When I was in fifth grade, we were assigned to give presentations on famous people, from the perspective of the famous person. So we were to stand up in front of the class, and tell the class about ourselves, as if we were that famous person.
Naturally doing what any horse crazy girl would do, I decided it was the perfect opportunity for me to showcase an equestrian. I put on my white leggings, some boots, and borrowed my dad’s suit jacket. I was confident I looked like an equestrian. The equestrian I choose was Julie Krone – a racehorse jockey.
For anyone not in the know, a racehorse jockey would have been very unlikely to wear an English jacket. They have an entirely different outfit, called racing silks. But the image of the equestrian wearing the dark jacket with the white pants was so ingrained in my head, I didn’t consider any other outfit.
The English riding coat is the quintessential item that most people recognize from horseback riding. It’s on every show rider, and I’ve even seen a few people who don’t have much horse experience throw it on just to ride for the first time. (If you are also new, know that you don’t need to do that. The coats are only for showing.)
It’s a clean, classic look. It’s been a popular inspiration for street wear for some time, and it’s definitely enjoying fresh popularity currently, with the old money aesthetic trend. I can understand why, it’s a great look.
But if you are interested in a coat for an actual horseshow, there’s both tons of options, and also tons of rules on what you’re allowed to wear.
The Hunt Coat
The hunt coat is the basic English riding coat. The basic standard is the navy hunt coat. It’s acceptable at every type of English riding competition and fashion trends move so slowly you could use the same show coat for years of competition, and no one would notice or care. Everyone mostly looks the same.
The English riding coat is based off of the traditional fox hunting coat (in fact, most English riding is). Formal foxhunting has strict dress codes, with members expected to wear a black or navy coat, while the hunt staff wear red coats, called “Pinks.” Since the coats are made of wool which has little stretch, they have a looser fit. The length of the coat hits about mid-thigh.
For horse shows, although fashion doesn’t change very fast, it’s still evolved since the traditional look. Innovations in fabric design have created technical fabrics which allow for more stretch, and therefore, a more tailored fit. The length is shorter now, hitting mid-hip. And there are a few options, if you want to show your personality.
You can choose a different color of coat: muted conservative colors are okay in hunter competitions (black, blue, green, gray or brown) but judges look down on “distracting” colors. Equitation is similar, but “simple and classic” i.e., navy or black jacket with tan breeches, is best. Any color is fine in jumper competitions, you aren’t being judged by your looks… to win anyway. Not saying that other people won’t judge your fashion choices!
The Dressage Coat
The dressage coat has traditionally been black or navy, with four buttons. Riders could get away with a little bit of decorations on their collars, buttons or piping, but it was still quite conservative. It was a big deal when the USDF allowed riders to start wearing burgundy coats.
Perhaps motivated by the positive response to allowing a wider color palette, the USDF has now gone further. The rules have changed recently, and now allow a huge variety of fashion choices. So you could still use the generic English hunt coat for dressage, but you could also get pretty fancy with your coat.
Any color coat is permitted and may have a subtle pattern on them. Be aware though, loud contrasting patterns are not allowed. But you can have “tasteful” decorations on your coat, like piping, crystals, or a contrasting collar is all okay. Short tails are permitted for all levels, and tailcoats are only permitted above fourth level (we’ll get to those later!)
The Shadbelly or TailCoat
Now we are on to the fancy coat: The Shadbelly, also called a tailcoat. This is the dreamy, long coat, that flutters as you canter by. It’s a dream item for many show riders. And these riders are going to need to set some high goals, because this fancy jacket is only appropriate for fancy classes.
This coat was originally only seen in dressage, but the higher levels of dressage. It was a formal coat, meant only for fourth level dressage and above. But, as this style of coat is also used on formal occasions in the hunt field, it’s allowed in hunters, and it’s now exploded in popularity in the show ring.
So what’s the difference between a dresssage shadbelly and a hunter shadbelly? Primarily it’s that dressage tails are weighted to hang down and hunter shadbellys are not, so they fly in the breeze.
But also dressage coats can get pretty crazy in their adornment but hunter coats are meant to be conservative in design. See above.
The hunter version is meant for the formal classes. This would be your hunter derbies and classics. The dressage version is similar, it’s meant for classes Fourth Level and above.
So if you want to wear those tails, you’re going to have to work for it. They aren’t appropriate for the lower level classes. But, that’s also to say, you don’t need tails for those classes either. You could wear your normal hunt coat for basically the entire duration of your show career.
There’s a huge variety of coats to choose from, so hopefully this guide helped narrow it down. Make sure you check with your trainer and the rules to ensure your coat is allowed, and have fun living your most stylish show ring life!