When you shop for your English-riding apparel and tack, keep two words in mind: traditional and functional. Your specific turnout will depend on the event in which you plan to compete. The athletic look you see on a cross-country course will be out of place in the elegant hunter ring. But with a conservative, classy basic turnout, you’ll be ready to give any English event a go.
English-riding apparel is tailored, but not restrictive. Today’s riding clothes are made from new techno-fabrics that combine great looks with moisture-wicking properties, ventilation, and stretch. They’re also available in more sizes than ever before. 1824 Arnott Mason, for example, offers clothing lines specifically designed for tall, petite, and plus-size riders. Here’s how to put together a show-ready English outfit, from helmet to boot.
- Helmet. Your black-velvet show helmet should meet or exceed the current safety standards. (Look for the astm/sei mark.) Today’s helmets are good-looking, light, low profile, ventilated, and very comfortable. Reputable manufacturers, such as International Riding Helmets and Troxel, offer headgear in a wide variety of styles, colors, and prices. If you prefer to school in a light-colored helmet, buy a black velvet helmet cover to wear at competitions. Or, reserve a black-velvet safety helmet just for shows.
- Breeches. Breeches can be heavy or lightweight, pull-on or fasten with a zip. They can have a little stretch or a lot of stretch. Warm-weather breeches are typically made from knitted microfiber or from a combination of cotton and Lycra; cold-weather breeches are typically made from or lined with polyester fleece. Breeches feature leather patches on the inside of the legs for added grip and durability. Beige, buff, and khaki breeches are appropriate for English competition.
- Shirt/choker. Your riding shirt should be long-sleeved, and roomy enough to be comfortable. When you try on a shirt, get into riding position and move as you would on horseback, including reaching forward with your arms, as you’d do over a jump. (Do the same thing when you try on a jacket.) Over the shirt, you may wear a choker (a same-fabric detachable collar) fastened with a stock pin (pinned horizontally), or a stock tie, also fastened with a stock pin. Many riders prefer a monogrammed collar as an alternate to wearing the stock pin on the choker.
- Dressage jacket/hunt coat. Dressage jackets are traditionally single-vented; hunt coats are double-vented. At the lower levels of competition, a hunt coat is perfectly acceptable in dressage classes. In dressage, black and navy are appropriate colors. In the hunter ring, black is out, but navy and dark gray are always in style (see page 14). English Riding Supply, 1824 Arnott Mason, and Intec Performance Gear/International Riding Helmets all offer comfortable, lightweight, versatile jackets in flexible fabrics and attractive colors.
- Boots. Traditional English show boots are knee-high, black, and leg-hugging. Your new boots may seem too tall at first–that’s normal. During the break-in period, they’ll acquire a wrinkle or two at the ankle and drop an inch or two in height. Field boots–the ones with the lacing–are acceptable at most informal competitions. But upgrade to dress boots as you advance to higher-level competition. Ariat, Mountain Horse, Der-Dau, and Dehner are some popular brands of English-riding footgear.
- Accessories. Think minimalist. Competition spurs are just smooth metal, and polished to a bright shine. Your belt–if any–will be narrow and made from dark leather. Limit your jewelry to small ear studs, and wear minimal makeup. Keep a pair or two of gloves for competitions– dark leather or fabric will blend with your overall look while protecting fingers and improving grip. If you’re an eventer, you’ll be required to wear a medical armband and a safety vest during the cross-country phase. Some competitors match their helmet covers, shirts, and saddle pads, and their horses’ boots or bandages. Safety vests can also be purchased in custom colors and patterns.
English show tack tends to be exactly like English schooling tack. In fact, a rider’s English show tack is usually her schooling tack, cleaned and polished within an inch of its life. If you buy simple, conservative, dark-colored tack and keep it clean, you can use it when you school, when you show, and when you go down the trails.
- Saddle. English saddles come in three basic styles. Dressage saddles have a wide, deep seat and straight-cut flap to accommodate the rider’s more upright position and longer leg. Close-contact or jumping saddles have a more forward-cut flap and a flat seat, to enable the rider to better achieve a two-point position (in which her seat is out of the saddle with her legs as the only two points of contact). All-purpose or eventing saddles have a moderately deep seat and wide flaps that are forward-cut enough to keep the rider comfortable for flatwork and jumping. The Bates Caprilli Close Contact (shown below), perfect for hunters, jumpers, and eventers, features a deeper seat than most other jumping saddles, for extra stability.
- Fittings. When you buy an English saddle, all you get is… the saddle. You must purchase your stirrup leathers, stirrups, stirrup pads, and girth separately. The good news: Most saddle manufacturers make girths and leathers that match their saddles. Your stirrups should be heavy stainless steel, with white pads for comfort and traction. There are various types of show-ring-acceptable safety stirrups designed to release a trapped foot: Peacock stirrups replace the outside branch with a heavy rubberband, and Australian-pattern or “S-curve” stirrups have a curved outside branch.
- Saddle pad. Your show pad should be white, absolutely clean, thin, and unobtrusive. Most are made from quilted cloth or fleece.
- Bridle. English bridles consist of a headstall, cavesson (nose band), browband, two cheekpieces, reins, and a bit. Purchase the bit separately. Some bridles come with reins, and some don’t. Ordering the reins separately lets you specify the length, width, and texture that you prefer.
