Making a Show of Yourself Part 2 – Tack & Turnout

Riding Horse Turnout permits a coloured browband for horses. 

Rider Turnout

Aim to look professional, tidy and workmanlike.

Footwear – Adults long leather boots. (leather short boots and gaiters may be permitted, check rules of class). Adults cannot show in short boots only. Children under 12, short boots with jod clips. Children over 12, as per adults. Have your groom wipe your boots before you go in!

Jods – No white jods for showing. Canary (yellow), champagne, lemon or beige. What suits will depend on you and your horse’s colouring.

Jackets – tweed is acceptable for all classes from hunters to cobs. In riding horse classes you will occasionally see people in black or navy, personally I always wear tweed. Navy / black is really for an evening championship.

A well turned out cob and his rider. Aside from traditional cob classes, cobs should be shown with hogged manes, trimmed legs and a pulled tail. A tweed jacket with a shirt and tie is perfect for cob and hunter classes. 

Green is a popular jacket colour but often in Connemara classes especially everyone ends up wearing the same thing and it is a sea of yellow jods, green jackets and green ties. Consider a slightly different shade of tweed or a tie in a colour outside of green or navy to catch the judges eye. I think a white shirt and red / burgundy tie can look great with a green tweed and yellow jods.

Shirts and ties – childrens school shirts from M & S and Tesco – bargains! Tesco is also fab for cheap ties! Buy some in white, lemon and blue and experiment with colours with your jacket and tie. Aim to stick to about three colours. You can often pick up a colour from a tweed very well with the right shade of tie. A subtle tie pin in gold or silver (can be picked up for about €10) looks smart and makes sure your tie doesn’t escape your jacket and flap about!

Lightweight hunter

Make sure to tuck your shirts into jods, choose a shirt with a nice neat close neck (no saggy necked shirts) and ensure your cuffs don’t trail below your jacket cuffs.

Gloves must be worn when showing. Match these to your outfit.

Turnout for a riding horse class

Hair – long hair must be neatly tied up into a plait or bun and secure just below your helmet. Hairnets must be worn – there is nothing worse than a beautifully turned out horse and rider with straggly hair! If your hair is fly away use hair grips and hair spray or even a bit of gel to tidy it all away before applying your hair net. Use hair ties the same colour as your hair.

Hats – must be to standard specified by organisers. Velvet show hats look best for showing – leave the plastic ones that look like glorified cycling helmets to the show jumpers.

Cane – showing cane in black or brown is correct for showing but not mandatory. Cane suitable for hunter classes. Short whip suitable for working / performance hunter. No dressage whips!

A double bridle with a plain flat browband and noseband is perfect for hunter classes. These horses should look workmanlike. 

Makeup – Ladies if you are pale or terrified, wear some bronzer and blusher to avoid looking like a ghost. If you have a florid complexion or blush in exertion avoid the blusher or you will look like a beetroot. Lipstick should be worn in a neutral matte shade. Avoid fire engine reds and very bright glossy shades. Being well made up is a nice compliment to your well turned out horse and completes the whole picture. Use a primer under foundation to keep it in place, fix with a setting spray (NYX matte setting spray is fab) and use a waterproof or weatherproof mascara / eyeliner. Children – no make up J

Jewellery – small pearls look gorgeous for showing. (if permitted by governing body), but should not be worn side saddle. No other jewellery should be worn aside from a watch.

Generally for showing riders will be given a number and a string upon declaring entry. Some quick edits can turn this from looking a bit primitive to looking smart and discreet. Firstly, use a scissors to round the corners of the number. Secondly, always bring a shoelace in dark colours. Knot the ends together and use this in place of the string provided (which is usually in a bright blue or yellow or white). When the number is worn around the riders waist so that it is visible from the back, the shoelace will blend in with the riders jacket rather than giving them an unflattering belted waistline from the string. You can get magnetic little buttons for attaching the  numbers too which I quite like but always bring a shoelace as backup in case these get misplaced.

Small riding horse at the RDS Dublin Horseshow

For side saddle, specific attire is defined for juniors and for ladies. Rules include which hat to wear (a bowler or a silk hat), which colour habit should be worn with a stock versus a shirt and tie and around colours – for example black gloves should never be worn side saddle as they signify a lady in mourning. The Irish and UK Side Saddle associations have excellent resources available which will detail the finer points or show ring etiquette and turnout. If anyone needs advice on side saddle turnout in Ireland my friend Ciara O’Connell is a great source of information and is always happy to share.


Side Saddle instructor and show rider Jennifer Torrance beautifully turned out at a side saddle display at the RDS Dublin Horseshow


Tack should be in good condition and brown or black. Brown is traditionally more accepted for showing but black is fine. No gaudy colours, no red plastic stirrups!

For horse ridden flat classes – snaffle, Pelham with two sets of reins, rugby Pelham or double bridle is fine. No three rings. Flat noseband on bridle, no flash or grackle. Plain browband for hunters / cobs / coloured / breeds. Fancy browband for riding horse classes. No martingale, no boots, no bandages.

For pony flat classes – the rules will specify the bits allowed, its set by the IPS or pony club or governing body.

