Safely Expressing Yourself in the Hunter Ring

I have the upmost respect for values and traditions. I commend the equestrian sport for upholding the rules of horse and rider turnout throughout the years. However I do occasionally find myself feeling like I did when I went to a private all girls school that had strict uniform requirements… bored and antsy. Let me express myself! At least a little bit!

(Note: the hunters are based on the HORSES performance. Anything that may distract the judge from the horse is usually frowned upon. So while I may be saying I want to express myself, I don’t mean by wearing a hot pink show coat and glittery fairy wings.)

​Before I dive into my little acts of rebellion, I think it’s important for me to outline and reference a few of the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) rules in order to educate you on standard practice within the hunter division. I am only noting some the rules that apply to basic attire and tack – these are not the full rules and should not be referenced as such. For the rules in their entirety, please visit


HU126 Tack Snaffles, pelhams and full bridles, all with cavesson nose bands, are required. A cavesson nose band is a regular nose band you see on all hunter bridles.


Donny modeling a hunter bridle with cavesson noseband and full cheek snaffle.

Judges may penalize, but may not eliminate, a horse or pony that competes in a snaffle, pelham, or full bridle that is unconventional. Unconventional snaffles, pelhams, or full bridles include, but are not limited to, hunter gags, kimberwickes, etc.

​Judges must eliminate a horse or pony that competes in illegal bits or nosebands. Illegal bits include, but are not limited to, three rings, gags (other than the hunter gag), et cetera… Illegal nosebands include, but are not limited to, drop, flash and figure eight nosebands.

Illegal Nosebands
Martingales of any type are prohibited in Under Saddle, hack and tie-breaking classes. Standing and running martingales used in the conventional manner are allowed for all over fences classes. All other martingales are considered illegal. A judge must eliminate a horse or pony that competes in a martingale other than a standing or running martingale used in the conventional manner. I have NEVER seen a running martingale used in a hunter class.
Running and Standing Martingales

HU127 Equipment ​Light pads and bar shoes are permissible, however, bar shoes indicate a weakness and in Conformation classes a judge may penalize accordingly. All artificial appliances, including but not limited to nasal strips, boots, wraps and bandages are prohibited. In the case of inclement weather competition management may permit the use of bell boots. Even in wet conditions, I have never seen anyone show in bell boots nor have I ever seen anything but the classic hunter pad. We will use studs if competing on grass.


Classic Hunter Show Pad

HU128 Attire Protective headgear: all riders must wear protective headgear. I wear the Kask Starlady and have never had an issue or complaint about it. I would never wear a helmet that was flashy or had ‘bling.’

Attire: riders are required to wear conservatively colored coats (black, blue, green, grey or brown) which are free from adornment which in the judge’s opinion is overly distracting. Shirts must have a choker, similar collar or tie. Breeches may be buff, canary, tan, rust or white. I have never seen anyone compete in canary or rust colored breeches, but I think someone should bring it back! I wear tan/buff breeches. When I was a junior and it was classic day in the jumpers I wore white. I have a green Equiline and dark royal blue Manfredi coat that I compete in and have been totally safe wearing. I have not competed in a light grey coat.


Kask Starlady helmet and blue Manfredi Coat


Kask Starlady helmet and green Equiline coat
Formal Attire: riders are required to wear scarlet or dark coats; white shirts with white stock; white, buff or canary breeches. I see black or dark grey shadbellies with stock ties and dark hunt coats in hunter derbies and classics, but never a scarlet coat. I have competed in derbies without a shadbelly and not been penalized, but many traditional trainers will require their students to wear them when acceptable (especially juniors.)


R.J. Classics Hunter Shadbelly Photo: Dover Saddlery

Inappropriate attire: when management permits Hunter or Hunter/Jumping Seat Equitation riders to ride without jackets, riders must wear traditional, short, or long-sleeved riding shirts with chokers or ties. Polo shirts and full chaps are not permitted except in unjudged warm-up classes. Management or Judge may eliminate an exhibitor who is inappropriately attired. Even when they wave jackets, I keep mine on. There was one time at a smaller local show where it was over 90 degrees F and I removed my jacket for the last few classes, but I wouldn’t have if I was at a higher rated show.

​In classes restricted to junior exhibitors, rules concerning hunt colors will be strictly enforced.

Now that you have a little background on how turnout is primarily governed in the hunters, here are a few of the things I do to help me feel a little ‘unique’ or ‘special’ when it comes time for my two minutes in the show ring.

​Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks ‘Big Eq’ Browband

Subtle enough to not distract the judge, but different enough to make you feel unique. Boy-O-Boy has made quite the impression with their new ‘Big Eq’ browbands and belts! Available in brown and black.


Donny modeling the Big Eq browband in brown


Big Eq belts

​Custom Mane Jane Spur Straps

I have the black croc patent leather version with a minimalistic B charm (B for Bodson!) The options are endless & this is a great way to personalize your style in an elegant and understated way.

​DIY Braid Bling

I have a little bobble I found at a bead store that I turned into what I call ‘braid bling’ simply by looping an elastic band around it. I’ll tie it around one of D’s braids, it’s so small that no one can really see it except for me! Normally I put it the middle of his neck on a bigger braid. I guess you could say it’s my good luck charm.

Fun Belts!

I love the options from Ellany Equestrian (they’re adjustable elastic with lots of color and hardware options!), Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks (available in ready to ship colors & patterns or you can go custom!), City Girl Equestrian (different color options and you can change out the buckles!) UnBelts and Smathers and Branson. (When I’m needing some edge I’ll wear my skull and crossbones one.)


Ellany Equestrian


Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks


City Girl Equestrian




Smathers and Branson

Dreamers n Schemers Socks

I am in love with the new Dreamers & Schemers collection. They fit perfectly underneath my boots without any bulk and the patterns are amazing. It’s a fun way to get ready and also a great conversation starter when you’re walking around the show after you take off your boots. The new bottoms are slightly padded to give your heels and toes a little more protection, but not so much so that they make your boots tight. Simply fun, amazing perfection!

Show Shirts with Subtle Details

Show shirts with subtle buttons or details that you only see after you take off your coat are fun and different. I love this one from For Horses USA, the little jewel button on the collar is so subtle but gives me a slight glam finish and the endless options from Valentine Equine are both gorgeous and functional! No stiff lace here, it’s stretchy and super soft. PLUS they also come in short sleeves for those hot summer days!
Shirt by ForHorses USA

​Pony Glam Hoof Hi-Lites

Sassy silver gives D the perfect shine. Not too much, but enough sparkle to make us feel polished up and ready to rock. I mean just look at his hooves! No goop, just perfect sparkly shine.

​Blue or Green Hunt Coat

The colors I see most often are black or dark grey. Switch things up a bit with a blue or green one!

So, those are the ways I have fun in the hunter ring! So far, I haven’t been penalized for any of the above, but do not take my word for it. A lot can change from judge to judge, so if you’re concerned, always play it safe and stick to the more conservative choices. How do you get ready to show? Any fun things I left out? Let me know!


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