Traditional vs Modern Attire

The latest “controversy” going around social media the past few weeks has been the mega-scandal of burgundy coats in the hunter ring. I have to admit, reading all the comments on this one made my eyes roll around in my head a lot more than usual. The vitriol and passion that some people have about coat color is kind of astounding, when you consider the myriad of other issues in equestrian sport that are, IMO, massively more important and critical.

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SCANDALOUS

But if you waded through all those comments and arguments and opinions, it really all came down to one thing: tradition. The big argument against burgundy is that it wasn’t a traditional color – not one that you would see in the hunt field. Which is true… it would be a faux pas there. Other folks pointed out that we are far from being traditional these days anyway, so why not let people wear a coat that is still a relatively conservative color.

I was thinking about this more last weekend as we were getting ready to fox hunt. Especially as I donned my stock tie, and watched all the full members of the hunt put on their cubbing outfits with canary vests and green and brown tweed coats. Velvet helmets, black dress boots or brown field boots, horses with a traditional hunter clip (no legs clipped) or trace clip, banged tails, and flat bridles. Horses that were, while ultimately well-mannered, spicy and eager to get going, and easily leaping into a flat out gallop that could go for hours. Honestly, foxhunting bears a lot more resemblance to eventing these days than it does to the hunter ring.

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just a bunch of casual foxhunters who are all actually eventers

But the h/j folks aren’t the only ones that have been talking a lot about the subject of traditional attire lately. Eventing and dressage have had the same types of dialogue, trying to find a balance between modern and traditional. With all the modern fabrics and changing demands and dynamics of the sport, many are ready to abandon tradition completely. Others cling to it as being vital to the soul of equestrianism. Every year it seems there are minor rule changes about what colors are allowed, or what embellishments, or what logos and how big they can be. Sometimes the rules get more lax, other times they get more stringent, like we can’t even decide amongst ourselves which direction we’re really going.

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one of the most traditional outfits there is when it comes to eventing: a military uniform

There are also those who believe that updating our apparel to something that looks a bit more in line with other sports will help our image as a whole. That part of why we get such a bad rap with the general public during events like the Olympics is because we look so different – elitist and unapproachable and… archaic. Not like what people generally think of when they picture an athlete.

So I’m curious – where do you stand on this? Do you think it’s vital to our sport to cling to more traditional attire, or are you in favor of giving equestrians a modern facelift and more freedom with their apparel?

45 thoughts on “Traditional vs Modern Attire

  1. I like the idea of some sort of balance. New fabrics and new muted colors like burgundy, eggplant, dark teal would be great. Unitards with branding (like I think I read somewhere a while back, maybe round Olympics time?) to me will do nothing to improve the image of the sport though they may be way more comfy. But that is my opinion as I love the look of a coat and breeches for jumping/dressage. I also don’t love bright colors or a whole lotta bling anyway.

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  2. As today’s hunters really don’t resemble traditional field hunters, I don’t really get the issue behind burgundy and other muted colors. I mean, look at half of the helmets in today’s hunter ring. They are certainly NOT traditional. And we’re all arguing about burgundy coats? I think the bigger issue is that thoroughbreds are no longer hunter ring appropriate when most of the horses IN the hunter ring would never be seen hunting… But, since we need to argue about something, it’s easier to find controversy about clothes than the horses themselves…

    I still have a wool coat and when I showed/show, it was on either my thoroughbred or on a 15 hand pinto with draft in him so not in style either, but all on the local hunter level so…

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    1. And one more thing, a few years ago, you NEVER saw black in the hunter ring… You were out of place wearing a black coat. Navy, yes, black no. My trainer would have flipped out if we wore black. Navy, brown, grey, green, fine. Black no. Black is now fine…

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      1. I also grew up in this era. I was strictly told by trainer that black was for “big eq” classes only – not for me on the local, grassroots level. Today, everyone wears black on all levels of showing. It’s easy and complimentary. I now own several *haha* black coats. Wool coats are now tech fabrics. Velvet covered helmets are now matte with the occasional rhinestone *gasp*, high rise breeches are also a thing of the past. I remember people referring to the original GPA helmets that came out as skunk helmets. Times change, people change, tradition changes, but values do not. I show hunters today and you probably won’t find me wearing a burgundy coat but if you want to, go ahead. You do you boo.

