How to Dress for a Dressage Show

Dressage is one of many equestrian (horse) sports. Equestrian sports generally, are heavily based on tradition, including the kind of dress allowed. No other group of sports has such strict rules on dress and turnout. Dressage is judged subjectively, so the correct turnout and the right impression is even more important.


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    Buy a pair of long riding boots with a low heel and no laces. These are normally black, but can be brown. The European design, which are taller, have overtaken the more traditional hunting boots. The outside of the boot is extended to partially cover the knee. This gives the leg a longer appearance. At lower levels, jodhpur (short) boots and matching garters are allowed. Children are allowed to wear jodhpur boots on their own. Half chaps shouldn't be worn. Be sure to clean and polish your boots well before a show.
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    Fit yourself with a pair of neutral, light coloured breeches or jodhpurs in cream, beige or white, although bright white is the classic choice. Breeches are more comfortable under long boots and garters, and are also cooler. Many dressage riders wear 'full seat' breeches, or jodhpurs with a patch of grippy leather over the seat. This helps to 'stick' you to the saddle. Whether you prefer full seat or regular, wash them well. No stains allowed!
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    Wear a black belt if your breeches have belt loops.
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    Buy a white riding shirt that fits well and allows you to move freely. If it is warm or you have a heavy jacket you can choose to wear a bib, which looks like a shirt when a jacket is over the top. If it is very warm you may be allowed to compete without jackets, and you will also want the warm up without a jacket. If you think that jackets may be waived, make sure the shirt is a flattering fit and well ironed. Make sure it has a small loop at the back of the neck for your stock.
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    Tie your white or cream stock around your neck with a flat knot. Pin the tails to your shirt with small safety pins and insert a stock pin horizontally though the knot.
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    Wear a black or navy competition jacket that fits well and allows you to move freely. Make sure that the sleeves cover your wrist ever so slightly when your arms are bent. You may also want to invest in a tailor in order to improve the fit of the jacket. Try to wear a suitable weight for the weather. At lower levels you can wear a tweed hacking jacket, at higher levels you must wear tails and a waistcoat. Dark brown jackets are now making their way into the arena, but can get a mixed response from the judges. Black is the safe, traditional color choice.
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    Get fitted for a velvet-covered helmet. Choose a colour to match your jacket. At all rated levels you can wear a top hat, beagle or bowler, although you will not be penalized for wearing a helmet and many shows require a helmet with fasteners (riders under the age of 12 must wear a certified helmet) . At lower levels, especially in eventing (you are now required to wear a helmet while jumping) you can wear a hat with a velvet cover.
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    Secure long hair in a bun or hairnet. If you are wearing a hat rather then a helmet you will have to remove it when saluting the judges, therefore extra care is needed to make sure both long and short hair is neat under the hat. For men with long hair it is best to secure the hair in a tight knot at the back of the head with a black hair band, all hair must be up.
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    Wear a small amount of makeup on the eyes and lips, but keep it light and natural.
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    Smile. On the wrong canter lead? Smile, it's counter-canter. Can't remember the test? Smile, it's freestyle. Keep smiling no matter what - it will endear you to the judges and the crowd.
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    Keep neat and tidy. At the show, make sure everything is clean, starched and well-fitting, and you will look like a champ before you even enter the ring!
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    Good sportsmanship is a necessity in dressage, if you are causing a disturbance or arguing with the judge you will be disqualified. So be nice and have Fun!


  • Ask questions. Tack shop salespeople, competitors, judges; all are happy to help you.
  • No matter how expensive or inexpensive your show clothes are, keep them very clean and ironed!
  • If you will be competing sidesaddle, a veil must be worn with the habit.
  • Look at photographs of professional riders to get a good sense of what you are looking for.


  • Although a top hat is allowed at higher levels, it is always a good idea to wear a helmet. Horses are large and unpredictable, and you could get hurt.
  • The rules can get complicated, with different rules for different levels, for men and women, and for eventing and pure dressage. Make sure you read and understand them.
  • This is a general overview, however, the dress rules differ. For affiliated competitions, check the rule book. Unaffiliated competitions tend to follow the rules of the national governing body, but are often more lax. Check with the organizers to be certain.
  • More modern, casual jackets are accepted in showjumping, but these are not yet accepted by the dressage governing bodies.

Things You'll Need

  • Black dress boots
  • White breeches
  • Black belt
  • White riding shirt
  • White stock tie
  • Gold stock pin
  • Black riding coat
  • Black helmet or top hat

Article Info

Categories: Horse Showing and Competition