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Splitting Hairs: Tips for Styling Your Hair at Shows – with Shorty Koger and Spike Brewer

Your hat is your crown in the show ring and while it is often considered the finishing touch for your outfit, particularly in the western division, sometimes it can be difficult to find a hairstyle that balances functionality with comfort and panache. 

We spoke to Shorty Koger of Shorty’s Caboy Hattery and Elizabeth “Spike” Brewer, co-owner of Boo-Yah Custom Clothing, for their observations and recommendations when styling different cuts under cowboy hats and helmets.

Styling Hair Under a Helmet

When it comes to the English division, the hairstyle is consistent: tucked away neatly under the cap. Clean, professional lines are the hallmark of the more formal English division and there isn’t wiggle room for unique hairstyles.

According to Spike, “I think the hair should always be tucked under your helmet or in a neat bun with a hairnet. An exhibitor’s hair should never be down under a helmet for any English event.” The hairnet should not be one of those crocheted black ones (pictured right) that look gaudy and overdone. The simple black, blonde, or brown ones you can buy at the drugstore are fine.

While efforts have been made to add more color to the outfits in hunt seat classes, the classic hairnet under the helmet likely won’t be going away any time soon.

Styling Short Hair Under a Western Hat

Obviously, for very short hair, there won’t be much to style. Our experts simply remind us to keep bangs away from the eyes so that you can navigate the ring without them obstructing your view.

For hair that is a little longer, Spike says, “I think it looks nice when the hair hangs straight and has some hold to it. It’s a very sleek look in the pen.” She advises that you simply want to ensure that the hair isn’t swinging around in a way that adds distraction or looks unkempt.

Shorty agrees that hair should be styled “neatly under the hat with no wispy hairs” that make the overall image seem unkempt in any way.

Styling Mid-Length Hair Under a Western Hat

Spike believes the styling for mid-length hair is dependent on the event you are showing in. “If you are doing the horsemanship, I think the hair needs to be neatly contained in a bun. If someone is showing in the trail, pleasure, or western riding, it can be pulled back in a slick ponytail.”

Shorty agrees, “I think mid-length hair should be pulled back in a ponytail, making sure there is no gap between the hat and the ponytail.”

If your hair is too long to wear straight, but too short or thin to look stylish in a ponytail, there are options for tie-in hair extensions that add weight and substance to a ponytail – similar to a fake tail for your horse.

Styling Long Hair Under a Western Hat

Like their suggestions for mid-length styling, our experts prefer a low, neat ponytail for longer hair. Spike explains, “For a cowboy hat, if showing in the pleasure or ranch events, I think a neatly contained ponytail looks very nice. It should be lying flat, and not flopping around.” 

Both of our experts agree that styling for young kids is a little more flexible, allowing for braids to be worn under the hat.

Again, regardless of age, your hair should look polished and avoid becoming the focal point of your look – if the hair is moving around wildly, it can add unnecessary movement and make you appear to be moving faster than you are. Therefore, ensuring the ponytail (or braid) has weight to it will help your hair sit more firmly down your back. The lower the hair tie is positioned, the less inclined the hair will be to excessive bouncing.

Long swinging ponytails are very distracting in classes like horsemanship. Kind of in the same vein that fringe is not appropriate for horsemanship and showmanship classes. Nothing should distract from the overall classic, clean-cut look appropriate for these.

Where the exhibitor has a lot of long hair, Shorty warns that you may need to add circumference to your hat size to allow for your hairstyle, particularly if you are needing to pile any hair on top of your head, like for the horsemanship. You want to avoid any hairstyle that makes your hat sit improperly on your head.


Overall, Spike reminds us, “Hair spray is your friend! It will add hold and help control the flyaways. Bobby pins and hairnets are also your best friend when doing a bun and helping control flyaways.”

The goal for all exhibitors, regardless of class or discipline, should be to look neat and presentable and avoid any hairstyle that would create unnecessary or distracting movement and might also obstruct your vision in the ring.

About the Author:  Megan Rechberg is a pleasure horse enthusiast who works as a full-time mom, part-time litigation attorney, and owner/operator of Bred N Butter Equine Management – a company that focuses on social media management for stallions, consulting, and sales and breeding contracts. She will be showing her APHA yearling SmoreThanA PrettyFace under the guidance of Double A Performance Horses in 2023.