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        1. Oh I agree (my IHSA coaches and former hunter trainer said the same things). I wouldn’t wear a burgundy coat either but I think the reasons for trying to ban them are stupid. I also only still wear a wool coat with a subtle plaid because I don’t show enough to make it worth while to spend money on a new one. What can I say, I’m cheap! I still have my colored ratcatchers though I also have a white snap shirt. I’ll wear whatever I want now, regardless of what my trainer says. Lol. But I doubt I’ll be showing this year anyway!

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  3. I can’t imagine doing upper level dressage in traditional knee patch breeches. Or in a coat without give. I also adore my stiffer boots. They make my job easier. I compete on the most hipster of dressage breeds anyway (What? Thoroughbreds were the original dressage horse of the early defined sport!), I’m cool with being non-traditional.

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  4. A totally different aside. I think our formal wear is maybe more flattering to our not-as-svelte-as-figure-skaters bodies. Just saying. We complain about white breeches, but hunt coats hide a multitude of overindulgences. 😉 There’s a reason I hate showing without a coat, y’all.

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  5. When any new generation comes up, in anything really, they start to question the traditions of the past and want to bring everything into the future. Sometimes it is great and others it back fires. Regarding coat colors – I don’t see why it really matters either way since it isn’t directly affecting safety or performance. As you said, the hunter ring isn’t paralleling the hunt field much these days anyway so wearing a burgundy coat is the least of the worries for traditionalists.

    Personally, if it doesn’t create a safety hazard or an unfair performance advantage, I so go for it. Horses are expensive and if it makes you feel better to go around the ring in a burgundy colored coat versus a black one, eh…enjoy yourself. This coming from a very boring all black (well now navy thanks to the orange beast) and no bling whatsoever person.

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  6. Like much of life, I’m not sure why someone wanting to wear a certain color effects someone else… Really trivial. Fake tails aren’t traditional either but they are all over the place like Western Pleasure on crack. Most people I talk to don’t even have a clue to the reason for traditional things or about history. They only know what they’ve been spoon-fed.

    I hardly think burgundy is the ruin of hunters, let’s leave that to all the drugs people push instead.

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  7. Apparently I have more feelings about things than I thought… Lol. I hate it when people blame our sport’s lack of interest on our clothes. It’s a lack of education, guys. WE are the ones failing ourselves. Every time I introduce someone to eventing, they’re fascinated and want to know more. Show jumping is so accessible, but still not well explained, even at the popular big Grand Prixs like Washington International. I find myself explaining to a crowd around me how to cheer, what the scoring is, and all the other basics of enjoying a sport. We have to do better educating those willing to explore, and invite them in with more relatable stories and history. The audience is there, they’re just confused AF and easily bored. The clothes have very little to do with it.

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  8. If you get right down to it hunter attire hasn’t been traditional fox hunting attire for a looooooong time. If they want to be traditional everyone out there would be in solid black hunt coats, stock ties, white shirts, and velvet helmets. The various stripes and color fads over the years? Not traditional. Navy hunt coat? Not traditional. (Unless you were a junior, you could get away with the show hunter attire you see if you were a junior out hunting, but not as an adult) Chokers? Not traditional. So imo burgundy hunt coats should be allowed bc traditional was gone a loooong time ago!!!

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  9. i just want to know if you bought that checked coat yet 🙂 And I remember back in the day when I showed on a smaller hunter circuit EVERYONE wanted that gray pinstriped coat and that was being ADVENTUROUS! LOL

    I personally am not a fan of burgundy but I think it looks great on some horses. As long as they are muted colors and you don’t have a flamingo or palm tree pattern on the coats I dont see why it matters 🙂 HA HA HA

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  10. I don’t particularly care what folks wear so long as it’s appropriate for riding, relatively clean, and safe. I understand wanting to keep shows *special* by dressing up for them and I’m on board, but I’m not understanding the colored coats issue. I will caveat that comment by saying I wear a royal blue coat from Ece Equestrian in the dressage ring…. so yeh, I’m not afraid of a little color (or glares from DQs).

