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A Guide to Dressage Competition Attire: USEF Training through Fourth Levels

The sport of dressage requires hidden strength, precision and harmony between horse and rider. Though dressage is a technical sport, it also demands impeccable presentation, and correct dressage attire plays a key role in this. Whether you are an enthusiastic beginner or a seasoned competitor, adhering to proper dressage attire etiquette is essential when you enter a USEF Licensed-USDF Recognized competition—or you can be excused by the judge at “C.” Dressage fashions will always evolve, and permissible attire features such as show-coat colors and trims may change with them. Therefore, always refer to the most recent edition of the USEF Rulebook, DR Division, DR120 Dress to be sure your dressage ensemble is compliant with current rules. At Dover Saddlery and Dressage Extensions, we strive to maintain a balance between classic and stylish looks that honor the traditions of dressage while keeping up with trends. From your head to your feet, here are the main elements of dressage show attire that contribute to a polished, professional appearance in the arena, as guided by the USEF rules that went into effect February 1, 2023.

  1. Protective headgear, defined as a riding helmet, must be worn and adjusted securely whenever you are mounted on a horse on showgrounds. The helmet must meet or exceed current ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials)/SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) standards for equestrian use; it must carry the SEI tag. The helmet color should be the same as or a coordinating color with your coat. It may include contrast coloring, accents and crystal decoration.

  2. The dressage coat or competition jacket is a hallmark of formal dressage attire. Traditionally, its color is black or dark navy, although dark shades of green, brown, gray, plum and wine are also now acceptable. The coat should be of a single color, but may have subtle pinstripes, checks or tweeds. Striped or multicolored coats are not permitted. The key is to choose a color that flatters your horse’s coat color.
    Any stretchy or breathable panels or inserts must be the same color as the overall garment fabric. The coat should be tailored and flattering to your build without restricting your movements. Tasteful accents, such as a collar of a different hue, modest piping or crystal decorations, are acceptable.

  3. The competition or show shirt is commonly white but may be any color. It must have short or long sleeves and a non-removable collar. Contrast side panels, textural fabric, subtle decorative accents, piping or trims can add a touch of individuality when your dressage coat is removed; none of these things should be seen when the coat is worn in front of a judge.

  4. Breeches are an integral component of functional dressage attire. They should be form-fitting yet comfortable. They are typically white but may be light or dark in color. Contrast piping is allowed. Bright colors or patterns are not permitted.

  5. Dressage boots are another functional component of dressage attire. Tall, stiff leather boots that extend from just below your knees offer support and stability to your lower legs. You may also wear paddock/jodhpur boots with matching half chaps if they are made of smooth leather or leather-like material.

  6. Stock ties for women, ties for men, gloves and accessories are the finishing touches to your competition look. Your tie can be any color. In lieu of a stock pin, it may have a decorative feature at the neck, such as beading, ribbon trim or crystals. Gloves can be white, light-colored or any solid color; white is most common. Show gloves can be made from leather or synthetic materials; decorative elements, if any, should be minimal. A belt should always be threaded through the belt loops of any breech that has them. Hair should be secured into a hairnet to maintain a tidy appearance. Long hair can be worn in a bun covered in a hairnet or decorative bun cover.

  7. Tips on “Bling”: Crystals sparkle and twinkle in sunlight—drawing attention to wherever they are. Use logic when considering crystal-embellished items. Avoid crystals on your helmet if you struggle with head-nod at sitting trot. Avoid crystals on your gloves if you’ve been told you’ve got “busy hands.” Avoid crystals on your show coat if you’re struggling with position. Simply opt for conservative, classic styles with tonal accents to get the most from your look.

Proper dressage attire and adherence to the rules together reflect your respect for tradition, discipline, and attention to detail. It relays your respect for the judges to whom you present yourself. Further, a tasteful and smart turnout also enhances the elegance and visual harmony you share with your horse. As a great final benefit, your meticulously chosen show outfit will have you exuding confidence and professionalism naturally—a boost in any competition.