Dressing for the Select Amateur Show Ring, Part 1

Dressing for the Select Amateur Show Ring, Part 1

You dress appropriately for your age in your everyday life, but what about in the horse-showing ring? Here are some tips for your most flattering Select division show ring look.
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Riders older than 50 should beam with confidence and fulfillment as they enter the show pen. There truly are benefits to being “seasoned in life.” If we approach these years with a lighthearted approach and a new look, we’ll reap the benefits. Just create a new beginning. Rethink color, style, accessories, makeup and hair.

Suzanne Vlietstra, president of Hobby Horse Clothing Co. in Chino, California, says that in general, as we age, we dress “a little quieter.” Less becomes more. The look becomes more sophisticated than sexy.

“If you have the body of a younger rider, then go for the styles that flatter your figure,” Suzanne suggests. But, if the post mid-life curse has sent fat cells venturing to where they have never gone before, dress to camouflage the unwelcome weight.

For example, Suzanne says, “If you have some middle-aged spread, dress modestly and don’t draw attention to your middle by changing colors there. Keeping chaps and tops in a similar color tone will be more flattering to a thicker middle than an abrupt color change in the zone known as ‘the vast waistland.’ ”

Choosing a belt also becomes more crucial if the mid-section is not the smallest body area. “Rhinestone belts are a good example of this,” Suzanne says. They look great on a size-3 rider, but putting this type of horizontal, flashing contrast line around a plus-size middle is far from flattering. Also, Suzanne explains, “Those belts look silly when they are half covered by chaps. We always advise riders to match a simple, plain belt to their pants and chaps, to keep from advertising their waist area.”

Especially when riding in Select horsemanship classes, wise use of outfit decoration and design can create a smooth, lean look, as opposed to calling attention to flaws. “Select riders would be wise to use more vertical placement of design to elongate the body impression, rather than glopping everything on the shoulders,” Suzanne explains.

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Think of a deep V design to minimize the waist and draw the viewer’s eye upward. The fashion police aren’t going to snatch you off your horse, but from the distance a judge sees you in the arena, it might be smarter to have some decoration on your shoulders, but also a vertical line down your front to create an attractive frame for your face.”

Another aspect of the curse is the addition of an extra chin or two and the formation of “chicken neck,” which gives the skin sort of a crepe appearance. Of course, the neck can also seem to thicken and lose its length from weight gain. If you’re one of the lucky ones who still has a fairly firm neck and chin area, Suzanne says you can always opt for the open collar. But if the crepe appearance is still a problem, she advises using “a cute Western scarf to fill in the neckline on the blouse.”

Regardless of what you wear in the horse-showing ring, there are things that can help minimize body wiggle.

“Foundations first, ladies! Go to Sears or some other underwire emporium,” Suzanne says. “Take your show clothes with you and ask them to shape you like Cher, without surgery or exercise.” Suzanne laughs, but then seriously adds, “Sometimes it takes a bra and body slimmer, plus a pair of Spanx - terrific footless panty hose that won’t drive you nuts - to control your excess self. Don’t use those smasher exercise bras or you’ll look like pudding. It’s not necessarily fat, but as we age, our skin and bodies loosen up. And, there’s nothing like an extended sitting trot to point this out. Gravity takes its toll, but Lycra and innovation can almost turn back time.”

Chapped Hips

A well-cut pair of chaps can help downplay body imperfections. Suzanne says frankly, “Chaps are the most important part of a western show outfit, because they cover more than half your body. Wearing a perfect pair of chaps is the best way to look better when you show. Get them custom made if you need to. The extra expense is worth it.” And, she says, they never really go out of style.

Think “fit” more than “flow.” Suzanne says, “Chaps that fit up on your natural waist will give you the appearance of longer legs. Chaps that gap or bag, and don’t fit trimly to your leg, are not as flattering.” Ideally, she says, “Chaps should fit like a glove, but not strangle you.”

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Remember that older riders often do best when playing things down. That’s why hubcap-sized conchos on chaps aren’t the best way to go. Instead, Suzanne says, “Tasteful silver at the waist is a nice touch, but so are covered buttons. They are nearly invisible in the pen.”

[caption id="attachment_50056" align="alignright" width="300"] If all else fails, Suzanne says a classic cotton button-down starched and tailored to fit looks great in the horse show pen too. Journal photo[/caption]

Ditch the Glitz

With older horse riders, subtlety often spells sophistication. But Suzanne thinks all age riders are falling into the overdone trap.

“I think a lot of custom styles in the arena these days are ‘too’ - too much trim, too many stones, too much of everything. The problem is, these exquisite garments look great close up, but from across the arena, which is a judge’s eye view, they just look like shiny mish-mash.”

Suzanne says she sees all kinds of spangly stuff, even at small shows. She feels that a lot of riders overdress for local events. In the case of the older rider, too much sparkle can make this even more evident. She stresses to think of fabrics and styles that are comfortable all day.

“Try vests rather than jackets, and cotton rather than synthetics, if you have that option. A great cotton shirt can be starched and tailored for women - or men - to be as correct at the local shows as it would be at the AQHA World Championship Show. But, just tossing on some shirt from the back of your closet isn’t what I mean.”