May GoMag cover girl, Ali Grusha decked out in Boo Yah English attire. Photo courtesy of Ali Grusha.

How to Find Timeless Elegance in English Fashion with Kirsten Farris

People like showing horses for a multitude of reasons–the competition, the discipline, or the sheer joy of creating an unlikely partnership between human and horse. While those are common motives, there is one thing that most people, women in particular, really like about showing. That would be…the clothes.

Think about it, where else on earth do dust and designer clothing go together like peanut butter and jelly? The colors, the patterns, the bling, not to mention beautiful saddles, bridles and even contrasting color bands in your horse’s mane. The possibilities are endless.

If you show in English events where you are restricted to wearing a ‘uniform’ that reminds me of private school back in the day, it would seem like English competitors are resigned to blending into a sea of boredom. However, there are a few things that can be done to help you stand out in the crowd without breaking the rules.

In order to stay within the rules, you must first know the rules

booyah2There is always much chatter about what is acceptable while you walk, trot and canter your way around the arena. The most common are, “Do I have to wear gloves?”, “Is a ratcatcher required on my shirt?”, “Can I wear a red hunt coat like I see in the Olympics?”

In case you were wondering, the short answers are: No, gloves are not required; the ratcatcher is the shirt, and, no, you can’t wear a red hunt coat.

With that cleared up, let’s take a look at the actual rules straight out of the 2015 AQHA Handbook. (The APHA rules appear to follow the same guidelines)

SHW320.3–In all English classes, riders should wear hunt coats of traditional colors such as navy, dark green, grey, black or brown. Maroon and red are improper. Breeches are to be of traditional shades of buff, khaki, canary, light grey or rust (or jodhpurs), with high English boots or paddock (jodhpur) boots of black and brown. Black, navy blue or brown hard hat (with harness for youth in any over fence classes) is mandatory. A tie or choker is required. Gloves, spurs of the unrowelled type that are blunt, round or that include a smooth rolling ball and no longer than one inch and crops and bats are optional. Hair must be neat and contained (as in net or braid). Judges must penalize contestants who do not conform.

With that cleared up, we basically have five categories to work with. Starting from the top, we have the helmet, shirt, coat, pants and boots.

Helmet Styles

helmetWith a whopping three legal options to choose from–black, navy or brown, black is the color of choice. If you are a youth exhibitor or competing in over fences classes, then you will need an ATSM/SEI approved helmet.

While you may not like the bulkiness or the harness aspect of an approved helmet, wearing one has an upside. There are actually some cool options when it comes to helmet embellishment. Piping and bling are available on several popular brands of helmets, and you can even have your initials monogrammed on your custom helmet. Just remember, the theme of English classes is traditional, so even though the options are there for you to put as much bling on a helmet as a western jacket–proceed with caution. Pictured left is a very attractive Charles Owen AYR8 Helmet that can be purchased online at

While we are on the topic of helmets, I don’t care how old or how experienced of rider you are or if you are at home or at a show–put a helmet on, especially if you are going to be photographed. Riding over fences without an approved helmet doesn’t make you look cool, it makes you look stupid.

Shirt Styles

boo yahThe only requirement for a shirt is that it must have a choker or a tie. This may seem simple enough, but confusion abounds regarding the choker itself. Some people think the only legal choker is one that is a separate piece of detached (and frequently lost) piece of fabric. However, the accepted definition of a choker is something (as a collar or necklace) worn closely about the throat or neck. Therefore, a shirt with an attached choker collar fastened by snaps or a magnet is entirely legal and if you are buying off the rack, it will probably be your only choice. However, if you choose the convenience of a ‘onesie’ English shirt, you will be missing out on the valuable 4” X 4” piece of visible self expression real estate in your outfit–the collar. (Boo Yah Custom Clothing shirt and jacket pictured left)

There is no legal rule restricting what you put on your collar, however, you should not ignore rules of taste. While a bright, bold contrasting collar may appeal to your inner Betsey Johnson sense of style, when combined with the overall conservative look that is required, it can be downright distracting. There is also no requirement for your shirt as far as color, so if you want to go bold, knock yourself out! However, if you are showing in Equitation, either on the flat or over fences, stick with white, and let your riding be the way to catch the judge’s eye.