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  11. I 100% understand why fox hunting sticks to its roots in the attire department. Lovely land owners allow the hunts on their property, and they expect to see a formal attired group galloping across their property. Different attire allows the correct members to be recognized immediately amid a herd of galloping horses in a snow storm, even when nearly everyone is on a bay.

    When it comes to competitive horse sports though… I am so torn. Some traditions have rationales to them that sill make sense. Light colored pants in dressage (though not necessarily white) makes it a lot easier for a judge to see how your leg lays on your horse vs. black pants.

    I will say, I think jackets and stock ties are well outdated. I feel a lot more “professional” these days in a nice sun shirt. I understanding wanting shirts with collars and sleeves (no one needs cleavage in our sport hahaha), but the rest of it just seems a bit pompous in an already ridiculously expensive sport.

    TL/DR: Keep the stuff that serves a purpose. Remove the stuff that is just there for the sake of tradition and an outdated “look”.

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  12. I’m usually a mid-ground person, preferring a good balance on both sides. I think some tradition should be kept for sure – I really love watching the dressage and seeing riders in military uniform. But if you love a bit of bling then I think you should be able to wear it. I like that helmets are becoming a lot more popular in dressage. The issue is tradition, but I don’t think the tradition of show coat color is where we should focus all of our energy. I can understand wanting to keep tradition alive (I still want to try a traditional 3 day with roads and tracks – I think it’s so cool and great that they’re bringing it “back”), but when it comes to coat color, I think it’s a bit of a silly thing to focus on. There are other aspects of showing that are a lot more important than show coat color, and to me, that’s continuing to put horse welfare first.

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  13. I so don´t care…..I generally like the variety of coat colours that are so common now with Show Jumpers. I remember the time when it was red, black or maybe dark blue…the only thing I have a problem with is the glaring orange the dutch riders wear. It hurts my eyes…
    I think different coat colours in dressage or eventing would be pretty fun, too. I mean, Isabell Werth was considered somewhat risqué for using brown instead of black tack on Bella Rose at the WEG. I only thought it looked off because of her own black attire. If that had been matching the horse´s tack I´d have loved it.
    I really don´t get what the fuss is about in the hj world. It´s not as if they´re still riding in top hats, right?
    The hutn officials/hunt master traditionally wear bright red. What´s the problem with burgundy or plum?
    *shrug*
    Don´t we have more important matters to gripe about?

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  14. I’m a foxhunter (I’m a whipper-in for my hunt) and I show hunters. I grew up in the glitz and glam of the Quarter Horse world. I would greatly prefer the rules maintain an adherence to traditional attire. The primary reason I feel that way is less about actual tradition (which I do love) and more about attire not separating the haves from the have nots. Not everyone can afford a Samshield helmet covered in Swarovski crystals. Or a hunt coat in every color. Or a completely different show wardrobe from practice wardrobe. Riding horses is already crazy expensive and keeping the attire at least a level playing field will help keep the sport somewhat achievable for those who don’t have buckets of money to spend.
    The other aspect of traditional attire that I appreciate is, as George Morris beats to death, the focus being on the horse, not on the rider and his/her attire. In my opinion, the show ring isn’t the place to express your individuality. It is a place to show off your horse.

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    1. The haves are already separated from the have-nots… it’s clear in the subtle differences between how someone’s garments fit (like coats, or tall boots – I can tell the difference between my $200 Ariats and someone else’s $1000 Parlantis from across the ring). And also massively separating the haves and have-nots – I’m riding a lovely, beautiful moving, and athletic little thoroughbred that I got straight off the track. My trainer believes we will be successful in the AA/AO hunters – though I’m looking at people riding warmbloods that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they just have a different way of going – a huge, slow step, a lurchy/stalling-in-the-air quality over fences. I’m looking forward to continue training my young horse and doing whatever it is we decide to do – but realistically, I wonder if we can compete with that. We’ll find out :-).

