Ask the Judge – What to Wear?

Dear Amy.
I was recently a spectator at a USEF Dressage show. I enjoyed watching all the rides but I saw so many different outfits. I always thought dressage meant a black coat and white pants. At this show I saw many people not wearing a coat; someone was in a military uniform; there was a rider in a vest; there was someone with grey boots, and I saw lots of sparkly accents on everything from bridles to gloves and helmets. I though dressage dress was supposed to be traditional and conservative, but I guess not! I was wondering how you know what is acceptable. 

Surprised by Variety

Dear Surprised,

I am so glad you are enjoying watching the dressage shows. It is nice to have interested spectators. I would be happy to help you learn more about the dress codes. 

Times have definitely changed when it comes to what is acceptable. Riders now can put a personal touch on their competition attire, within certain parameters, depending on the rating of the show and in what class and at what levels they are competing. The rules for what you are permitted to wear can be found in the USEF 2019 rulebook under DR120 Dress. Let’s look at what kind of turnout is acceptable. 

1. National Level Show with dressage tests and classes Fourth level and below.

  1. A short riding coat. This may also be a cutaway coat, which is like a modified tailcoat, with no tails. The color should be a solid conservative color, but riders are no longer required to be in solid black. Popular colors are navy, brown, grey and burgundy. Contrast coloring and piping as well as tasteful accents on the collars and pockets are also acceptable as are tasteful crystal accents (“bling”), which are popular and permitted. 
  2. A tie, a choker, a stock tie and/or an integrated standup collar is mandatory unless coats are waived. 
  3. There is no ruling about the coloring or style of the rider’s shirt since it will covered by his or her jacket and neckwear (unless jackets are waived.)
  4. White or light-colored breeches or jodhpurs are permitted. White still seems to be the most popular color, but cream is also very common. 
  5. Belts: there is no ruling about wearing a belt. It is always optional. 
  6. Gloves of conservative color are recommended, but not mandatory to wear. White, which is the traditional color, is the most popular. Other popular colors include black, and colors that match the jacket.
  7. Boots or jodhpur boots are permitted. Half chaps, gators and leggings are not allowed. There is an exception: if you ride First Level and below, you may wear half chaps, gators or leggings, but they must be in solid black or brown, without a fringe and matching the color of the boots. They must be smooth leather or leather-like material. Boots today are allowed to have detail. You are even allowed to wear colored boots. Popular boot colors are similar to popular jacket colors: navy, brown, grey or burgundy. Many riders have their boots in the same color as their jackets. Boots can even have interesting patterns and designs, especially on the boots’ “toppers” or cuffs, which may also be in a contrasting or complementary color. Patent leather is currently very popular. Boots can even have visible or hidden zippers. Field boots (with laces at the footbed) are also acceptable.
  8. Protective headgear is mandatory. The helmet must fit securely and the strap under your chin must be taut. A loose-fitting helmet could lead to elimination. Today, helmets may also be in various colors and be decorated with bling. 

2. National Level Show with dressage tests and classes above Fourth level (FEI classes) 

  1. A dark tailcoat. Riders may also wear a dark short jacket. The color options are the same as for Fourth Level and below: navy, brown, black, and so on. 
  2. Stock tie, tie, or integrated stand-up color is required. These can be the same color as the coat. 
  3. There is no ruling about the coloring or style of the shirt since it will covered by the jacket and neckwear (unless jackets are waived.)
  4. White or light-colored breeches are acceptable. Jodhpurs are not permitted.
  5. Belts: there is no ruling about wearing a belt. It is always optional. 
  6. Gloves are a must. White is the most popular color, but they can be the same color as the coat. 
  7. Boots should be a black riding boot or they can be the same color as the coat. Contrasting cuffs, decorations and zippers are also permitted.  
  8. Protective headgear is mandatory.

3. Exceptions

A. Current or retired members of the Armed Forces or a police unit may ride in the dress uniform of their service. In extreme heat, they may wear their summer uniform. Protective headgear is mandatory.

B. In case of extreme heat, jackets may be waived. In this case, it is up to the rider whether to wear a jacket or not. If you choose not to wear a jacket, the following rules apply: Riders must wear a shirt with sleeves, (long or short) and with a collar (no t-shirts.) There is no specific color for the shirt, only that it should not have decorations, except modest piping and color accents. Conservative is best. 

C. Cooling vests or lightweight vests may be worn under or over a riding shirt. The vest should be of a solid color. Vests are common when jackets are waived. 

Judges like to see neat and well-turned out riders, because it gives the impression that they are prepared to do their best. It is a pleasure to see riders who have taken care of all the details, and maybe even expressed their own taste and style in their outfits. But in the end, it is not the clothing or the turnout that will get a score. It is all about how the horse performs. 

Thank you for being so observant. Please come back and watch again. The riders appreciate your support.

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