A Guide to Bringing Horse Riding Clothes into the 21st Century
By Rachel Ratini BEqSc, EA NCAS Intro Coach
Equestrian is a unique sport, rich in European cavalry and hunting tradition dating back as far as the 1700s, with some traditions still present in today’s modern sport. Considering the highly variable and extreme conditions we endure in Australia, these traditional horse riding clothes are far from suitable for our climate. Many mainstream athletic brands have garments that can cross over as horse riding clothes, and equestrian clothing companies are changing their traditional ideas by introducing more technical materials and athletic styles.
Horse Riding Clothes: Layers
Whether it’s summer or winter, it’s a good idea to start with a base layer. The Nike Dri-Fit knit running top wicks sweat, gives some sun protection, and is light and breathable. The Lululemon Swiftly tech long sleeve top has technology that inhibits bacteria growth in the fabric to have you smelling fresher for longer- perfect for if you have to go grocery shopping after riding and don’t want to get too many strange looks. Aztec Diamond, Dublin, Kerrits, Asmar and Ariat are riding clothing brands that also do a lightweight base layer.
Depending on the temperature, you will usually wear either a fleece top or a down jacket or vest. Fleece tops can be found anywhere- most riding clothing labels will bring out a fleece jacket or jumper each winter, as well as outdoors brands like Kathmandu and The North Face. I get my down jackets from Uniqlo, a Japanese streetwear label. They are super warm but very light, and cheap! They can be rolled up into a little bag, so they handy to keep in your car or tack room just in case.
This is where you could put a waterproof or windproof coat on if needed. It is really important to check the waterproof and breathability rating if you will be riding in the rain, as there’s nothing worse than getting wet and cold and not being able to get changed! Depending on your climate, you’ll want something with at least a 5000mm rating. Good waterproof jackets can be found in outdoors stores, sporting/snow stores, and saddleries. If you know you’ll be in heavy rain or you’re at a competition and just need a shell for temporary protection, Kingsland and Pikeur both make a transparent plastic rain coat. These aren’t ideal for long term use as they aren’t breathable, but are perfect for heavy downpours.
Many horse riding clothes brands are getting on board with athletic fabric in breeches. Think yoga leggings with silicone grip for riding. Kerrits, Dublin, and Kingsland make these legging/ jodhpur hybrids. In cooler weather, traditional breeches are still a top choice, with many brands having stretchy, comfortable fabric, light years away from the slippery poly blend jodhpurs of the past. Some European brands also do softshell breeches which are wind and water proof, perfect for cold and wet days.
I wear a helmet every time I ride- no exceptions. As we are participating in a high-risk sport, we should try to minimize the risk wherever we can. Safety standards mean that all helmets, regardless of cost, all must pass the same standards of safety testing. Why is there so much variation in the price of helmets? The extra cost will give you comfort, technology, ventilation and style, and style can cost a small fortune! It’s important that your helmet is comfortable so try as many as you can before you make your choice, and check your Country or State requirements for the helmet standards needed for your discipline.
It is so important to protect ourselves from the sun in the harsh Australian climate. Gidgee Eyes make sunglasses specifically for riding. They provide UV protection and have a strong and flexible frame in case of a fall. Another great invention is the Soless sun visor, which has 92% UV protection and is large enough that it protects your face and neck, and attaches to your helmet. They are very stylish and practical, and if it’s good enough for actress and showjumper Kaley Cuoco then it’s good enough for me!
Look for gloves that are thin enough that you can feel the reins, strong enough that they won’t wear through in a month, and grippy enough that if it rains or the horse sweats the gloves won’t get slippery. If you are permanently attached to your phone, many brands now make gloves that are touch screen compatible so you don’t need to take your gloves off when you’re answering important phone calls, or more importantly checking Facebook. Some great glove brands are Roeckl, SSG, Samshield and Kingsland.
Due to the need for specialized horse riding boots for safety reasons, this is one area that we can’t cross over into other sporting apparel. Look for a footbed that is comfortable and supportive, as it’s likely you’ll be doing a lot of wearing of these boots both on and off the horse! Fashions have changed past the traditional black or brown, with blue, tan and patent leather boots becoming popular. Like helmets, boots can be fully customized to whatever look you want and how much you want to spend. Some brands to look into are Ariat, Cavallo, Tucci, Sergio Grasso and Secchiari.
Gone are the days of heavy dry clean only woolen riding coats. Almost every horse riding clothes brand has competition coats made from waterproof, breathable, machine washable fabrics, and they are well worth the investment! Some jackets can be fully customized to match your riding colours too. Brands such as Pikeur, Equiline, Cavallo, Kingsland, Dublin, and Spooks all make fashionable riding coats in an athletic fabric.
For lady riders, no matter your size, a sports bra is a must. There are a multitude of studies performed on the effect that exercise has on the movement of breasts, and the pain and discomfort this may cause. Horse riding is a high impact sport; therefore, a suitable sports bra is necessary to prevent pain, discomfort, and damage to your breasts. A bra made for yoga will not be supportive enough for horse riding. Some studies have shown the female breast moving up to 21cm during exercise (ouch!), and 72% of exercising females experience breast pain during physical activity. Read more about the science of sports bras here.
Compression clothing is widely accepted in the sporting community, with plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports the theory that they aid in muscle recovery and increase muscle oxygenation which in theory will improve endurance and strength. Compression garments aren’t heavily used in the equestrian community yet, however this could be a future area of interest for riding clothing manufacturers. Many athletes use compression wear for recovery, rather than while exercising. This could be an option for equestrians after a big competition to prevent or minimize muscle soreness due to lactic acid build up. Some well-known brands are Skins and Under Armour.
With all of these new technologies in sporting fabrics, it is time that we equestrian riders started to treat ourselves like real athletes. If we can stay cool, dry, safe and comfortable, that will give us the best possible chance to perform to our full capabilities, and help our horses out in tough conditions.
References and Links
MacRae, B.A., Cotter, J.D. & Laing, R.M. Sports Med (2011) 41: 815. https://doi.org/10.2165/11591420-000000000-00000