Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer Content

The Fall season brings a lot of exciting events; back to school, a change of seasons, daylight savings… but for equitation riders, fall means Finals are right on the horizon!

Whether you've qualified to compete at nationals or for a regional or state level medal, you've worked hard to achieve a significant goal. We interviewed some United States Equestrian Federation licensed judges to put together this list of equitation tips to help you get that competitive edge for finishing your show season successfully. Our questions came from you, our customers, who regularly ask about show coats, riding boots, tack and grooming horses for show.

All of the judges we spoke with emphasized that they are first and foremost watching your ride and your equitation. No amount of elbow grease or sparkling tack will make up for weak riding. So ride without stirrups. Practice your trot jumps. Make sure your flat work is flawless and your transitions are seamless. However, some things can and do distract the judges' attention and detract from your overall presentation.

Tip 1: Fit matters; brand does not.

Our judges all said the same thing- "Get a classic coat that fits" Not one judge mentioned a specific brand or fabric or style, but they all emphasized fit. It's important to find a coat that flatters your body type. It should fit comfortably across the shoulders and chest, without pulling or bunching, and allow you to move freely. Sleeves should end at your wrist bone. Length depends on your body type, but a general rule of thumb is that it should not cover your cantle. A too short coat can also be distracting. Speaking of coat length, even though you can't always see it, a belt should always be worn.

All of our judges said to pick a classic color, black, navy or green, for equitation and to avoid large logos, crystals or other decorations. Self colored buttons are best for eq, but all the judges emphasized that it made no difference whether the coat had 3 or 4 buttons.

Sometimes it's hard to get a perfect fit right off the rack, but a good tailor can usually take in a riding jacket at minimal cost for a custom look without the custom price.

Here are some suggestions for all budgets:

Tip 2: Make Sure Your Boots Fit

Properly fitted tall boots help you ride at your best and enhance the look of your leg. If a tall boot is too loose or big through the leg or ankle, or if the shaft is too short, the poor appearance distracts from the leg position you've worked so hard to achieve.

While custom riding boots are always an option, with the wide variety of stock riding boots available in a full range of calf sizes and heights, achieving a good fit is easy on any budget. Ride in your boots regularly before show day to get used to their feel, especially if you normally ride in half chaps. You want to be sure your boots feel like a second skin in advance of your competition.

Traditional dress boots are increasing in popularity. Dress boots have no laces, but are as contoured as field boots are and fitted to the rider's leg. Dress boots should not be confused with dressage boots, which are stiff and straight with little drop to support a different leg position than that required in hunter equitation. The judges we met with all agreed that either dress or field boots are completely acceptable for equitation, as long as they fit well and are clean.

Here is a list of some of our top riding boot picks:

Tip 3: Clean Your Show Boots.

Make sure your boots are sparkling clean and polished. Take some time and use some elbow grease, and you'll make a good impression as soon as you enter the show ring. Clean, shiny boots reflect your diligence both in and out of the saddle.

Note: Skip polishing the inside calves of your boots so they don't stain your saddle pads and tack.

Here some of our favorite boot care products:

Tip 4: Show a Spotless Horse.

Your horse should be spotless, no exceptions. His mane should be neatly trimmed or braided if your finals division calls for it. His tail should be combed and free of all debris. Be sure to clean his knees and hocks, and if he happens to be light colored, make sure all stains are removed. Clean and polish his feet as well before heading into the ring. Judges notice dirty horses, and like it or not, a soiled horse is a poor reflection on your horsemanship.

Note: Always remember to avoid spraying the saddle and girth area with the coat polish as it can make it slippery, and if your horse has to be braided, skip shampooing and hair polish there, too!

Here are a few of our favorite products for top show ring turn out:

Tip 5: Make Sure your Tack Fits Properly.

Make sure that your saddle pad is clean and fits well under your saddle. If you use a fleece girth, make sure it is in good repair and clean. Take the time to adjust and tuck in all the keepers on your bridle so they aren't flapping around.

Always schedule extra time to ensure a thorough cleaning in advance of your show! As much as possible, try to choose bridle, girth, saddle and stirrup leathers that match in color. It doesn't have to be an exact match or the same brand, but try to match all leather goods in the same general shade. There are so many choices in bridles and strap goods now at all price points, that it is easier than ever to find tack that complements your horse.

It is a good idea to keep a hole punch in your tack trunk, for last minute adjustments. Here's a customer favorite, that's worth every penny! The HS® Hole Punch a customer favorite

Tip 6: Be Ready to Go at the In Gate

When it's your time to enter the ring, be ready to go! All the judges we interviewed emphasized that they are ultimately watching your ride, your form, and your jumps. The equitation division is about polish, practice, and presentation. Attention to detail, a beautifully presented horse and a workmanlike turn out all let a judge know as soon as you enter the ring that you take your discipline seriously. Details matter for a winning look!

Regarding show shirts, snap collars are acceptable. Be sure the collar is completely snapped for your rides and choose classic white for equitation. Patterned trim inside collars and cuffs can be fun, and colored shirts are fine in other classes, but for equitation, the traditional look of a white shirt should be maintained.

Here are some show shirt suggestions for equitation at prices to fit all budgets:

As you enter your Equitation Final this year, we hope these tips from our USEF Judges will provide you with a helpful checklist. Good Luck, breathe, and most importantly, have fun with your equine partner! You've earned it!