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The High Cost of Horse Show Clothing

By Cindy Hale

Friday, April 8, 2011

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Talk about sticker shock! Have you noticed how much it costs to get yourself outfitted for an English horse show? And did I really ever pay this much for clothing I wore a few times a month? If so, why didn’t someone stop me?

I sort of feel like someone who chomps through a gigantic-sized pepperoni pizza without realizing it, and then notices the empty cardboard box and exclaims, “Wow! Did I actually eat all that?”

I came to this moment of equestrian epiphany last night. The little girl next door started taking riding lessons and needed her first pair of English paddock boots. Being compulsively helpful when it comes to indoctrinating other unsuspecting novices into the insane world of horses, I offered to help them browse online for a used pair. I found some on ebay that would work just fine. But naturally I got sidetracked. I wandered into listings for hunt seat apparel, caught up in a swirl of wistful nostalgia, recalling my days on the show circuit. It began with, “I wonder what a good pair of riding breeches goes for these days” and ended with, “How did my husband stay married to me when I was gleefully shelling out $14.95 for a pair of paper-thin boot socks?”

It’s no wonder that the horse show circuit is financially out of reach for the average aspiring rider. It’s not just the price of a suitable horse, decent tack, entry fees, lessons and training, association dues, or food and gasoline. It’s the cost of the clothes. Clothes you pretty much can’t wear anyplace other than a horse show. Well, you could, but people would stare at you. Trust me. I know this.

I’ll put this in personal terms. I enjoy riding Danny hunt seat about once a week. But if I wanted to get back into showing, for example at the county-circuit level, I’d have to invest a small fortune in riding attire, because I sold off all of mine. Even if I stuck to bargain prices and discounted items, it still adds up. Just watch.

Hunt Coat First I’d have to buy the hunt coat, which is essentially a blazer, but one made from fabric that you would never otherwise select in your entire life. Think sixty different shades of gray or navy blue. Those are you choices. Period. Cost: $199.

Then we have the breeches (pants). Designed by a conspiracy determined to strip every ounce of femininity from wearers above the age of 19, they hug curves, reveal lumps and compress the major blood vessels in your legs. And even though they come in several shades of beige, the fashion police dictate that you are only allowed to wear a certain shade of greenish-khaki, which makes you look all the more wan and haggard. But isn’t that the plan? Cost: $119. Breeches

Show shirt  The one item that does allow for a smidgen of color is the show shirt, which seems ironic, since when your hunt coat is on only the choker and a small “V” of material is visible. So while you might be impressed with claims about exotic cotton fibers or stitches-per-inch, just pick a complementary color that doesn’t look circus-like. After all, it’s going to end up stuck to your back with sweat by the time your flat class rolls around, anyway. Cost: $50.

Boots you can’t scrimp on, at least not when it comes to fit. As a judge, I’m trained to look at a rider’s leg first in an equitation class, and boots that are tall enough and fit snuggly help define the rider’s position. Still, I can buy an entire cow for the cost of a pair of tall black boots. And these aren’t even custom-made! Cost: $300.

Tall boots

And then there’s the helmet. Rather than being viewed strictly as a safety item, helmets have become a fashion statement, displaying just how much disposable income you have to spend on a hat. Though you can spend over $400 on one, you don’t need to. Unless maybe your horse is stabled next to your private jet. Cost: $100.

The grand total? $768. And that’s not including the belt, which you can’t really see anyway, but which you must have to make your outfit complete. Plus, if you ever remove your hunt coat during the day, you need something to distract an onlooker’s eyes from the hideous outline of those breeches, right?

Of course, you can save even more money on your show apparel and still look nice. There are plenty of bargains at consignment shops, and craigslist and ebay are wellsprings of good deals. I have no disdain for slightly used hand-me-downs. But my point is that while I appreciate the pageantry of horse shows, and the fact that there’s supposed to be an emphasis on the word “show,” I nonetheless find it disheartening to see how expensive it’s become to compete. And that’s unfortunate. Horse shows should be about demonstrating your expertise in horsemanship: how you and your horse work together as a team. The arena shouldn’t be a catwalk for fashionistas.

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Beth    Norco, CA

1/1/2012 11:57:38 PM

Well green-biege breeches are out. It is now tan with the eurocut seam in the back. Snap collar show shirts are now all the rage. Only Charles Owen GR8 or AYR8 and GPA speedair for helmets. Boots must have zippers and spanish cut tops.

CINDY HALE    HORSE CHANNEL, CA

4/23/2011 9:59:24 AM

THANKS FOR THE SUGGESTION, MELISSA!

I ONCE INTERVIEWED THE GAL WHO STARTED/RUNS SUITABILITY FOR AN ARTICLE I WROTE FOR HORSE ILLUSTRATED. I TRULY ADMIRE HER AS A GREAT BUSINESSWOMAN WHO FOUND A NEED IN THE HORSE WORLD. I USED TO SEW AND ONCE UPON A TIME I WOULD'VE GLADLY SEWN MY OWN ENGLISH SHOW SHIRTS BECAUSE OF MY THIN BODY-- OKAY, MY FLAT CHEST-- AND MY LONG APE-LIKE ARMS. IF YOU CAN SEW PRETTY WELL AND HAVE AN EYE FOR GOOD FABRICS, I SAY GO FOR IT! WHAT'S IMPORTANT IS HAVING CLOTHES THAT LOOK APPROPRIATE AND FIT WELL.

Melissa    Stanwood, WA

4/20/2011 8:21:44 AM

oops, only one u in Suitabitlity. sorry!

Melissa    Stanwood, WA

4/20/2011 8:20:40 AM

Another way to save money, is if you can sew you can make your own. I always made my own hunt coat shirts and breeches. There is a wonderful site called Suuitablility.com they have everything for both english and western show clothes! All you have to to is but the pattern. Fantastic way to save money and be 100% sure your getting the correct fit and best of all its tailored to YOUR body not a manequinne(sp?)! Also the pattern tells what kind of fabric to use and how much you need for each size. LOOOOVE it!

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