With so many new wardrobe option allowed in the Dressage Ring, we caught up with Jennifer Truett - International competitor, FEI Certified Instructor, principle of Dancing Horse Farm in Lebanon, OH and undeniable fashionista of the Dressage ring for her insights into incorporating new show-ring fashion options into your wardrobe. Keep reading for great insights and discussion from Jennifer
How to be fashionable with good taste in the new world of DR120...
By Jennifer Truett
President, Dancing Horse Farm, Inc.
USDF FEI Certified Instructor, Diamond Achievement Award Recipient, Region 2 PM Delegate
Lisa Gorretta asked me to write this blog most likely because I am known for pushing hard on our traditional black and white boundaries; I've been "fashion-forward" my entire dressage career. In the early 2000's when wearing a navy coat was out of the norm, I was out there in my gray jacket and shadbelly with bling buttons (the ones on my shad were boring metal buttons I immediately replaced with crystal buttons), stock tie pin and bun cover. My horses wore coordinating gray fly bonnets with, or without, crystals and tasteful beaded or crystal browbands. I was thrilled when 1K helmets came out with a gray suede helmet with two lines of aurora borealis crystals to spice up my already exciting outfit.
By the second decade of the 2000's, I no longer felt alone in my push against the fashion boundaries, with many people and companies getting into making custom browbands and fly bonnets. I remember seeing a booth at Devon that made browbands that doubled as a necklace for the rider when not being worn by the horse! There were many options for "jewelry" for your horse's head, including loose/dangling numbers that I assumed would be super irritating to the horse every time it clonked into its forehead. There were also multi-dimensional, rhinestone encrusted browbands that not only weighed quite a bit but also flashed like LED lights in the sun. I heard numerous judges complain they struggled to see the horse's head coming up centerline because they were blinded by the browband...maybe that was the goal for some riders :-)
I was definitely not alone in my push against our traditional black and white “uniform,” and companies were happy to oblige. People bought these “wilder” wardrobe upgrades like they were going out of style...which they quickly did. I never got into encrusting my horse's forehead in crystals during this time, instead I chose to push the color boundaries with my show outfit but always stuck with traditional black tall boots.
Around 2015, when I brought Taffy out at Grand Prix, I stuck with gray for my new shadbelly, but had it trimmed in teal and white piping and my mom made me a stunning teal brocade stock tie and pocket square. I got a KEP helmet in matt gray with a color changing teal-royal blue fabric front. I had a matching bonnet made with a gray base color, teal and white trim and a very small line of clear crystals.
I pushed the color boundaries even harder a couple years later with my royal blue short jacket and matching royal fly bonnet on my young horse, Dreamy. By the end of this decade, I'd gotten a beautiful jewel-tone teal jacket and had a
matching bonnet made for him. Last year, when it was time to get another shadbelly (apparently, being in your mid-40's requires wardrobe updates every couple of years to accommodate for an ever-changing waistline) I devoted time to researching how far I could push the color scale because I really wanted a bright teal shadbelly to go with my bright chestnut horse. This was the first time I really closely looked at the FEI color scale and learned about hues and tones. WOW, was it complicated! I reviewed many articles written on the subject. Everyone I talked to said the rules were about to change, but no one knew in which direction they would go. This was the same time period that the Dutch team competed in bright orange shadbellies in Europe, so I made the calculated decision to trust the rules were going to soften and ordered my teal shadbelly.
I wore it three times last summer and got "scolded" once by a judge who argued that the Young Horse rules clearly state that the color of the coat must be a conservative, dark color. Since I was competing in the 7-year-old Young Horse classes, I was breaking that specific YH rule. We didn't get eliminated, just warned for next time. Interestingly, in the 7-year-old classes, you can wear either a jacket or a shadbelly, so I went back to wearing my acceptably “dark” teal jacket.