Coat Styles

suitsWhile there are restrictions based on color palette, that doesn’t mean that you need to pick a plain navy wool coat. Fit and fabric are the two essential components in a winning look, and there is nothing more elegant than a perfectly fitted coat in a high quality fabric. While the European style coats are very popular on the “A” Hunter/Jumper Circuit, they are uncommon in breed shows. They are designed for more ‘active’ English events – such as Grand Prix Events, and are a bit overkill in a hunter under saddle class. (Boo Yah Custom Shirt and Jacket, pictured left)

There are many opportunities for customization with your coat, starting with the actual pattern in the fabric–checks, pinstripes and texturing in fabric play a big part in your overall look. If you are staying with the classic traditional look, that will be enough to give you some individuality. For the more daring, you can kick it up by adding contrasting piping, collar and pocket colors, or if that seems a bit much for you, go with a bold and different button. The one area of a coat that can really add a splash of color, but is often overlooked, is the lining. When you are taking your victory lap at breakneck speed, some of the red lining of your black jacket will be exposed to give you that extra pop of color, and most of the time, you are the only one who will ever know it’s there.

A shirt and coat go hand-in hand, and if you are looking for a stand-out presentation then go custom. Winning Couture and Boo Yah Custom Clothing are two great places to not only get expert design advice, but their selection of colors and fabrics are endless.

Breeches/Jodhpur Styles

breechesUnless you are showing in Leadline or Small Fry English events, you will be wearing breeches. What’s the difference between breeches and jodhpurs, you ask? Breeches are made to end about calf length and are tight around the leg, making it very easy (in theory anyway) to fit inside your tall boots.

Jodhpurs, like Trix, are for kids, who aren’t wearing tall boots. Just like a regular pant, they are full length and will fit over the top of paddock boots.

As far as color goes, buff or khaki seem to be the most popular, and although people threaten to bring them back into style, rust is not in vogue–at least not as of yet. It seems that every manufacturer has a different vision when it comes to the color khaki. Khaki ranges from off white to almost a greenish color, so try on different colors and see what works best with your jacket and shirt. (Breeches from

Boot Styles

JUS-English-Web-3MBoots, just like shoes, complete your overall look. For the most part, we act like boots only come in black. But if you are daring, and have the right color horse, you might want to live on the fashion edge and go with brown.

No matter what color, the key to a winning look is the fit. Boots should be high, and fit close to your leg–like a glove, so you may have to try a few different brands before you find the right match for you.  Justin Boots, as well as custom boot manufacturers, are venturing out and offering some different touches and embellishments such as patent leather tops or even a hint of bling if you are looking for that something extra. (Pictured above–Justin Ladies Windshire Collection Field Boots available at SmartPak. Click here for more information.)

Although English competitors don’t have unlimited options when it comes to our clothing choices, that doesn’t mean we have to look boring, frumpy and straight out of private school. Think of your outfit as classic and timeless, and like Audrey Hepburn in that little black dress, or James Bond in his tuxedo, simple elegance will always turn heads.

Photos courtesy of Justin Boots, SmartPak, Boo Yah Custom Clothing, Ali Grusha


About the Author: Kirsten Farris is a regular contributor to and a Certified Sport Consultant, Certified Equestrian Fitness Trainer, and the Author of The Workbook for the Equestrian Athlete – A Guide to Showring Success. Kirsten and her horse, Lyles Al Lie, were the 2012 and 2013 AQHA Select World Champion in Hunter Under Saddle and Reserve World Champions in 2014. For more information contact her at: © 2014