- More than one horse? You don’t necessarily have to buy more than one saddle–investigate the “Collegiate Conver-tibles” from Weatherbeeta usa. Choose your style–close contact, eventing, or dressage. All three of these leather saddles feature the Easy-Change Gullet System. “These are attractive, affordable, and adjustable, ideal for the entry-level English rider with more than one horse,” says Weatherbeeta marketing manager Mary Conti.
- On a budget? Think synthetic! Good synthetic saddles are lightweight, inexpensive, easy to clean, and perfectly acceptable at almost all competitions. Thorowgood and Win-tec both make excellent synthetic saddles, and Wintec now offers a matching synthetic bridle. You can mix and match your tack, just as long as the colors are similar enough to present a nice, pulled-together picture in the show ring.
Express yourself! Tradition and understated elegance are required at competitions, but for schooling at home, only three things matter: safety, comfort, and personal style. Here are some tips.
- Schooling helmets. Invest in a schooling helmet, which will be just as protective as your velvet show helmet, but much less costly. For maximum comfort in hot summer weather, a light-colored schooling helmet will help you keep cool while you stay safe. Schooling helmets come in black, white, and an array of colors and patterns. You can personalize yours with decals or with a colorful helmet cover.
- Boots, riding pants, shirts. You’ll wear tall boots and breeches at competitions, but tall boots aren’t always comfortable and cool, and light-colored show breeches are excellent stain-collectors. For safety reasons, you’ll still need protective footgear with a one-piece sole and a small heel, but for schooling and casual riding, you may prefer the easy-on, easy-off combination of paddock boots and half-chaps. You can then remove your chaps when not in the saddle, for comfort. Ariat International, Mountain Horse, and Dansko are a few good sources of comfortable, durable paddock boots. (Tip: If removing your half-chaps leaves your skin exposed between the bottom of your breeches and the top of your paddock boots, invest in jodhpurs–riding pants that are longer than breeches, cuffed, and intended for use with short boots.) Polo shirts, comfortable and well ventilated, are standard schooling garb–but so are t-shirts and rugby shirts. Underneath, consider wearing a sports bra made for equestrians, for comfort.
- The wild side. Schooling clothing can be just as wild, crazy, and colorful as you like–no pattern is too strange and no color combination too wild. If you want to wear bright red riding tights with your orange polo shirt, go right ahead. Do you like the look of jeans? Try TuffRider denim breeches from jpc. Would you like to school in plaid, zebra stripes, leopard print, or screaming purple? No problem. You can find schooling breeches and riding tights in just about every color imaginable. You won’t need to sacrifice comfort or quality, either. Kerrits, eq Rider, Tropical Rider, Devon-Aire, Boink, and 1824 Arnott Mason offer an impressive variety of showing and schooling apparel. If winter schooling warmth is a concern, Ariat and Mountain Horse offer stylish, weatherproof outerwear, and the new Irideon riding tights and tops from Toklat are designed for layering.
You may like to use a separate saddle and bridle for schooling. Or, you may have one saddle and two bridles–one for schooling, one for show. You’ll also need two tack accessories for schooling–saddle pads, and polo wraps or protective boots.
- Saddle pads. Those blazing-white show pads look spectacular in the show ring, but as every rider knows, white pads are magnets for dust, dirt, and stains, so save yours for competition. You can buy a white schooling pad, or you can branch out. You’ll find they come in all colors, color combinations, and patterns. If you want a pad that features sheep, cats, stars, chili peppers, or a bright tie-dye pattern, you’ll be able to find it.
- Leg protection. If you want your horse to have that color-coordinated look while you school, you can probably find polo wraps to match your saddle pad. Polo wraps provide some leg protection in case your horse knocks one leg with another. If you’d rather use boots than wraps, feel free–brushing boots, splint boots, and sport boots aren’t allowed in the show ring, but are fine for schooling. And once again, you can have fun with colors. Sports boots and splint boots, such as those from Classic Equine, come in a wide range of colors, and you can even purchase a set of splint boots with built-in glitter.
A Bit on Bits
English riding involves constant light contact through the reins to create constant communication between the bit and your hands. Your horse needs to be familiar and comfortable with his bit, so the one he wears at a show will usually be the same one he wears when you’re schooling at home.
For most English-riding competitions, the appropriate bit is a snaffle– one without shanks. A shanked–or curb–bit features a metal piece welded to each end of the bit’s mouthpiece, to which you’d attach the reins. This bit– which typically features a chin strap or chain–provides leveraged pressure to your horse’s mouth and poll, and isn’t appropriate in English riding. (Tip: Some shanked bits with jointed mouthpieces are mislabeled as “snaffles.” Don’t be fooled. If a bit has shanks, it’s a curb.) With a snaffle bit, you’ll apply direct pressure to your horse’s mouth.
Smooth, unadorned metal is the standard for both mouthpiece and rings. Many of today’s most popular English bits, such as the ones made by Herm Sprenger and Kangaroo, are made from alloys containing some copper.
Innovative bits that have gained a following among top hunter/jumper professionals include Myler and Mikmar bits. “We’re just trying to get your horse as relaxed as possible so it’s easier for you to train him as you see fit,” says Dale Myler of the snaffle bits he has designed, which give your horse release “when he relaxes and comes to you.” Mikmar bits, which were developed years ago by horseman Frank Evans, have been acclaimed recently by the likes of international show jumping stars Ludger Beerbaum, Rodrigo Pessoa, and Kevin Babington. These bits are designed to disperse the pressure of the rider’s hands by sending a signal to the nose, jaw, poll, bars, and tongue simultaneously.