If you’re reading this, chances are you’re worried about an upcoming dressage event. Maybe you’re about to compete in your first competition! Or perhaps you’re going up a level. Either way, I’m so excited for you—and you should be excited too. And today, I’m going to help you decide what to wear to a dressage competition so you can look your best and head into your competition weekend with the most confidence possible.
I know it can be nerve-wracking, but at least now that you’ve got this guide, you won’t have to worry about what to wear because I’ve got you covered!
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What Is Proper Dressage Show Attire?
When deciding what to wear to a horse show, you want to think formal and conservative. Dressage is an extremely old sport, dating back to when it was done as entertainment for royalty. Like many such sports, it has plenty of traditions that are fiercely upheld… And one of those things is the classic aesthetic.
Therefore, you don’t want anything flashy. If your helmet is bright purple, you need a different one! Instead, you should stick to neutrals like whites, grays, beiges, navys, and blacks. In addition, everything you wear should be clean, wrinkle-free, and polished! How you look is very important when it comes to the overall success of your show.
Choosing Your Dressage Outfit
Now let’s get to the practical aspects of choosing your horse show attire.
Let’s start with the basics. First, you need a white competition shirt or show shirt with a standup collar. Something like this one (short-sleeved) or this one (long-sleeved) for women, or this one for men.
Stock Tie, Choker, or Tie
To go with your shirt, women will usually wear a stock tie or choker, while men will wear a tie. A stock tie is similar to a classic men’s tie, but it’s shorter and has a different shape and aesthetic. Here are some examples or a stock tie. Again, make sure these are conservative in color such as white or cream.
Women in Training and First Levels can usually just wear regular stock ties, but for upper levels, ruffled stock ties are usually preferred.
The show jacket is one of my personal favorite parts of a dressage outfit—I think it really just finishes the look and makes me feel like the real deal. Here are here are some examples of beautiful show coats.
You should wear a dressage coat that’s either black or navy. If it is extremely hot, you may sometimes be permitted to take your jacket off, but you should have one with you just in case.
For the bottom half of your outfit, all competitors should wear light-colored breeches that are either white or light beige. Only in the case of young children are jodhpurs allowed as well as breeches. If your breeches have belt loops, then you should wear a belt; however, once again, it should be a conservative color.
Tall Riding Boots
The next part of your outfit is one of the most important pieces: your dress boots!
Riders need to have tall boots, field boots, or jodhpur boots for competition. The riding boots should be black, polished, and clean. If you need some ideas and recommendations, definitely check out my guide to tall riding boots!
Only riders up to First Level are allowed to wear half chaps, gaiters, and/or leggings. These can be solid black or brown leather (or leather-like material), should not have any fringe, and should match the color of their boots.
Helmet (Or Top Hat)
Riders have the option of wearing a riding helmet or a top hat. Top hats are usually exclusively worn at the upper levels, however, even more experienced riders are now are opting for helmets due to safety reasons (which I think is definitely a good thing!).
The helmet you wear should match your outfit (black or navy blue), be clean, and be ASTM/SEI certified for safety.
Riders may choose to wear gloves that are either white or black. Generally, riders competing in the upper levels choose to wear white gloves whereas lower-level riders wear black ones. This is because your hand movements are more apparent in white gloves, which can be a problem for riders with less experience.
Depending on the show, it may not be required to wear gloves, but in my personal experience, I find it best to wear them for optimal grip as well as hand protection and blister prevention!
In the upper levels, it is required that you wear spurs that are clean and shiny. (Spurs are optional for lower levels.)
Other Tips for Completing Your Dressage Show Attire
How to Do Your Hair for a Dressage Show
There are a variety of ways you can do your hair for a show, but you want to make sure it’s out of your face and can fit easily with your helmet. I actually have an entire guide on horseback riding hairstyles (for shows as well as more casual riding), and you can check that out here.
What About Makeup?
Conservative makeup is totally acceptable for a competition, but make sure to remember that if it’s a hot day, you may not want to wear any eye makeup (or at least make it waterproof) so that you don’t end up with blackness running into your eyes and down your face!
Decide On Your Jewelry
When it comes to jewelry, it’s up to you. Some people choose to remove all of their jewelry just to make extra sure it won’t get in the way, get caught on anything, or potentially cause any injuries. Other people choose to wear a few small pieces, such as stud earrings.
Just like with everything else, though, if you do choose to wear any jewelry, make sure it’s conservative. No big hoop earrings or anything like that.
Should You Bring a Whip to a Dressage Show?
A standard black riding whip may be used in certain situations. If you are competing in the dressage portion of an eventing competition, then whips are not permitted. Make sure the whip is black and plain. Don’t bring in one that’s hot pink with fringes!
If you’re ever unsure of whether or not a whip is allowed in your level or event, don’t be afraid to ask or check the rule book!
What About a Body Vest?
Some may also choose to wear a protective body vest at their show, especially for amateur riders who are at an increased risk of falling. Once again, don’t hesitate to ask if you’re unsure about specific rules for your upcoming show!
What Do Dressage Horses Wear?
So now that you’ve got your own outfit planned out, you might be wondering about your horse’s appearance, too! What is the proper presentation for a horse during a competition?
Make Sure Your Horse is Cleaned & Groomed
First and most importantly, make sure your horse is clean from head to toe. The day before your show, you can make sure to follow all of the necessary grooming steps right here.
To Braid, or Not To Braid?
Should you braid your horse’s hair for a competition or not? It’s a very valid question, and at the end of the day, it comes down to personal choice.
Just like with basically every other step in this guide, the most important thing is to make sure your horse looks classy and conservative. So a neatly braided mane and/or tail can really complete your overall look, but just make sure you don’t do any over-the-top hairstyles or add any dyes or colors.
Here is an example of clean horse hairstyle that would be appropriate for a show:
Saddle & Saddle Pads
You’ll usually want to compete with your usual English saddle, but you’ll want to make sure it’s shiny and clean before the show. Here is my complete guide on how to clean a saddle properly.
For your other tack like bridles, bits, reins, and stirrups, everything is pretty much standard. (But one again, you’ll want to make sure it’s all clean and polished.)
Extras like rubber bit guards, balancing reigns, or other “helper” tack is usually not allowed, especially in higher levels. Specific rules will vary over time and location, so make sure to check the rulebook or ask the show runners if you’re unsure about anything!
Your Complete Dressage Show Outfit Checklist
I’ve put together this dressage show outfit checklist that you can either save to your phone or print out and use to make sure you’ve got everything you need.
Oh, and don’t forget to pack copies of your dressage test, too!
Conclusion: Always Double Check!
Always double check with the FEI and/or whoever is running your particular competition for unique modifications or specifications. What to wear during your dressage test can deviate from the norm for a variety of different reasons.
You will usually be informed of any such modifications, but it’s always good to ask if you’re unsure about anything. It’s never fun to show up the day of the competition and realize you don’t have the appropriate clothing!
You’re already being proactive by reading this post, so I know you’re going to do great! I’m rooting you on and wishing you the best of luck at your competition!
Want More Horseback Riding Outfit Ideas?
See our whole collection of cute ideas for horseback riding outfits:
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