When it comes to wardrobe for a show, what is considered essential falls into two categories: What is essential to compete, and what is essential to win. The guidelines for competition wear can be fairly specific, and can be downloaded from the USEF website.

Each class has its own requirements. For convenience’s sake, here are the basics:

HUNTERS

The requirements for Hunters are the most specific. That’s because the sport is derived from actual hunting, and some of the clothing items originally had practical purposes. (For example, the stock tie could serve as a bandage.) As a result, judges can be strict in their application and enforcement of the dress code.

Riders are required to wear short coats free from embellishments which the judges might find overly distracting. “Overly distracting” means whatever the judges think it means. So you might want to do some homework on the preferences of the judges at your show. In any case, the coat must be a conservative color—black, blue, green, grey or brown. Scarlet jackets are for those who have earned their colors in a recognized hunt. Notice how specific this guidance is?

Breeches may be white, buff, canary, rust or tan. No colors are specified for shirts, but they must have a choker, a similar collar or a tie. Boots or smooth leather half-chaps are required, along with a hunt cap or protective headgear.

In addition to honoring the traditions, these restrictions are in large part because—in the Hunter class—your horse should be the focus of the judge’s attention. That said, a tastefully paired shirt can capture the right degree of tradition and still exude some distinction.

JUMPERS

Required jumper wardrobe varies depending on the category in which you’re competing: Standard, Proper, or Formal.

Coats are not required for Standard Jumper attire. Shirts must have collars and sleeves of any length, can include polos, and must be tucked in. Any color breeches are permitted. Boots are required. Half chaps may be worn as long as they match your paddock boots; i.e. they have the look of full boots.

Proper Jumper attire requires a coat, but it can be any color, which opens up opportunities for your personal style. Light colors are required for the breeches; however pastels are not permitted. Likewise, shirts must be a light color, tucked into breeches, closed at the top of the neck, and secured by a tie or choker of any color. The Standard rules for boots and half chaps apply here too.

Formal Jumper attire is just what the same implies. Dark or muted color coats are required, except that you may also choose a scarlet coat. Coats representing teams or sponsors are also permitted. Breeches must be either white or fawn. Shirts must be white or light colored, fastened at the neck and tucked into breeches, with a white collar and cuffs. A white tie, choker, or hunting stock is also mandatory. The Standard rules for boots and half chaps apply here again. Members of the police or Armed Forces may wear their service dress uniform with protective headgear.

EQUITATION

Interestingly, while Equitation wardrobe rules are the same as Hunters, this is the place where style inside the rules can be rewarded. That’s because Equitation judges the rider’s skill and presentation. You are being judged against an ideal. The better sense you have of what the judges at your show consider ideal can help inform your wardrobe decisions.

Your coat must be a conservative color (black, blue, green, grey or brown), and free from adornment which in the judge’s opinion is overly distracting. Shirts must have a choker, similar collar or a tie. Breeches may be buff, canary, tan, rust or white.

If you aren’t able to gain a sense of the judges’ preferences before you compete, the safe choice is always to go with simple and classic: a black or navy coat, tan breeches, and a white shirt, all with little-to-no adornment.

Regardless of your final wardrobe decisions, be sure you look meticulously put-together with attention to detail. Boots, polished. Jacket, lint- and hair-free. Shirt and breeches, stain-free. And come to the show prepared to maintain your look throughout the competition. Light-colored breeches are notoriously susceptible to dirt. Have multiple changes or a plan to get them clean between your trips.

Most of all, choose a wardrobe that instills you with confidence. Nothing looks better on a horse than a confident rider, regardless of the event.