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The Do's and Don'ts of Equestrian Attire


By Jennifer Nadeau, Equine Extension Specialist, University of Connecticut and Betsy Greene, Equine Extension Specialist, University of Vermont from article

Rider on horse wearing a helmet

It is important to think about what you are going to wear prior to working with or riding a horse not only for comfort, but also for safety. This does not have to be expensive, and appropriate garments are not difficult to find.


There are many types of headgear available for equestrians. The most important consideration when selecting headgear should be safety rather than fashion. Non-approved headgear are items of apparel only. Approved headgear is available and provides the most protection for your head.

Some common non-approved headgear worn by equestrians are:

1. Cowboy hats - commonly worn by those in Western disciplines or recreational riders 2. Baseball hats - commonly worn by all equestrians 3. Derbies - commonly worn by those in dressage and driving 4. Top hats - commonly worn by those at higher levels in dressage 5. Hunt caps - commonly worn by those in English related disciplines and are designed similarly to ASTM/SEI approved helmets but do not meet these safety standards 6. Bicycle helmets - often worn by novice riders but are designed to absorb impact from the height of a bicycle, not the height of a horse. 1. Bike helmets do not protect the back of the head or the forehead because these areas are generally not susceptible to injury in a bicycle crash. 2. The back of the head, forehead, and sides of the head are all vulnerable in falls from horses.

Approved Headgear

It is a necessary precaution to wear ASTM/SEI certified and properly fitted equestrian helmets when riding, and often even when working around horses. Just as people fasten their seatbelts in a car or an airplane, or don life jackets on boat rides to lessen the possibility of tragedy, wearing a helmet is a proven way to prevent or decrease head injuries when riding. One helmet can cost from $30-300 dollars, which is a bargain relative to the potential cost and permanence of a head injury.

Every Time Every Ride: Fitting a Helmet, from


Unless you plan to go to a horse show, you probably have a suitable shirt, such as a T-shirt or sweatshirt to wear. The shirt should fit appropriately, and should not be too large or loose so that it may catch on a piece of equipment or tree branch.

If you are going out on trail you should consider wearing bright colors for visibility. Many riders like to wear vests when the weather gets cooler. Your arms and shoulders are less restricted in a vest and they lend themselves to layering for warmth.

There are winter coats designed for riding if you live in an area where you have to cope with frigid temperatures. These coats are roomy through the shoulders, and have gussets so they spread over the saddle rather than tucking under your seat. Many have attractive reflective tape and patches for greater visibility out on trail.


For everyday riding, an inexpensive pair of two-way stretch tights maybe the most comfortable. Riding tights can be bought with leather knee and seat patches. These provide a bit more grip and will be made of a more durable fabric than tights not designed for horseback riding. Winter riding pants are made of fleece material for warmth.

Many people ride in jeans or sweat pants. What you will want to avoid in any case is pants that twist, wrinkle or bunch along the inside of your legs and especially knees. Again, your pants should not be too large as they may catch on something, leading to injury to yourself or your horse. Some people like the extra grip and in the winter the wind breaking ability of leather riding chaps. Half chaps that cover from knee to foot provide grip and protection for the lower leg.


Besides your helmet, your footwear is probably the next most important type of attire to keep you and your horse safe.

Although there is no official testing or standards for boots, you will want to find a pair with about a 1 to 1 ½ inch heel and low tread. The heel will keep your foot from slipping through the stirrup when riding. In this case, gym shoes are not appropriate for riding a horse. The tread on many hiking and winter boots is too heavy and in case of a fall may jam in the stirrup. You also want to avoid any boots with waffle tread. There are many different styles of boots so choose whatever is comfortable, affordable and suitable for your type of riding. When working with or riding a horse, you should never have sandals or flip-flops on in case you are stepped on by your horse.

For riding purposes, your boots should be supportive of your ankles, just like an ice skater. Therefore, you will want to find boots that cover the ankles. Your boots don’t have to be ‘riding boots’ as long as the sole, heel and tread are appropriate. Inexpensive leather and running shoe style riding boots start at about $100.

(Above right: Boots with heels and a low tread are safe to ride in.)

For more information on safe horse handling and attire, check out the HorseQuest Learning Lesson: Horse Owner Survival and the instructional video Proper Attire and Benefits of Safe Ground Handling.

Recommended Resources Horse Owner Survival: Learning Lesson from Helmet Fitting Guidelines for Horse Owner. Jenifer Nadeau and Betsy Greene. 2011. Article Equine Helmet Safety: Every Time…..Every Ride (2009). Video series shared by Safety at Horse Shows. Doyle Meadows. 2009. Article.

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