Preparing for Your First Show: Part 2 – The Horse’s Dress Code

horseback riding lessons

We’ve checked out your show day outfit. Now let’s look at what the horse needs to wear.

The Horse
If you don’t have a dressage saddle, don’t worry. Until you know for sure that you want to ride pure dressage, stick with the saddle you use in your horseback riding lessons since you’re comfortable in it. Saddles are expensive, so you don’t want to rush into a new purchase before you’re ready.


Although saddle blankets come in interesting colors these days, don’t use them in a test! A white one looks more polished, and you want to make a good impression on the judge.

The bridle and bit need to be English not Western style. You’re safest with a snaffle bit or a Happy Mouth (which I use). Make sure you and your horse are used to an allowed bit in your horse riding lessons.

A comprehensive list of permissible dressage show bits can be found in Rule DR121 of the USEF Rule Book at

Rule DR121 covers the dress code. Paragraph 1 covers the saddle, Paragraph 2 covers the bridle, and Paragraph 15 covers bits permitted in dressage.

Even though the rules don’t mention the Introductory Tests – as they were created by the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and not the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) – USEF regulations also apply to the Introductory Tests.

Here are some other simple rules to bear in mind:

  • You cannot use a martingale in a dressage test, but a breast plate is allowed.
  • You should remove martingale stops from your reins.
  • Remove ALL bandages, over reach boots, exercise boots, etc. from your horse.
  • YOU WILL BE ELIMINATED if your horse is wearing anything on his legs!
  • Make sure your riding whip is no longer than 120cm

Check Paragraph 7 of DR121 for a full list of prohibited equipment.

By watching riders at a competition before you enter one, you’ll see how their horses are tacked up. Don’t be afraid to ask competitors questions: they are usually very happy to help.

Next we’ll be looking at how to prepare for show day. 







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