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    2. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with your comment about crazy clothing being distracting from the horse. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as I try to pick xc colors for my black mare. Coming from the jumpers, I didn’t want anything too bold for the reasons you described. But when I thought about it more, I realized that picking a bold color doesn’t do anything to distract from my beautiful girl. On the contrary, I’m spending time thinking about how to present her in the very best light. I find it hard to believe that a little kid (or a grown adult, I don’t judge!) decked out in hot pink cares less about their horse than one dressed more conservatively. Like you said in your last sentence, it has to do more with human personalities and style. I don’t think the desire to be unique is contradictory to good horsemanship.

      I do like your point about keeping a consistent uniform to stop the separation between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. I’ve heard similar arguments for uniforms in schools. As for me, I liked wearing a uniform because it meant I didn’t have to think about what to wear! haha

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    3. I pretty much agree with Tara. Attire can take away from the overall turnout impression… or it can enhance it. This is probably only really important in the hunter ring, but I’d rather see an immaculately groomed horse and not even notice the coat color because it’s subtle or complimentary, than notice something shiny or flashy or too different that I don’t even remember how the horse went around.

      In horse sports judged entirely on objective criteria … idk wear whatever you want, I guess.

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    4. 100% agree on not creating an even bigger cost to competitors. When we are not only competing as athletes but in a fashion cycle, it’s putting it out of reach of even more people. Although I think the horse has well and truly bolted on that one…

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  15. I feel very strongly that over all, horse sports need an upgrade in the clothing department. Look at tennis or golf – the trend has been to embrace a much more casual, sport-friendly attire, with the exception of some very specific, historic venues. Why cant riding go the same direction? Who da fuq wants to wear a coat? Not me. I think it would be totally appropriate to relax the attire over all, while possibly giving a special nod to a specific venue (Devon?) or class (Derby?)

    The western folks seem to do ok in their jeans and pearl snaps. The focus still remains on the performance of the horse.

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  16. Coming from someone that would love to wear a burgundy coat (I think it looks smashing on a dark bay!), I really hope the rules are relaxed. The hunters are too fussy and stuffy, as-is. I feel any dark coat color should be permitted – burgundy, or even a more unique color like a dark purple or dark blue-green don’t distract from the horse. A lighter, Air Force blue should be fine, too. A smidge of individuality isn’t going to hurt anyone. Half of me wants to move to the jumpers, so I can wear turquoise ;-).

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  17. The hunters of today are a far leap from the hunters that use to be used to actually hunt. I’m not sure even half of the top hunters would survive a day out in the field. I think they should do something similar to USDF in that coats must be a conservative color matching a certain range on the HSV scale. That way things stay within reason while still giving riders some leeway.

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  18. I used to think tradition like this was important, but now I agree with the stance that we need to be more open to athletic like clothing and gear. I really think our holding onto tradition is what has kept us from innovation in the horse world for so long, until now that is.

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  19. I feel that if clothing is the only thing drawing you to the sport then horses are probably not your thing. In the same token I am all for modern fabrics that don’t make me sweat to death.

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  20. Personally, I’m not that adventurous with my attire. There’s no bling on anything, and I wear a traditional black coat, boots, and helmet on a grey horse. HOWEVER, I do absolutely love the look of a pair that is turned out where the colors compliment the horse – I have a brown coat and helmet that look great on the Haffies. I love some of the subtle bling on shad points, helmets, and boot tops, and the contrasting collars can be very tasteful. I personally find some of the super-blingy helmets and the patent boots to be a bit… well, shiny, but that’s my opinion and I know not everyone shares it. Having a bit of room for personal expression in your turnout is nice, as long as it doesn’t detract from an overall picture of a tidy, workmanlike pair.

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  21. I’m kinda on the fence on this one. I like the traditional look, but so long as those who are using “odd” colors are clean, tidy, and professional looking I don’t have much of a problem. As long as it pairs well with the horse, it is flattering for the rider and is tasteful.