In Connemara pony classes ponies should be shown in their natural state – flowing mane, tail left natural and feathers and whiskers intact

Working Hunter / performance hunter– again check the rules but generally any bit and bridle allowed. Martingales are allowed. Boots allowed only for show jumping phase. Obey the no tack change rule – whatever bit, bridle and martingale was used in the jumping part must be worn to the second phase.

Saddles should be showing, working hunter or general purpose. Showing saddle is straight cut to show off horses shoulder. Working hunter is like showing but with small knee roll to support the rider jumping. Showing judges are not a fan of dressage saddles as they are not dressage riders and are not familiar with the horse.

No square saddle cloths. Either none at all, or a saddle cloth the shape or the saddle in a neutral colour. Personally I use no saddle cloth and just a sheepskin half pad in a neutral colour. If putting a half pad next to the skin choose genuine sheepskin rather than synthetic as it is more breathable and less likely to cause a skin reaction.

Horses – well conditioned leather girth. Ponies – the same or a cotton girth in neutral colour.


A well turned out horse, rider and groom 

Horse and Pony Turnout:

Cobs – should be hogged (apart from traditional Irish cobs which are shown with full mane / tail / feather). Should have a pulled and banged tail. Feathers and face trimmed. Ideally hog so that there is 7-10 days growth before a showing class.

A good grooming session on a dark horse will often yield better shine and results than washing just before a show

Hunters Ridden / Working / Performance– pulled tails, plaited manes (sewn preferably with 7-9-11 plaits max). Feathers and face trimmed. Discreet quarter marks if desired.

Riding Horses – pulled tails but may be plaited for a gelding (do not plait a mares tail). Plaits (ideally sewn in) quantity to flatter the horses build. Feathers and face trimmed. Quarter marks if desired.

Sewn in plaits for showing classes

Connemaras  – shown natural if in breed classes, as per class standard in non-breed classes. For breed classes, no plaits, full tail and feathers. Discreet trimming is permitted (and is necessary if you also show the pony in no- breed classes!).

Turn the horse out to look like the best version of itself!

Washing – I only wash greys and white legs before a show. I feel there is often no need to wash other colours if they are rugged as it takes the grease out of the coat and dulls the shine. For dark coloured horses there is no substitute for elbow grease and hand grooming to bring up a shine.

Even a thick connemara mane can look great with sewn in plaits

Washing whites / greys – use warm water – you wouldn’t wash your own hair in cold, warm is needed for lather. First wash with something that lathers highly to take out the surface dirt. I use head and shoulders or washing up liquid. You can also use Hibiscrub (wear gloves, it will dry your hands) or if your horse is sensitive skinned a specific horse shampoo (I find Wahl dirty beastie to be the best of them). Personally head and shoulders works for me and if it is safe for a human head I would imagine your horse will be fine, it hasn’t failed me yet and it costs a fraction of what horse shampoos cost. Use your surface dirt removed with hot water with a capful of Dettol mixed in (Dettol gets everything out of coats – grease / scuff / sand).  Next once the surface dirt if off – wash with a whitening shampoo. You can go and spend a fortune on whitening shampoos in the tack shop if you wish (Quic Silver and Wahl diamond white are quite good) but I head to the local pharmacy and buy Touch of Silver shampoo for a few euro and it’s a purple shampoo that does the exact same thing (its designed to take yellow tones out of grey human hair).

Pulling an unruly tail

Now, conditioner. Apply Pantene intense conditioner to the legs / body and leave for five mins before rinsing off. Instant silk coat! I always use this when washing tails. However – never use this near where the saddle sits as you will slip off and do not use in a mane or tail if plaiting! It is ideal for taming fluffy Connemara manes though when showing naturally. Also, Pantene conditioner or Canter coat shine will form a silicone barrier over the skin and hair. This means fresh dirt sticks to this layer and not into the skin so is easier to remove.

Next, chalk. Chalk the legs while still damp (wear gloves or you will chalk everything including yourself). Stable bandage over night over the chalked legs. Leave on til just before your class – instant natural looking white legs! Don’t apply chalk to dry legs on the day, it looks unnatural. The whitening sprays are better.

When it comes to taming a wild Connemara mane, a five minute soak in Pantene intense conditioner after washing works wonders!!

Final touches – some coat shine / Vaseline warmed between your palms and applied to the muzzle (which should be trimmed for non-breed classes with a razor or scissors), the eyes and the forehead. Apply small amount of oil to palms and hand groom where the light hits – the neck, the shoulder, the hip, the quarters, the knees, the hocks.

Cover small scars on white with chalk. Cover small scars on black hair with black wound powder mixed with oil.

Plaited tails are incorrect for hunters or cobs (theirs should be pulled) or for native ponies (theirs should be natural for breed classes) but they can look smart for riding horse classes. Personally I would never plait a mares tail though (traditionally a rule to preserve her modesty) so for me this is just for geldings in riding horses. 
Plaiting a tail by putting the hair under rather than over each other gives an interesting finish

If you are not washing your horses, groom with high quality brushes – there is no substitute for time and elbow grease. I am a big fan of the Haas brushes and use these but before these wear around I would always try and use wooden brushes with natural bristles as they just seem to work best. For sprays, I have used a lot and always go back to Canter Mane n Tail for tails and to Supreme shine spray for bodies. I don’t spray coat shine onto horses, instead I spray it into an old towel or tea towel and rub this into the horse to bring up a shine.

a freshly pulled tail


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