. “I think people should stick with black boots, black helmets and black gloves. Black may not always be the most complimentary color with the outfit, but it really has become the standard. Black is part of the uniform,” Hall said. “Field boots are also slightly more accepted in the hunter under saddle arena. Dress boots are more for dressage, although both are allowed for hunt seat classes.
“I also really like the hunt boots with a zipper up the back. These zippered boots came from the custom-made hunt boots. The zipper allows riders to get the boot to fit very tight around the calf and ankle, which looks nicer, and allows the rider to be able to get the boot on much more easily. The best part is, as long as it’s a proper fitting boot and your leg is in the right position, you’ll never see the zipper.”
Hall also mandated that riders purchase boots that are tall enough. “When you buy a new pair of tall boots, make sure they come nearly an inch to an inch and a half above your knee. This extra height allows for the boots to break in and fall at the ankle. If you buy new boots that hit just at your knee, they will look too short as they break in.”
Tremmel has seen changes come about around exhibitors’ boots as well. “Engraved or jeweled spurs and irons are a recent fad that have gained more and more acceptance in the ring. I think these are a very nice touch as long as they are not over-done. Some judges dislike the distraction and will mark an exhibitor down if the spurs or irons are too flashy, so you should try to keep it simple.”
Another change Hall noticed that has become ‘en vogue’ over the past five years is comfort and safety. “Safety helmets have become extremely popular, especially in the over fence classes. Safety is becoming much more acceptable in the show ring. In years past, people worried more about how the helmet looked on their head; now they are paying more attention to how the helmet will protect their head.
“I’m also seeing a lot more therapeutic saddle pads. More and more people are using gel pads, wither pads, risers, etc… What’s good for the horse is good for everybody. The important thing is to put your correction pads underneath your regular saddle pad.”
English and saddle seat fashion have come a long way over the years, while managing to stay almost the same. According to Hall, “the good thing about English is that everything stays the same. You will always be in fashion as long as you tweak what you have each year.”