Since I was 17 I have been tucking in my shirts, always wearing breeches of some kind, and generally making an effort to look put together when I am on a horse. This isn’t just because I like looking nice, or because I have a ton of fancy riding clothes. When I was 17, I moved to a fancy show barn for the first time, where I was a full-time working student. I was often the first interaction potential buyers had at the farm, as well as lesson students and parents. I was showing horses to buyers several times a week, and teaching lessons here and there, plus I was doing training rides for boarders and on sale horses. So while the trainer did have a policy that required tucked in shirts and NO tank tops, I also started dressing nicely just so that I fit the part. I stopped wearing jeans and un-tucked baggy t-shirts, and I started wearing breeches every day, and shirts that were more fitted. I wore my new tall boots daily rather than my velcro chaps that didn’t come close to matching my paddock boots, and I started always wearing a hairnet and tucking all of my hair away into my helmet.
Now that I’m not in that same position, and my trainer does not require that I dress nicely, I still make it a habit to look put together for almost every ride. Why is that?
There are actually several reasons.
Dressing like a professional makes you feel like one.
Just like in a work environment, dressing like a professional tends to make you act more like one. Taking the extra effort to tuck in my shirt in and wear an outfit that isn’t just “barn clothes,” tends to make me take my ride more seriously. I will often put in more work and really pay attention to the work I’m putting in compared to the rare days when I show up in jeans and usually just hop on bareback. Even if on a daily basis you are super casual, when you take the extra effort for a lesson, you’ll feel much more like you are really there to learn and improve, and not just hanging out at the barn again.
Dressing up for lessons shows respect for your trainer.
You might see your trainer all the time, and you might be friends. Maybe you take a lot of lessons, so they aren’t really a big deal, and besides, everyone else wears baggy t-shirts. But just like you would dress up for a clinic to show the clinician respect and to show that you mean business, it shows respect for your trainer and the effort they are putting into you when you show up dressed like a pro. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a show shirt, but even just wearing a fitted shirt that is tucked in shows a little extra effort, and your trainer will notice. As an added bonus, wearing a fitted shirt makes it much easier for your trainer to notice what you are doing with your upper body and help you fix it.
You never know who is watching.
Maybe you aren’t trying to pick up catch rides, or impress anybody at the barn. But you never know who might be observing or watching. Even if you aren’t an advanced rider, or you have a really bad ride, dressing like you know what you’re doing makes it seem more like you do. Whether or not that’s a fair assessment all the time, it’s one that occurs. Maybe most of the time it’s only your barn mates who see you ride, and you don’t care what they think of you as a rider, and that’s fine. But occasionally someone might show up to check out the barn or your trainer, and their first impression is crucial. Are they going to see people riding around who don’t take the sport seriously, or are they going to see people who show up for each ride ready to work. Again, those may not be accurate assessments, but they are an accurate reflection of the assumptions generally made. And maybe this is just me, but at our barn at least, you never know when someone will be around taking photos, and I personally prefer photos of me looking nice.
So in summation: Looking professional = feeling and riding like it. Taking the time and effort to look professional shows respect to your trainer, your sport, your horse, etc. And dressing like a professional gives a much better chance for a good impression.
But wait. Does that mean I have to wear polos all the time or buy expensive sunshirts and breeches?
Not at all. If you DO want to wear fancy sunshirts and the like all the time, by all means, go for it. You can find sales on nice riding apparel all the time. There are plenty of options for breeches that are under $100, and even just 2 or 3 good pairs will last you a long time. Equine Couture has many options for $90 and under, and they last quite a while. Tuff Rider also has many options, along with Smart Pak’s Piper breeches. There are certainly other options (such as riding tights, which tend to be cheaper but less forgiving), but these are just a few example of options for quality breeches, at a reasonable price, and you can save your jeans the wear and tear so that they last longer as well.
But you don’t have to wear collared shirts all the time to look nice. As long as you are wearing a fitted shirt that is tucked in, you’re doing fine for day-to-day riding. I personally own only one sunshirt (although a second is on the way) and I rarely wear polos for lessons, because the thick cotton is super hot. In fact, I buy most of my riding shirts at stores like Ross and Marshalls. Many of my shirts are sports wear, with dry fit materials to help keep me cool. You can pick these up for under $10 easily. I do also have some normal fitted Ts that I am pulling out more now that the temps are dropping, and you can find really cute shirts at these types of stores for under $10 as well.
I always wear my tall boots to ride, in part because they just look so nice, but also because they are much more comfortable than my paddock boots and chaps. So long as your boots and chaps are a similar color, and they fit relatively well, they are a fair alternative that can save your tall boots in the long run. Look around and compare though, as you may find that you can actually pick up a comfy pair of tall boots for the same price as boots and chaps.
So there you have it. Dressing nicer at the barn hardly takes any more effort, because you’ve got to wear pants either way, and the benefits of presenting yourself nicely are obvious, plus you don’t even have to break the bank to do so. So tell me, do you dress to impress when you ride? Or do you keep it pretty casual?