Presenting the right picture in the show ring

By Pat Crawford For Hadlow College

One of the very best ways to research rider turnout for the show ring is to go along to a county-level show, select the appropriate class and observe the experts!  Notice how they manage to achieve understated elegance.

But even at county level, there is bound to be at least one novice exhibitor in the ring who simply hasn’t done his – or her – homework.  It may be as basic as the type of class being inappropriate for the horse concerned.  Maybe the class selected is right – but the turnout of both horse and rider simply are not!   Usually every class has one or more out-of-place combination.

PRESETING-THE-RIGHT-2-JUN10The leading exhibitors are well aware that being well-turned out themselves – and making certain the turnout of their horse is impeccable and the schooling appropriate – can transform an ugly duckling into a winning swan!  A really ‘ordinary’ horse can be way up in the ribbons because the first impression – the overall picture – counts for a lot.

Conversely, the badly presented horse or pony with an inappropriately attired rider can end up in the back line – despite the animal actually being a ‘good sort’ and quite possibly deserving of a ribbon. The judge, however experienced, has to make quick decisions – especially in the case of a large class.  The bad points were glaringly obvious – they blinded the judge to the many good ones!

‘Turnout’ really does matter!

While it’s true that dress etiquette for the rider is very specific in relation to the type of class involved, ‘indiscretions’ occur in all show classes. The most mistakes are made by riders who try too hard!  Leading show riders are well aware that less is more!  As an example: whereas the professional will wear a discreetly appealing buttonhole in a hack or riding horse class, the amateur will often sport a huge flower accompanied by more fern than a wedding bouquet!

Show jackets are appropriate wear in some classes, tweed in others.  Newcomers to the ring sometimes think a show jacket is ‘smarter’ no matter what the class – but this is a real misconception.  ‘Tweed’ is correct for all the hunter classes – including those for the ‘Workers’.  A shirt and tie are correct for show hunter classes although some exhibitors prefer to wear a stock in classes for working hunters.

The top exhibitors never attempt to stand out by wearing ‘flashy’ tweeds or bright show jackets.  ‘Discreet’ is their motto – and they blend the colour of their shirt, tie and jacket to complement the overall picture. Thus, it is important to consider the colour of the horse when making a decision about which tweed to choose.  Breeches or jodhpurs should be canary or beige – definitely not white!  Immaculately clean leather top boots – jodhpur boots for children – plus well-fitting leather or string gloves complete the turnout.

In riding horse, hack, riding pony and similar classes a lot of ladies opt for black or navy show jackets – as do children – whilst most men wear tweed.  As in all classes, the choice of colour is an important factor. It is a good idea to wear a tie that is distinguishing – but that doesn’t mean loud and intrusive!


• Aim for neat, clean lines.
• Choose carefully to complement the colour of the horse.
• Avoid white or coloured breeches or jodhpurs.
• Avoid dressage-type breeches and jodhpurs.
• Check that everything fits correctly – not just the jacket but the shirt too. Make certain the shirt collar affords sufficient space for the tie to sit correctly.
• Only a small minority can afford a tailor-made jacket and most riders have to buy off-the-peg. The larger specialist retailers stock a wide range of show and tweed jackets – and they are usually willing to offer advice and help.  The length of the jacket and that of the sleeves are important factors.  Remember, the jacket will look – and feel – different when the rider is mounted.  A jacket that looks good when the rider is standing in front of the mirror can look ghastly when she’s mounted!

• It is worth remembering that it is important to be smart and comfortable.  Clothes that are too tight, too loose, too short or too long can be very uncomfortable as well as inappropriate!

• Shirts made of man-made fibres may be ‘easy-care’ but, not only are they likely to look ‘wrong’, they don’t ‘breathe’ and certainly won’t afford comfort on a hot, sticky day.

• Choice of gloves depends on the entire ensemble but black, brown or navy are best.  Thin leather is the smartest – especially in hack and riding horse/pony classes. Really good quality string gloves are comfortable and smart in classes for working hunters/working hunter ponies.


The following are either definitely out or best avoided.
• Anything that doesn’t afford a good fit!
• Rubber boots.
• Brightly coloured gloves.
• Bulky gloves.
• Bright shirts.
• Large tiepins.
• Large, flashy buttonholes (and buttonholes of any type in hunter classes).
• Bright hairnets.
• Loads of makeup, false eyelashes and bright lipstick!

HADLOW, one of the UK’s leading land-based colleges, offers a wide range of equine career (Degree, Further Education, BHS, et cetera) and leisure courses.  Telephone: 0500 551434 for information

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