It’s showtime… are you ready to win? With warmer weather here, it’s time to review your show wardrobe and tack to prepare for a successful year of competition and fun in western show events.
As you make plans to get to the winner’s circle this year, keep in mind three considerations when it comes to your western show presentation: color, comfort, and charisma will combine to help you evaluate what you already own, and buy what you need to freshen up your show wardrobe.
Color is the most important tool you’ll have to make that great first impression with the judge. While any color can be a success on any color horse, there are certain tried and true combinations that are lovely and likely to create a harmonious look that will tie horse and rider together as a team.
In general, horses fall into one of two major color groupings: brunette horses like bays and black horses (with primarily black, white, or brown hair in their coat) and redheaded horses like sorrels and red roans (mostly red hair coloration.) A simple starting point is to consider jewel-tone colors like red, purple, and bright blue on those brunettes, and earth-tone or softer colors like rust, buckskin, or vanilla on the redheads. For those with horses in both color groups, the versatile blue-green color range (everything from pale celery green to deep teal) are almost always a flattering look on any horse, and attractive for any rider.
We’re certainly seeing more color making its way back into the western show arena these days, so don’t be afraid to add some pizzazz to your presentation with colorful accents in your western show outfit. While perhaps 75% of western show riders continue to wear black chaps, it’s easy to add impact with strong contrast color in your shirt or jacket and saddle blanket. This works for both show girls and show guys – and don’t forget a spot of color, like a bright tie, will pick up that same tone in a large, colorful saddle blanket.
Test-drive your potential apparel color ideas by putting a large block of the intended color near your horse and evaluating the effect from a distance. A bath towel or even a yard of inexpensive fabric draped over your saddled horse and observed from across the arena can help you make great color choices for chaps and contrast garments. Take a few photos or short video for future reference when building your personal color library.
Comfort is the second watchword for western show clothing this year. Almost everything stretches: show pants, chaps with elastic inserts, and lots of choices in knitted blouses and tops let you ride in all-day comfort. Western show apparel takes a cue from mainstream athletic apparel and often incorporates technical fabrics that help wick away perspiration while complimenting your curves. Whether a classically tailored solid color blouse, or a highly embellished showmanship jacket, comfort is key. If your fabrics don’t stretch, then they need to be perfectly tailored to allow you to ride in comfort while creating a trim, flattering silhouette to dazzle the judge from a distance.
Fabrics for women’s show apparel are fancy and fun, with metallic ink, sequins, foil, and other reflective treatments bringing a theatrical flair to the show ring. And don’t stop with just a fabulous fabric: it’s perfectly alright to add dozens to hundreds more crystals, jewels, lace inserts, fringe, and other textured and shimmering trims to an already-elaborate garment. Whether you prefer a balanced geometric applique look or a free-flowing river of hand-sewn rhinestones washing across your show blouse, there’s no such thing as too much trim this year.
On the other hand, there appears to be a bit of a backlash brewing against the work-of-art elaborate show top creations that can set your budget back thousands of dollars for a single garment. In events like western dressage, ranch horse events, mounted shooting, reining, and performance trail classes, many riders – both men and women – are comfortable sporting traditionally tailored shirts in solid colors or tasteful prints accented with colorful scarves. Paired with the right bold saddle blanket, this ‘Throwback Thursday’ look is topped with a bigger-brimmed, steeply shaped western hat that brings a hint of yesteryear to the show ring.
Other apparel options include the return of the vest, whether made from richly textured lace or in simple smooth fabrics that can be paired with an elaborate blouse underneath. Vests trim your torso while allowing you great freedom of movement, and they should always be considered as part of your western show wardrobe. Think about how you’ll accessorize the vest: which blouse, scarf or necklace, and earrings will make the stylish statement you wish to convey.
Western hats are casting a bigger shadow these days, whether a classic look in a velvety smooth finish felt, or those more casual straws. Look for brims to grow a bit wider, but as mentioned, be shaped in a more narrow profile that hints at taco hats from the ’60’s and 70’s. Hats may also be your crowning glory when accented by unique trims including crystal work, hand-painted flourishes, or embellished brim treatments for a trendsetting topper.
Chaps remain the most important part of your western show wardrobe, because they cover more than half of your body in the show ring and set your style in both color and silhouette. Whether your chaps are made from cowhide or washable synthetics like Ultrasuede, consider customizing accents like shimmering silver buckle sets, crystal-topped conchos, or perhaps a splash of style from a contrast-leather yoke or two-colored fringe. As long as your chaps fit like those proverbial gloves, they’ll create an effective foundation to support your more colorful and interesting show tops.
For showmanship and horsemanship, you’ll still want to create a quietly elegant impression of smooth grace by avoiding harsh color changes at your waist, making sure your sleeves are long enough to cover your wrist bones when you’re in action, and using color and comfortable fabrics to create a sports suit that trims and flatters. Consider designs that draw a viewer’s eye upward and create the illusion of a frame for your face; they’re very effective from a distance in the show ring. Showmanship suits will also be seeing some retro looks with solid and pinstripe fabrics in fitted suit jackets that seem oh-so-fresh again with a crisply shaped hat.
Charisma is our final watchword, which means regardless of what you choose for your show apparel, it should delight you and bring confidence as you compete, and capture your personality to personalize your presentation. In addition to choosing garments that fit you beautifully and flatter both you and your horse, don’t overlook the small details, including jewelry accents, tack choices, those always-important saddle blankets, and even your hairstyle to pull your look together and make it the perfect compliment to your riding skills.
Dress for success by planning your western show wardrobe in advance of your first show. Evaluate the color and comfort of existing show clothes or apparel you’re contemplating adding to your show closet, and don’t forget to bring charisma to the look by carefully choosing accents and finishing touches that make each outfit simply perfect for you.