For those of us who compete our horses, there are a varietal of disciplines awaiting on any given weekend. Choosing a discipline is often a task in itself, but familiarizing yourself with all of the different facets of your chosen sport is another undertaking. Lumped into that task is the shopping for the perfect show outfit. In this new sub-series of our Explained series, we’re going to take a look at the various attire requirements or traditions in all four of the major disciplines: hunters, jumpers, eventing and dressage.
This week, we’ll kick things off with the hunter ring. Traditionally speaking, hunter attire is the most conservative of the bunch. Let’s first take a look at the origins of hunter dress:
The modern show hunter classes can find their roots in the field hunter classes that were popular during the rise of the sport. Field hunters were judged on their handiness, with the idea being that the horse would have a brave yet safe jump over obstacles in the hunt field so as to safely carry their rider to and from their destination. In many ways, field hunters can be compared to today’s eventers, though the hunter classes of today have been toned down a bit.
Field hunters were turned out neatly and conservatively — less equipment meant less obstruction in the event of a misstep. The riders often wore red hunting coats paired with velvet hunt caps.
Today, turnout is still on the conservative side and is always polished and sophisticated looking. According to the USEF Rulebook, Sec. HU128, riders are required to wear conservative colored show coats — black, blue, green, grey or brown —paired with a white shirt with choker collar and buff, canary, tan, rust or white breeches.
In some of the higher level Performance classes or Hunter Derbies, as well as certain Finals divisions, you may also see Formal Attire in the form of shadbelly jackets. These are not listed anywhere in the rulebook as a requirement, however.
If you’re heading to your first hunter show, err on the side of conservative. Go for a nice shaped hunter pad and a plain or fancy stitched brown bridle. Remember, boots may not be worn in competition and martingales are prohibited for any flat or hack classes. Unless waived by the organizers, competitors must wear their jackets during competition.