Does professional presentation really matter? Should you worry about it? Absolutely. This is crucial in any industry, but particularly if you are, or want to be, an equine professional. The nature of this business is such that you are setting an example for others, especially children. These children need to have good, positive, consistent role models in order to develop as respectable citizens and horsepeople. Their parents are going to be far more likely to put their faith (and their dollars) in you if they feel good about the example you set for their child. None of us who are heavily involved with horses have a lot of extra time and few of us have the ability to avoid getting dirty and sweaty, but there are simple things you can do which dramatically enhance your professionalism.
Further, if you expect to sell horses, which is part of the business as well, you need to earn the respect of buyers as well as other professionals. If you look sloppy, disorganized, or as though you have a total lack of respect for the sport, you won’t earn their confidence. If you want to be taken seriously by students, parents, professionals, and everyone else, you must learn how to dress for the role.
The clothes you wear say a lot about you. Clothes can tell people how much you respect yourself, how self-aware you are, how much attention you pay to detail, and what role you play in your setting. Our industry is built on tradition, as well as on putting your best foot forward. As such, we have a uniform of sorts. Certainly in the show ring, but outside of it also. Although it is open to (some) tactful interpretation, it is a functional and neat way of presenting yourself, and it allows you to be identified as a well-informed, seasoned pro.
Professional looking trainers can be spotted wearing high-quality breeches, or sometimes neat, lean boot-cut jeans over their paddock boots. Sometimes you can even find them in a sharp pair of cuffed shorts or skirt. A good rule of thumb is to stick to collared shirts (half-zip athletic/sun shirts certainly count). You should feel put together. Everyone has their own style, but imagine adapting it from show attire- neutral colors, well-fit clothing, functional, conservative, and timeless. If you want to be seen as a composed professional, short shorts, cleavage, and bare midriffs have no place at the horse show.
Quality of Clothing
Quality of clothing is crucial. Particularly when you are actually competing. Professionals, as well as dedicated amateurs, invest in their attire to make sure it holds up for repeated use and allows them to represent who they are in the sport. You wouldn’t want your horse to compete in a $40 plastic starter bridle, and thus you need to hold yourself to the same standard.
It’s not that you have to have the most expensive show clothes. However, they should reflect classic style and you should be willing to stretch to get the best quality you can. More important than anything: they must fit you perfectly. They need to be of a brand that makes show clothes- not schooling clothes. The fabric needs to hold up to sun and dirt. Show shirts should be long sleeved, mostly white, and breathable.
Finally, let’s talk about show coats. These are tricky. There are a lot of possible colors and styles, and they are notoriously hard to fit. You may love the new crossover/ jumper style coats that are shorter and more fashion-forward. But, if you are going to be stepping foot in the hunter ring, you need to at least start with a traditional coat. That is to say, if you have just one coat, it needs to be traditional, conservative, and work for all three rings. That means that it should be:
- Navy blue (most traditional), or black
- 3 buttons (matching color)
- Perfectly fit
Most tack shops have an expert in hunt coat fit on staff, and always ask for your trainer to approve it as well!
Jacket Fit guidelines:
- Shoulders should fit near perfectly, and someone facing you should be able to pinch a half-inch of fabric or so on each side of the shoulder. You should be able to pose in a two-point position comfortably, but when arms are extended, the fabric should be stretched somewhat tight across your back. There are some newer styles of jacket that, while still having the traditional look, have enough stretch in the fabric and cut to make this a lot more comfortable. The RJ Classics Marley Orange Label Show coat is a great example. It also is cut really well, which makes seem like a custom fit for a lot of people.
- While wearing the coat, go sit on a saddle in the tack shop. When seated, you should have an inch or two of fabric that lays behind you on the saddle (for traditional hunter coats).
- Your sleeves should show about half an inch of show shirt below them.
- You don’t want buttons to gap in front, but you want a clean, smooth line and as little extra fabric as possible. Imagine that you don’t want the coat or its buttons catching on the tack or horse- it should lay flush against your body.
- When in doubt, go for alterations with a professional seamstress. Don’t feel bad if you can’t find a perfect fit. Many people have a hard time with this. Just size up slightly and then work with a great seamstress to get it just right.
To Be Continued…
Your clothing isn’t the only component to a professional presentation. There are of course other aspects of dress and physical appearance, but there is also the way you speak and behave. Next week’s post will continue the conversation.
In the meantime, just remember that the overall goal of professional presentation is not to look like a carbon-copy of every other horse trainer, but to allow you to be an effective horse person. Also, to have not only confidence in yourself, but to inspire confidence in those you advise. And finally, to allow yourself to be a reflection of the way you treat the animals in your care.
Reach out to trainer Alicia Wilkinson now for more equestrian expertise!