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  22. I very much hope we never lose the traditional showing ensemble that includes a jacket, but I really don’t care much about what color the jacket is. If someone wants to wear a pale pink coat, like that one gentleman did at Devon around Easter, I have no problem with it. No one is asking me to wear it, so… I don’t cave too much to fashion pressure., if I like something I will wear it, even if it means the railbirds have something to snicker about. I also respect someone else’s desire to wear something a bit different…even if it’s not something I think looks good. I would 100% wear the burgundy coat (or dark purple, or any other conservative color) if I had a horse that it would look good on. Not going to wear it with the chestnuts. You will only catch me in dark brown if I’m dead…because dark brown makes me look like I’ve died, so…

    Hypocritically, I’m more formal over breech colors than jackets. I hate seeing dark breeches in the show ring. Save those for XC, please. I think mostly because how bad they look with a dark coat. Keep the beige/tan, canary, puke, light gray and rust, please. I don’t really even like the darker shades in the tan family. See? totally hypocritical. 😀

    I’ve recently seen coats with a lot of sparkles on them. Can’t say I’m a fan, but I don’t think there needs to be a rule against them. I HATE the dressage fad of blingy, droopy browbands, but again, are they really hurting anything?

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  23. I adore the newer sportier stuff. I love that riding is so much based on tradition but there’s enough about it that’s traditional without feeling the need to wear the same things that were worn back them IMHO

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  24. I think it’s funny that show hunters think tradition should be stuck to for the sake of foxhunting, when (and I’m making a generalization here) most of them have probably never actually been foxhunting.

    For the very few times a year I go fox hunting, will admit I have a black wool coat, tan breeches and a white stock and there will be nary a trace of purple.

    that being said, I really want to do some hunter derbies with spicy next year and nothing says I HAVE to compete in a) a shadbelly and b) NOT my purple coat. sooooooo get ready for those pics. B-)

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  25. I don’t really care at the end of the day but, if I had to register an opinion I would swing more towards the traditional styles than newer.

    Less with fabrics (update those all you want) but definitely with colours.

    Ultimately, I will NOT be the person riding around in the hot pink show coat and the rhinestone embellished helmet. It isn’t for me and I find it all a bit garish. Does it affect me in any way? Not at all. You do you.

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  26. Whilst I love tradition, I think what we need to concentrate on is the health and well being of the horses and rider. This should be number one. Also this sport is expensive, and the black jackets may cost more, so why not be able to wear a colour you like? I would wear a pink jacket If I could. So many issues going on in the world, this really is a bit of a blip I think. If it isn’t hurting anyone, does it really matter?
    Mel x

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  27. I am definitely a traditionalist, but I get the other side of the coin. I don’t fine the burganday coat offensive. It’s a different look that still fits within tradition. My biggest problem is the excessive bling and pony tails in the hunter ring.
    A blinged out pin or belt that’s not front & center, is okay, but the bling all over helmets, saddles, or irons looks silly. Your the only one in the ring darlin’ trust me the judge sees you.
    And don’t get me started on pony tails in the h/j ring! It’s messy, distracting, and ridiculous! For all that is good & holy, wear a damn hair net.
    Will I wear a burganday coat in the ring, probably not, but be damn sure my hair will be neat, tidy, and tucked properly under my helmet!

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  28. This may sound terrible, but I could care less about what color coat (or boots or helmet or gloves) anyone wears. Try your best not to look like a complete slob (that’s hard enough, most days), and buy whatever color coat is in your budget.

    But I do love the military uniforms (if you’ve earned the right to wear it, of course)!

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  29. You know its funny…chiming in on this one from a manufacturers point of view. This is a discussion we often have in our offices. We often talk about tennis and how the tradition has completely changed since the 1980s. Back then you only saw all white, then big business like Nike and Adidas got involved and suddenly athletes were showing bare arms, colors , patterns – in fact anything went. From our own point of view, when it comes to clothing we do like going to the European trade shows where you see a large array of colors and styles.Have to admit that more than one of us has a bright pair of red breeches bought at one of these shows! But we also love the very traditional look and styling that screams ‘equestrian’ so we’re definitely torn. When it comes to tack, however we have a very different viewpoint. We are firmly on the ‘New’ versus traditional side when it comes to materials and design. Interestingly enough the truly older styles hold up compared to today’s designs (i.e. back when horse tack was individually handmade by a local leather crafter the materials and designs were great – once they needed to become mass produced to reach a larger market these things got sorely compromised in a lot of cases.) Many of the designs that were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s used materials that were never intended for use on a horse but were cheap and widely available – neoprene is a good example of a material that was designed to keep humans warm but somehow found its way into wrapping around a horse’s tendons??? Anyhow, we believe that a lot of the newer tack designs and materials are far superior and reflect what has been happening in the human athletic wear world for the last thirty years – more lightweight, more breathable, more strike resistant etc. In these cases we definitely believe in the newer approach, but still love a well made 100% leather tack look too! 🙂 JOHO

