The Complete Guide To Equestrian Dressage Attire

March 29, 2021 6 min read

The Complete Guide To Equestrian Dressage Attire

You may have heard of the saying: Dress for the job that you want, not the one you have.

It’s a notion that has been debated in business circles, but for equestrians, it cannot be any more true—especially if you practice dressage riding.

”Dressage” comes from a French word that means training—a process that every equestrian will be doing if they want to join a competition. It involves multiple tests with progressively difficult levels where both the horse and the rider are judged based on how well they can perform a series of movements from memory. It requires lots of patience and practice, which is why you will need all the help you can get, and that includes a good outfit. Sometimes, simply having the right gear can boost your confidence and may even help you ride better.

Dressage attire requirements

Before we get into the details of dressage rules, take note that while they are similar, there are some differences between English and Western dressage. The main difference between these two is that one requires English tack while the other compels riders to use Western tack. Western dressage has less rules than English, too—for example, riders are not required to wear white breeches nor to use a bit.

With that out of the way, let’s cover the basics of a dressage outfit! In general, you want to choose conservative colors for both yourself and your horse. These colors include black, navy blue, brown, cream, beige, and white—subtle hues that will allow the judges to assess your performance without being distracted by flashy pops of color.

Next, you want to keep an overall balance for your outfit. For example, if you plan to wear a helmet with crystals or diamonds on it, you may want to choose some low-key black boots, especially if you are at the lower levels.

Wearing the right outfit will not only give a nice, lasting impression on your peers and the judges, it will save you from being deducted points, or worse, eliminated.A ground jury may eliminate you on the grounds of performing a test in an incorrect dress.

For this reason, please check the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) or theUnited States Dressage Federation (USDF) websites to see if they have updated their dress code. There, they specifically break down every permissible piece of equipment for every level.

Proper tack for your horse

Depending on the type of dressage competition you will be participating in, you will either need a Western or English saddle. Take note that in an English dressage competition, Western saddles are not permitted, so you will need an English saddle with flaps and stirrups. The English saddle also cannot have a horn, swell, gallerie, or open gullet. This is required for all tests and classes, excluding those taking tests under the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, or FEI. In that case, a dressage saddle is required and must be close to the horse. It must also have long, near-vertical flaps and stirrups.

There are also dressage saddles, which are required at the higher levels and are specifically designed to help you ace the tests in the competition.A dressage saddle has a deep seat, providing you close contact with your horse to give them precise instructions through finely tuned movements. It will also allow you to adopt a better position in trickier parts of the tests.

Bridles must be worn by the horse at all levels. At higher levels, such as those at the elementary or Grand Prix level, a snaffle or double bridle may be worn. Some may even require it, so be sure to check in with the organizers of the event for details.

While a wide variety of bits are allowed, bit guards are not permitted in the arena. Boots and bandages may only be worn in the warm-up and other training areas, but not during the tests. Doing so may result in elimination.

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Middle Riser Anti-Slip Gel Pad - Kavallerie

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Rear Riser Anti-Slip Gel Pad - Kavallerie

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Kavallerie offers some high-quality saddle pads that you can bring to a dressage event in order to provide your horse comfort and protection while performing.

Outfit ideas for the rider or equestrian

An equestrian dressage attire includes a shirt with collar, white breeches (if you are participating in an English dressage event—Western events may allow other colors), tall riding boots, a coat, gloves, protective headgear, and for those with long hair, a hairnet to keep yourself looking presentable.

As mentioned, choose subtle colors when picking out clothes for your dressage attire.

Members of armed and police forces, whether retired or active, can wear their uniforms along with gloves and regulatory headgear.

Dressage riding necessities

You can get eliminated for performing a test with an improper saddle, so it is absolutely important that you use the right one. A dressage whip may be used as long as it does not exceed 120 cm (47.2 inches).

Saddle pads are allowed so long as they are white or of conservative color, and not striped nor multi-colored. As mentioned, you’re going to want all the help you can get, so bringing a saddle pad is definitely a wise choice.

Common dressage mistakes

Wearing proper equestrian dressage attire is not only fashionable, it’s safe too! Still, some opt to compromise safety for their sartorial choices, which is a big no-no. One of the most common equestrian dressage mistakes is wearing improper headgear. Others wear cotton hats and caps, which may look good in pictures, but definitely not good for the skull if you get into an accident.

Always opt to wear ASTM/SEI certified and properly fitted equestrian helmets when riding. Remember— this is still different from the helmets one wears when riding bikes. Check a proper store to find the one that best fits your needs.

How to choose the best dressage tack

Consider the shape of your horse’s withers when choosing a saddle as well as a pad. For example, a horse with high withers will need a saddle that has good clearance. As mentioned, a high-withered horse can truly benefit from a half-pad as it provides therapeutic padding while still doing its other purposes such as wicking moisture. If your horse has low withers, you may want a saddle designed for haflingers as these have flat top-lines and shorter backs, which will conform to the shape of his withers. A front-riser saddle pad is a good way to help balance out the ride by providing extra padding on the front.  

If you want to show off embroidered logos, a full saddle pad is the one for you! Breed logos and country flags are permitted, but only professionals (of any age) are allowed to show off their sponsor. Make sure that the logo does not exceed 200 square cm.

You should also consider the materials used. A saddle pad without any soft lining can cause irritation for your horse. A gel dressage saddle pad is perhaps the best choice, as it is a very thin like half pad, but will do its job in absorbing impact and evenly distributing weight along your horse’s back. It can also be relieving for horses suffering from a sore back.

Fashion inspiration for dressage riding

Just because you have to use conservative colors for your outfit doesn’t mean you need to look plain! You can have interesting details on your helmet, such as gold accents or adding some shimmer on top. You don’t want it to be too flashy that it’ll distract the judges, but it can at least make you more memorable!

Lace show shirts have also been on the rise in dressage fashion trends. Not only does the material make you look classy, it will make air easier to seep through which can be a relief in hot weather.

You don’t need to limit fashion to yourself—you can apply it on your horse, too!Braiding your horse’s hair gives them a more refined appearance, and prevents their hair from tangling especially if it is quite long. Dressage braids are specifically used for dressage events, which bear a similarity to hunter braids except they are larger and resemble rosette buttons. These braids highlight the muscles on a horse's topline while performing precise movements.

Make sure to follow the dress code when participating in a dressage event, as not doing so will result in a deduction of points or elimination! Check out our article about horse withers if you want to know more about what kind of tack they require, or our complete guide to proper saddle pad sizing to get the perfect fit for your horse!