Every athlete knows that you can’t always be the winner. There are always factors that are out of your control to prevent you from winning. I figure, if I can’t be the winner, I can always be the best dressed with the best turnout. Ainsley Vince has a bit of a reputation for being one of the best dressed equestrians on the circuit. Her horses are always up at the ring with neat plaits in their mane, bonnets and matching saddle pads in her barn colours of grey, sky blue and black, and polished, French tack.
While super-groom extraordinaire Jenny Courchesne (when they perfect human cloning, I’m ordering 10 of her) makes sure the horses are always looking perfect, Ainsley herself is often wearing a matching grey and sky blue coat. This has rubbed off on me. Like Ainsley, my horses are almost always braided up at the ring, and I try to make sure that my colours of grey, burgundy and blue and nicely coordinated with my horse’s apparel and my attire.
While Ainsley’s rounds are generally well done and her riding has an effortless finish to it, this quality of performance is expected from a professional. I feel, that as an amateur, slight mistakes in my riding are acceptable, but a sloppy turnout is not. I like to take pride in my appearance, and I think that taking the extra time to look good demonstrates a level of respect for the sport, the officials, your trainer, fellow competitors, your horse, and above all, yourself.
However, there are a lot of others who don’t feel this way. I was recently in Ocala, and I noticed that in a lot of the lower jumper divisions, a lot of the other competitors showed up to the ring with a sloppy turnout. A lot of people think “but it’s the (jumper ring/schooling class/au concours), your turnout doesn’t matter!” I strongly disagree. Here are my do’s and don’ts of proper turnout in the show ring.
1. You Don’t Need to be Matchy-Matchy
Does Ainsley look great in the ring with all her gear done in custom colours? Absolutely. Is it a requirement to buy expensive custom products? Not at all. While it’s nice to have all your things in matching barn colours, its not entirely necessary. A lot of stock products come in neutral colours that would look great on any horse, and can create a polished look that doesn’t max out your credit card. Black bonnets and tendon boots are guaranteed to look smashing on any coloured horse – whether its a pinto or a dark bay. A clean, crisp white saddle pad will always look good, and a little bleach will get rid of any stains and keep it looking like new. Some of you might get bored with black and white, but navy blue and grey will generally be alright as well. If you do want to go the custom route, my friend Ardie at Blueberry Hill can order a completely custom wardrobe for both you and your horse. She also has plenty of conservative stock to make sure you’ll look lovely (and still have enough money in your chequing account to actually go to a show). Plus, you’ll spare yourself the 4-6 weeks wait-time for your custom order to arrive.
2. You Don’t Need a Bonnet
McLain Ward almost never puts a bonnet on his horses when they compete, and I think they look just as nice as those that do have one on. One of my biggest pet peeves is ugly, or poorly fitting bonnets. It drives me absolutely bananas to see a horse with a too short, or too pointy, or just plain ugly bonnet. That faded maroon bonnet with the frayed silver tin-foil trim that doesn’t fit your horse’s head should stay at the barn if you won’t send it to the rubbish bin.
If you do insist on wearing a bonnet, it should be one of three colours: navy blue, black, or grey. The only exception is brown, which belongs almost exclusively on a chestnut horse. Of course adding coloured trim is more than acceptable, but the base colours should be conservative. If you’re not sure what you should have, just ask Katie or Steph at De La Coeur, and they’ll make sure your horse’s bonnet looks fabulous without breaking the bank.
3. Shadbellies and White Breeches Don’t Mix
Unless you’re a top level dressage rider, I don’t ever want to see you wearing white breeches with your shadbelly. I understand that shadbellies are expensive, and a lot of riders can’t justify buying one for 3 or 4 classes a year. I completely understand, and if I hadn’t found mine in a going-out-of-business sale, I might not have one either. If you don’t own a shadbelly, then by all means, wearing white breeches with a black or navy coat for a classic is just fine. Hunter classics are a formal class, and are based in tradition. It is the tradition for men to wear white breeches and their dark jackets and ladies to wear beige breeches and a shadbelly. To combine both white breeches with a shadbelly is overkill.
While we’re on the subject of shadbellies, I have to ask riders to please make sure that the points on their shadbelly meet their breeches. With a lot of lower-rise breeches being extremely popular, a lot of riders have a substantial white gap between the points of their shadbelly and their breeches. This creates the illusion of a pot belly. Not very attractive. I’ve had this problem, and after being frustrated with my points being too short and not being able to fit into high-waisted breeches, I went to H&M and bought a grey waistcoat on sale, for about $25. The fitted vest looks perfect underneath my shadbelly, and I don’t need to worry about creating the illusion of a belly.
4. Some Things Should Be a Given
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there are some things that should just be done. This includes a clean horse with bits of hay and shavings brushed out of his mane and tail. His mane should lie neatly on one side of his neck if you haven’t braided it, and he should have a full body clip with his legs and muzzle trimmed. I know that clipping is a dreadful chore, especially if you have a horse that’s terrified of the clippers, but you can also hire someone to give your horse a haircut for you. I know something in the $100 range might sound pricey, but when you consider how much money we spend on show fees and trainers, it is a small price in the grad scheme of things, and will save you time in the long run when your horse dries quicker with short hair and isn’t lathered with foamy sweat.
5. Buttons Aren’t for Decoration
I can’t stand seeing a rider go around in a jacket with their collar undone. I know on some brutally hot days that jackets may be excused, in which case I think its valid to undo your collar in the jumper ring (unless its a classic, Grand Prix or any other occasion that calls for white breeches). What I don’t understand is riders that go around with a jacket and an undone collar. I think this is more of an attempt to look cool than actually be cool. However, I find that this look is sloppy and unkempt.
6. Dark Breeches in the Show Ring
I think that a pair of black or denim breeches look great with a polo shirt … For schooling days at home. There is nothing wrong with wearing them at the show on schooling days, or for your morning hack to keep your show clothes spotless. Seeing dark breeches in the ring is just wrong. Beige breeches for every day, and white for big classes folks!
I know I sound like I’m repeating myself, but I do believe that looking good isn’t a vanity thing – it is about taking pride in what you do. Plus, there are implications for making memories. I have plenty of great pictures of me and my horses, and I could tell you exactly which ones are from winning classes, and which ones were disastrous. However, in all the pictures, everyone is neat and tidy, and even though the result of the class might not have been desirable, the picture is lovely. A picture is worth a thousand words right? Make sure they’re the right ones.