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Dressage Attire: From Basics to Recognized Show Requirements

Dressage Basics

Dressage is an equestrian sport that began as a form of military training in ancient Greece, where horses and riders were trained for battle. The word “dressage” comes from the French word “dresser,” which means “to train.” Today, dressage is a popular sport that showcases a rider’s ability to communicate with their horse through a series of intricate movements.

Different Types of Dressage Shows

1. Schooling Shows

Schooling shows are a great place for riders and horses to gain experience in a low-pressure environment.

These competitions are typically run by local riding clubs and are not recognized by the United States Dressage Federation (USDF).

2. Recognized Shows

Recognized shows, on the other hand, are sanctioned by the USDF and offer riders the opportunity to earn awards and move up in the levels of competition.

Attire and Equipment Rules for Dressage Shows

Safety is the most important consideration when it comes to attire and equipment requirements for dressage shows.

Rider Attire

As previously mentioned, safety is the top priority when it comes to rider attire.

  • Helmets and boots with heels are required at all times when riding.
  • The helmet must meet ASTM/SEI standards and be properly fitted to the rider’s head.
  • Boots must have a solid sole and a heel of at least 1 inch.
  • For lessons and schooling shows, riders must wear a collared shirt, breeches or jodhpurs, and gloves.
  • For recognized shows, riders must wear a short riding coat, stock tie, choker, and stand-up collar. Breeches or jodhpurs must be white or light-colored.

Horse Tack

  • The bridle must be made of leather and include a browband, noseband, and throatlatch.
  • The bit must be approved for use according to USDF rules.
  • The saddle pad must be white or a light color and free from any logos.

It is important to note that the saddle itself is not judged in dressage competitions, so there is no need to invest in an expensive saddle for competition purposes.

Mane Braiding

Braiding the horse’s mane is a common practice in dressage shows.

  • There are several different styles of braids that riders can choose from, including French braids, hunter braids, and button braids.
  • French braids are created by weaving the mane into small sections of three strands.
  • Hunter braids are created by dividing the mane into small squares and braiding each square down.
  • Button braids are similar to hunter braids but are smaller and more tightly braided.


Grooming and appearance expectations for the horse are important in dressage competitions.

  • The horse should be clean, well-groomed, and neatly trimmed.
  • Any white markings should be polished to a gleaming shine.
  • The horse’s hooves should be freshly cleaned and polished.

It is important to present the horse in the best possible light for judges.

Dressage Lesson

Dressage lessons typically have a more casual dress code than dressage shows.

  • Riders should still wear appropriate attire that allows for ease of movement and provides sufficient protection.
  • Approved helmets and boots with heels are required for safety.
  • Jodhpurs or breeches are preferred, as they provide the necessary flexibility and grip for riding.

Riders should also ensure that their tack, bridle, saddle, and pad are all in good condition and correctly fitted to the horse.

During a dressage lesson, riders will typically begin with some basic warm-up exercises to get their horse moving and limbered up.

This may include trotting and cantering on circles, practicing transitions between gaits, and working on leg yields. The instructor will provide guidance on how to properly execute each movement and will provide feedback on the rider’s position and technique.

As the lesson progresses, riders will begin to work on more advanced movements, such as flying changes, piaffe, and pirouettes. These require a high level of skill and control from both the rider and horse.

The instructor will provide specific instruction on how to communicate with the horse to achieve the desired movements.


In conclusion, dressage is a beautiful and intricate sport that requires both horse and rider to work together in harmony.

Proper attire and equipment are important for both safety and appearance purposes.

Grooming and mane braiding are also important considerations when competing in dressage shows.

During dressage lessons, riders will work on honing their skills and learning new movements under the guidance of an experienced instructor.

With dedication and hard work, riders can achieve success in the exciting world of dressage.

Dressage Schooling Show

A dressage schooling show is a great opportunity for riders to gain experience and improve their skills in a low-pressure environment.

Attire requirements for a dressage schooling show are more relaxed than for a recognized show, but it is still important to dress appropriately.

  • Riders should wear a collared shirt, breeches, boots with heels, a properly fitted helmet, and gloves.
  • While it is not required, it is recommended to wear a jacket or vest for a more polished look.

One common challenge during dressage shows is keeping clothing clean and avoiding stains.

  • Preparing beforehand can save a lot of stress and hassle on the day of the show.
  • Riders can wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt over their show clothes while tacking up their horse to avoid any dirt or dust.
  • It is also a good idea to bring extra clothing and towels to quickly clean up any stains or spills.

USDF-Recognized Show

Attire and appearance guidelines for recognized dressage shows are more traditional and conservative than for schooling shows.

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) provides guidelines for proper attire and appearance for riders and their horses.

The HSV color scale is often used to determine the acceptable colors for clothing and accessories.

Dress Code Breakdown

  • For introductory level tests, riders may wear a well-fitted shirt with sleeves, breeches or jodhpurs, and boots with heels.
  • A properly fitted helmet and gloves are also required.
  • For training, first, and second level tests, riders must wear a jacket or vest in a conservative color such as black or dark navy blue.
  • Breeches or jodhpurs must match the color of the jacket or vest, and boots must be black or dark brown.
  • A stock tie or choker with a stand-up collar is also required.
  • For third and fourth level tests, riders must wear a short tailcoat in black or dark navy blue.
  • White or light-colored breeches or jodhpurs must be worn with a stock tie and choker with a stand-up collar.
  • Black or dark brown boots and gloves are also required.
  • For FEI level tests, riders must wear a short or long tailcoat in black or dark navy blue.
  • White or light-colored breeches or jodhpurs are mandatory, along with a stock tie and choker with a stand-up collar.
  • Black or dark brown boots and white or light-colored gloves are also required.

A braided mane is also required for recognized dressage shows, regardless of the level of competition. The mane should be neatly braided and divided into small, even sections.

The exact style of braids is up to the rider’s preference, but it is important to ensure that the braids are uniform and neatly done.

It is the responsibility of the rider to thoroughly research and plan their show attire according to USDF guidelines.

Proper preparation and planning can help prevent any last-minute wardrobe malfunctions or violations and ensure that the rider is properly presented for the competition.


Q: What items are required apparel for riders competing in a dressage show?

A: Helmet, boots with heels, breeches or jodhpurs, and depending on the recognized show level, a short or long tailcoat, stock tie, choker, gloves, and more.

Q: Is it mandatory to braid a horse’s mane for dressage showing?

A: Yes, braiding a horse’s mane is a mandatory grooming requirement for recognized dressage shows, regardless of competition level.

Q: What color should the saddle pad be for a dressage competition?

A: The saddle pad for a dressage competition must be white or a light color and free from any logos.

Q: What attire is required for dressage lessons?

A: Riders should wear appropriate attire like jodhpurs or breeches, approved helmets, boots with heels, and gloves.

Q: Why is attire and appearance important in dressage competitions?

A: Proper dressage attire is essential for safety, showcasing composure when competing and for adhering to specific dress code requirements when riding recognized levels of dressage competition.

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