As everyone in dressage is aware, at the end of last year the dressage fashion floodgates burst open with the USEF update to DR120. I excitedly reviewed the rule changes, watched a plethora of videos, read articles, etc. about the multitude of interpretations of the new rules. This was exactly what those of us who pushed the boundaries have wanted for years, but at the same time, I assumed this also meant that our new-found freedom would mean that the pendulum would inevitably swing too far. However, to my surprise, I did not see much of a shift in fashion in Florida this winter. Other than some coordinating stirrups, spurs, and more colored piping on shadbellies, not much changed.
This winter it was time for me to put together my next show outfit for my new mare, GiGi. I asked one of the managers at Wellington's Dover why their store still only had black, brown, navy and hunter green jackets given the new rules. She said the manufacturers have to produce such large lots that they want to wait to see how the rule changes are embraced by riders before they invest in the “latest fad.” That makes perfect sense, because the manufacturers aren't going to invest in producing items that won't sell well. In February and March this year, there really weren't many jacket colors available yet. However, it seemed that helmet manufacturers were prepared for the rule shift given the number of over-the-top glittery, sparkly, practically glow-in-the-dark helmet options available. I have now seen some of these helmets in person and thought a couple looked like the rider had a flashlight on their head (like a mining helmet) because the glow was so blinding!
Going to shows in Region 2 in the dawning of the new age of DR120, I’m seeing the pendulum swing further in both directions. I am fascinated by how riders are playing with their new-found freedom in wardrobe choices. Some riders have taken their allowed self-expression to dress like they’re going to a schooling show, basically wearing the same clothing and saddle pads they would when riding at home. Other riders have gone totally over-the-top with their matchy-matchy jackets, boots, saddle pads and helmets sometimes with so much bling that it looks like they are wearing sparklers!
I knew, as did everyone involved in changing DR120, that some riders would take their wardrobe choices beyond what “traditionalists” would have imagined coming down the centerline. My comment to people out there planning their step outside the black and white is to remember if you are a skilled rider riding your horse to the best of his/her abilities, then wearing something a little different to tastefully stand out from the sea of dark coats is appropriate. I am a bit concerned that the quality of riding could become less important than the presentation of the clothing ensemble. Since we are in the very early stages of this pendulum swing, now is the time to remember the French word “dressage” translates into “training,” not fashion. Start with good training, then look good doing it…not the other way around.
As a self-professed boundary pusher and light years from being a fuddy-duddy, I can tell you that some of what I've seen I don’t feel is appropriate for the competition arena. I’ve seen several riders wearing all-black, including jacket, helmet and boots, sometimes with a white stock tie and/or gloves. IMHO, all black is appropriate for a funeral (uh-oh, that comment might make me “old”), not a dressage show. I’ve even seen riders who didn't braid their horses' manes (short manes, not breed-specific long manes), which is not a requirement, just tradition. Braiding helps the judge see the quality of the bend, acceptance of the contact, and shows respect for our sport.
I believe that you can be fashionable and still classy. A beautifully coordinated, but subdued color scheme is a perfect choice for most Junior and AA riders. I have many riders who are head-turners because they've worked hard to coordinate their much more affordable brown or navy outfits. Right now, the brighter colors and more out-there styles often require custom design, so are more spendy. If you do spend money to upgrade your wardrobe, consider how that expense compares to what you are paying for your education. Are you prepared to "wow" the judges and crowd with your riding and your horse's training that matches your wardrobe choices?
Please keep in mind that the centerline is not a fashion show runway; it is a demonstration of the relationship you share with your horse and your understanding and implementation of the systematic development of a dressage horse through progressive training standards. If you feel confident that when you go down centerline, you are able to produce an inspiring ride that people will appreciate watching, then by all means, complete the picture with a classy, eye-catching, beautiful show ensemble. If you draw attention to yourself and your horse, please do it for all the right reasons and let the joy of your relationship and quality of your riding and training be what you leave people talking about...even if they only know to refer to you as "that girl in the turquoise shadbelly".
Picture credit to Susan J. Stickle and Diana Hadsall