In response to popular demand I am going to talk about attire for dressage shows. I got a little free time today and once I got started writing about it I was able to finish the entry in no time. Now what I say is most certainly not set in stone. I know plenty of people that do not follow this, and that is totally fine unless you are showing recognized. The USEF has rules about attire so if you are going to do a USDF show I would recommend you to follow my guidelines.
Let me start at the bottom and begin with boots. Tall boots should be worn in the show ring. Clean ones preferably. Half-chaps with matching boots do not look like field boots. I know you think that they do, but trust me, we call all tell you are not wearing tall boots. There are several different types of tall boots but I will talk about the 3 most often seen in a dressage ring.
1) Dressage boots. These tend to run over $500 a pair. Usually only serious riders purchase theses. They are often at least semi-custom and I am not joking when I say it is like having PVC pipes on your legs. They are thick and stiff, which is exactly how they are supposed to be. I, myself, do not own a pair because of the price involved. If you are going to show in these I hope that you also ride daily in them to get used to them.
2) Dress boots. These are what I own. They run from $100-300 on average. I have not found many other people around that wear them but to me the price is right. They tend to be very thin and flexible. Once they are broken in they will fit right to your leg. The main difference between this boot and field boots is in the look. Dress boots have no laces. This gives them the look of a dressage boot with the price. They can be harder from some people to get into though since there is no extra space around the ankle.
3) Field boots. This is the boot of choice for people who ride in the hunter world. They are very, very soft and thin. They also have an area around the ankle that has laces. This is so a person can get their foot into the boot and lace it up tight around the ankle later. If you are just starting out in dressage and already have a pair of these they are plenty good enough to show in until you want to purchase some dressage boots.
Next on the way up are britches. In dressage it is tradition to wear white full-seat britches. This is to prove you are wealthy enough that you can afford a groom to touch your horse so you can stay clean. I am totally just kidding about that. It is true though that which britches are the gold standard. If you don’t mind standing out you can wear cream. Make sure your stock tie matches though. Britches that are white with black leather on the full seat are becoming very popular. Why full seats? They give you more grip in the saddle. I know a few people that hate them, but I myself was a knee patch wearer for years until I got a pair of full seats. I still school in knee patches, but for lessons and shows full seats it is. It really makes a difference.
Now comes the item that many people forget. A belt! I recommend the wearing of a black belt in competition. It is more out of tradition then anything else, but I really think that it completes the outfit. Besides, if for some reason your stirrup breaks halfway though a test you can use the belt as a replacement without even dismounting :P.
Now it is time for the shirt. A clean, white, button down show shirt works just fine. For those of you switching over from the A circuit hunter world you can wear long sleeves, but we are lucky and can wear short sleeves as well. I personally do not like to iron. In face I hate it. So I like to show in a special shirt that is just for dressage. It is sporty looking and white with a zip down about halfway in the front. This style of shirt costs about $50, but they are machine washable, and to me at least, worth every penny. I also know that a top dressage tack store sells shirts that are button down show shirts that are very brightly colored but still have a white collar. I think they are pretty cool looking. As long as it a white show shirt you are pretty much good on this one.
Dressage coats are cut differently then other styles of horse show jackets. They can cost any where from $110 to $500 depending on the brand. It is important to get a coat that fits you well because it really will make you look polished. When buying a coat you should check the fit by sitting in a saddle and making sure the length is appropriate and won’t get stuck under your bum as your riding. You should also do shoulder circles to make sure that you can get a full range of motion. Your jacket arm should end about where your thumb starts when your arms are at your side and should come back to about your wrist when bent. A dressage coat will either come in black or navy. It should match your head gear. For example, I have a black helmet and so my coat is black. Black is the traditional color for a coat. If you are buying a true dressage coat it will also most likely come with shinny buttons. I would encourage you to match the buttons with the hardware on your bridle. Silver buttons go with a silver bridle and gold with gold.
As for gloves. Black gloves are common. If you have really quiet hands though you should consider showing with white gloves. White gloves are much more common at the upper levels as well.
Next is the really special thing about dressage. A stock tie. Unless you go on hunts you probably have never had the pleasure of trying one prior to your first show. Stock ties can be plain white fabric or fancy silk. The new thing is to get one with some sort of piping on the side. I, or course, am a bandwagon person so I have a white tie with black and silver piping on the side. As for pre-tied vs. traditional…That is your call. A traditional looks better. It is also always a better fit. I have found that some pre-tied stock ties are really lynches in disguise. It is up to you though. Just make sure that it is straight!
You will also need a pin to keep you stock tie down. These are longer then the pins used in traditional English ridding. They are used to help pin the stock tie own and keep it fluffy. It is hard to describe where you pin it in word. It is like a little ways down from the knot and above where the jacket closes.
This next thing is often forgotten. A hair net! If you want to be all cool and dressage queeny you should buy one of those barrettes (I have one) that has a black bow and then a hair net on the back.
And last but not least is head gear. I will not get on a horse without a helmet. It is my own personal preference. My life experiences have shown me that accidents happen even to exceptional riders so riding without one seems like a very large risk to me. In dressage you cannot start wearing a top hat until you are riding in a double bridle. If you do not want to bother with a helmet prior to that you can wear a derby. My recommendation to riders of all levels is to simply wear a helmet that matches your coat.
I am sure that some of you are freaking out right now about the cost. I was too. But if you buy it piece by piece you wont remember how expensive it is 😛 Honestly, I do not recommend cheeping out on anything, I did and ended up spending more money because I went out and bought the real stuff later. If you are not sure if dressage is your thing and just want to try a show or two you can get away with just buying white britches, a stock time and dressage coat (assuming you have tall boots) which will cost around $200 if you don’t go for the top of the line. Good luck to all the dressage show hopefuls out there and feel free to ask more questions.