Ask the Judge – Confused About Clothes

Dear Amy,

I was recently at a USDF dressage show with a friend of mine. While she was competing, the judge blew the whistle and eliminated her. The judge said this was because my friend’s helmet was not properly secured. This was the helmet she usually competes in, so we were quite surprised she was eliminated. Can the judge do that legally? And what does it mean for a helmet to be “properly” secured? I also have a question on another note, since I do not want to get eliminated: for Christmas, I received two show shirts that have integrated collars. They are beautiful and I cannot wait to wear them, so my question is, what do I do when the weather is warm and coats are waived? Can I still wear these shirts?  Please advise.

Confused about Clothing

Dear Confused,

Thank you for reaching out about these important and interesting dress code rules and violations. I would be happy to review the rulings with you. Let’s start with headgear. 

According to the USEF 2022 rulebook, DR120 1.1, “Protective headgear is defined as a riding helmet, which meets or exceeds current ASTM standards for equestrian use and carries the SEI tag. The harness must be secured and properly fitted. Any rider violating this rule at any time must be prohibited from further riding until the headgear is properly in place.” In your friend’s case, it is possible that her helmet’s harness strap was originally appropriately secure, but by this show, it might have loosened from normal wear and was no longer properly fitted; this might explain why she was never called out before.

This rule is in place for your safety and full protection. In addition to judging your ride, one of the many assessments your judge must make is whether all your dress and equipment are legal for your level and the class in which you are competing. For the judge to have stopped your friend, I am guessing her harness strap was much too loose or the helmet was moving around on her head. It is your judge’s responsibility and duty to keep you safe, and it is both legal and appropriate for the judge to take action if needed. If your judge notices that your strap and/or helmet is not properly fitted before you enter the arena, it is possible you might have time to adjust before you come down the centerline. But once you are in the arena, if the judge believes your equipment is unsafe, her only option is to eliminate you. This is a tough lesson, but a safe one. Whether you are competing at a show or riding at home, please make sure your helmet is securely on your head. 

Now let’s talk about your beautiful new show shirts. The integrated stand-up collar show shirts are very popular this year. For those of you who do not know, this is a shirt with a collar that has non-detachable neckwear built into one solid shirt. This style of shirt has become very popular for many reasons. Besides being quite elegant, there is its convenience factor: No more tying a stock, worrying about placing a pin, or struggling to make sure it is all centered, to name a few things. These shirts look perfect as soon as you put them on. But can you wear them when you are not wearing a coat over them? 

According to USEF 2022 rulebook DR120.15 Shirts with tie, choker, stock tie, or integrated stand up collar are required. Rule 120.21 states that when coats are waived you must wear a shirt with sleeves (long or short), a collar (no t-shirts), and no neckwear. So what to do if you are wearing an integrated shirt? The answer is nothing. You may wear your shirt without penalty. Neckwear is only required to be removed when it is an add-on. There is no need to open any buttons or zippers if there are any. The same also applies if you do have removable neckwear, which you will need to take off when jackets are waived. There is no ruling that requires you to have any button or zipper opened or lowered when not wearing your show coat. However, you should keep in mind that if you do not wear a coat, your shirt (with an integrated collar or not) must not have a bold pattern (if you could see the pattern from a short distance it is likely considered too bold) or bright colors (for example neon green). According to the 2022 rulebook DR124 2b. “Elimination for dress code violations inside the competition ring is mandatory.” So it is very important to be clear on these shirt dress code rules!

I hope this gives you more insight into dress code rules regarding helmets and show shirts. So come proudly down the centerline with your well-fitted helmet and secure chin strap and show off your beautiful new shirts with or without your coat, with no worries about neckwear. Do remember to wear your smile! And enjoy the ride.

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