*affiliate links may be included in this post to give you an idea of my recommendations and what brands/types of apparel items are a good start to creating your equestrian wardrobe.
As an instructor, first-time equestrian parents frequently ask me what their children should wear to their riding lessons. While many facilities don’t have a dress code, there is some merit to dressing appropriately for your lessons.
There are four main elements to an appropriate riding outfit. While equestrian apparel has influenced fashion on the runways of Milan, Paris, and New York, the clothing we’re talking about today is also functional for both the rider and trainer.
I currently live in North Carolina; a state that remains 90 degrees (F) or above for 70% of the year. I understand why many riders come to the barn in shorts and tank tops. However, I also have scars up and down the inside of my legs from not wearing proper pants for my riding lessons. What you don’t realize, until it’s too late, is that the leather from the saddle can cause rubs and blisters.
Thankfully, there are a lot of options for breeches:
- Real breeches, either high or low-rise.
- Riding tights.
As both a trainer and a rider, I will only ride in breeches unless I’m unexpectedly getting on a horse and only have jeans in my car. The problem with riding tights is that they can be slippery and are generally deemed, “unprofessional.” While jeans are more acceptable than tights, the fabric is coarse and can damage the leather of your saddle over time.
Benefits of Breeches for the Rider
Breeches are designed for riding in an English saddle, so they provide extra grip for your leg and are sewn without irritating seams to account for the regular pressure, friction, and position while riding. Breeches also come in a variety of styles depending on what discipline you’re in, and there are a variety of colors that you can choose from.
Benefits of Breeches for the Trainer
As a coach, I need to be able to see your position while riding. Breeches are fitted and provide a middle seam in the back so that I can see where your hips and seat-bones are in the saddle.
If you are planning on competing, you will be required to wear breeches. In my experience, competition brings out nerves and anxiety that students don’t realize is there. Getting used to dressing appropriately and wearing breeches in your lessons alleviates a lot of stress in a competition. More than that, they make riding a little bit easier, and it helps your trainer give more accurate instruction.
Sometimes my beginner students will come for lessons in rubber boots or sneakers. Though the only requirement for shoes is that they have a smooth sole with a slight heel, I’ve found that riders struggle to find the correct position when wearing non-equestrian footwear.
What many new riders don’t understand is that correct position isn’t meant to make you look pretty (though it does help), rather, it’s intended to keep you safe and allow both you and the horse to have a quality ride. The foundation of this correct position is in your heels.
Exercise Break! #squatchallenge
Take a minute and do a proper squat.
Your knees should be over your feet but not passing your toes, with your heels supporting the bulk of your weight allowing you to slightly lift and wiggle your toes. Your hips should be pressing back, engaging your quads while your core engages in supporting your lower back and opening your chest. If you’re at the bottom of your proper squat, with your weight in your heels and someone tries to push or pull you in one direction, you’re able to keep your balance and adjust your weight to keep from falling.
When your boots aren’t designed for riding, it inhibits your heel from stretching down far enough. This keeps you from creating your base and may even cause your foot to slide out of the stirrup.
My recommendation is to wear paddock boots to your lessons. If you are under the age of 13 and are jumping fences that are 2’3” or lower, you can wear paddock boots with your breeches. However, if you are 13+ years old OR are jumping fences higher than 2’3”, then you also need to wear half-chaps along with your paddock boots.
I recommend wearing half-chaps no matter what age or riding level because they provide added protection to your legs against any rubbing that may be caused by the stirrup leathers.
Depending on your barn, you may already have a dress code requirement for lessons. Regarding rider benefits, the shirt you wear won’t matter to you, but it will affect your trainer’s ability to see your position and give you accurate feedback.
Always choose a fitted shirt, regardless of style. When you wear baggy shirts while you ride, the wind will pick it up and cause it to blow out behind you. This makes it nearly impossible for your trainer to see how you carry your shoulders and the curve of your spine.
As both a rider and trainer, my preference for shirts during lessons is either a polo shirt or a sun shirt. When I’m schooling on my own, a fitted t-shirt is ok, but I usually ride with a collared shirt regardless.
When I was competing as a Junior (under 18 years old), my trainer required us to wear a collared shirt whenever ‘lessoning’ or schooling out of respect for her and the barn we represented.
My final note on shirt choice is to make sure you tuck it in and wear a belt. Tucking your shirt in ensures that it won’t be picked up by the wind and will create a finished, polished look.
This is the most important item for a rider, and I’m surprised at how many parents will have their children wear school-owned helmets for years.
They are expensive. However, a helmet that doesn’t fit properly won’t necessarily provide the protection needed in the event of a fall.
Have someone at a tack shop help you pick out an appropriate helmet. When you try it on, make sure it fits snug with your hair in a low ponytail. You shouldn’t be able to move the helmet by shaking your head or looking in different directions.
When you put your helmet on for your lesson, make sure your hair is pulled back and out of your face. I was required to wear a hairnet for every lesson, and I still wear one every time I ride. While your hair doesn’t have to be up, under your helmet for lessons, the hairnet will keep any wisps of hair out of your face and protect your hair from breakage.
Part of your equestrian attire is about looking professional and ready to learn. However, a greater part of dressing for your lessons is about protecting your body and giving you the best chance to succeed.