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  30. I’m not as torn over colors as fabrics. With the temperatures and climates folks compete in all over the world, having attire that facilitates the rider not passing the fuck out from the heat or freezing to death from the cold would be advantageous. We go above and beyond to make sure our horses are comfortable, we should be able to do the same for ourselves – especially in the heat/humidity.

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  31. I’m somewhere in the middle on this. I am pro tradition, especially in the hunter ring. I’m not sure about the merlot coat. I’m not a big fan of reds in general, so I wouldn’t get one either way. But it does look pretty. The rule hasn’t changed on this, it was never allowed as a color. people just didn’t realize since it wasn’t an available option before.
    As for being less elite looking in the show ring, many years ago, they tried making polo shirts mandatory in the grand prix at a few of the bigger shows. Shirts were actually supplied by the horse show, and the reasoning was to make the attire more “normal sport-like”. But it never really caught on and they went back to jackets.
    I honestly love show clothes, and would hate to see jackets done away with. Even in the schooling jumper classes, most of the time I dress. I was pretty anti tech fabric coats until recently, but even now I prefer the ones that are more traditionally cut. (Sorry those super tight, super short jackets looks stupid.)

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  32. Traditional vs Modern in the “English” horse sports … don’t get me started. 😉 LOL

    Is horse sport a “real” sport, or not? So long as we are competing in attire that is not recognized as athletic, we are not. Sometimes perception is reality.

    That’s from the waist up, for me. Breeches as they are today are athletic and sport-appropriate, in my mind, especially when matched with more athletic tops. Boots can be argued as part of appropriate protective riding gear. I’m allowing half-chaps on equal footing. (as it were, see what I did there 😉 )

    Actually the Western riders are wearing attire that is both athletic and traditional in nature. Their shirts have evolved with athletic fabric in a traditional cut/style. With as many sparklies on the ladies as figure skating and gymnastics. Plus, they have colors that can be adopted as signature by individual competitors, always popular with sports enthusiasts.

    Jumpers at the less formal levels are also leaning into more athletic attire with the colored polo/golf shirts.

    Eventing cross-country has a firm grip on where horse sport attire should be going, sans safety vest. IMO, of course. Not only is it athletic, it has COLORS. Sport watchers are ALL about colors, symbols and logos that identify this athlete from that one, this team from that one.

    If I rule the world [ahem], I can negotiate and allow dressage to stick with the business and formal suits, although really what I would like to see … anyway. Hunters I don’t count, they can do as they like. Western is already good to go. Eventers and jumpers … well anyway, think cross country shirts, colors & patterns. 😉

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  33. And for what it’s worth re burgundy in the hunter ring … I’m of a generation that can remember the exact. same. blow-up over that dim but lovely darker hunter green coats (did they survive?) Then there were: EARRINGS. AAAAaaahhhh !!! What was the world coming to ??? Modest pearl studs – what was she thinking ???

    Make-up. A symbol on the stock pin rather than a plain pin. Pale coats for afternoon showing. All were melt-down changes. And lord when they forced the transition from the useless hunt caps to HELMETS with a CHIN HARNESS TO KEEP THEM ON … (looking down to check if the planet is still there as it almost wasn’t on that one) (One thing I remember about the hunt cap, hard though the shell was, if I fell off, the hunt cap did as well. The hunt cap hit the ground before I did. It was for looks only.)

    I quit on the hunter ring, eventually. It’s good for schooling a green horse and prepping for eventing season, though. 🙂

    Is hair allowed to emerge from the cap yet?

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