Side Saddle Riding has a long history on what to wear and how to wear it, below are a few guidelines for how to show both rider and horse.
Bowler hats are usually back and can be worn with any colour of habit. The only other colour, which is acceptable, is brown and then only with a brown or tweed habit and only if worn with brown boots.
In the show-ring in the UK, whatever the class, if a bowler hat is worn, it must be with collar and tie, and hair in a bun, even if this means using a false bun. Silk hats (always referred to as a ‘silk hat’ never a ‘top hat’) are for formal occasions only, and this means that the whole turnout of you and your horse must be formal. Your habit should be back or navy, you should wear a white or cream stock and a spur, and your horse should be plaited and in a double bridle. Although, the old rule that silk hats would only be worn at Royal Shows has been relaxed, they are still only worn after lunch. If you are showing, do check the rules as many shows now insist that competitors in all classes must wear British Standard safety hats with a harness.
Traditionally minded judges do not approve of short dressage toppers for side-saddle. Silk hats should be no shorter than 4.75 inches or taller than 5.25 inches, depending on the height of the rider and overall picture on the horse. The hat should sit just above eyebrows and be straight and level to the ground when mounted.
A plain cream four-fold silk stock and plain white stock shirt should be worn with a silk hat, which should be tied tight enough to stay in place, but still be comfortable, and secured by a plain stock pin placed just under the knot when tied. Cream or yellow gloves should be worn with a silk hat although brown is also acceptable.
When wearing a bowler hat, a black bowler is always considered correct with a black or navy habit and long black boots, a brown bowler can also be worn with a tweed habit and long brown boots. A plain-collared shirt of a muted colour, preferably white or light cream should be worn with a dark tie, tied neatly and tight up to the collar.
Brown gloves should be worn with a bowler hat, well fitted and clean. Black gloves are a major faux pas because traditionally, black gloves signified that you were in mourning and therefore shouldn’t be riding.
Hair should be tied back into a tight, very neat, small doughnut-sized bun, just touching the bottom of the hat. A fine hair net should cover both bun and hair. Riders with short hair should wear a false bun to create the illusion of long hair. There should be absolutely no hair whatsoever escaping from under the hat.
A black veil should be worn with a top hat or black bowler. It is worn crossed over the bun at the back and held in place with hairgrips either side. There should be no creases or wrinkles in the veil. A traditional habit is made up of a waistcoat, jacket and apron.
Habits can be of navy, black or tweed in colour. A light- coloured waistcoat, plain or with light check, should be worn under the habit with the lowest button left undone. The jacket should sit just above the saddle when mounted. It should be straight and have sleeves of a correct length so that when the rider’s arms are stretched, they are not too short.
The apron, which gives the impression of a skirt but in fact only wraps around the front of the rider, should sit straight and level with the ground when mounted. The back of the apron should sit just above the seat of the saddle all around. The length of the apron should sit around one hand on its side above the ankle of the boot.
Underneath the habit, breeches should match the colour of your habit.
Long, well-polished black boots, with a spur on the left boot only, should be worn. It is crucial to clean the underside of your boots, as these are very visible when riding side saddle. A cane is carried in the right hand to act instead of the right leg.
The rider is expected to wear make up under the veil. This should be subtle but enough to define the features of the face. No jewellery whatsoever should be worn.
Traditionally in the hunting field, unmarried ladies wore a navy habit with a bowler hat, while married ladies wore a black habit with silk hat if they were a subscriber, or a black habit and black bowler for less significant/important meets or while visiting another pack. This rule has now fallen by the way side although some judges still prefer to see a silk hat worn only with a black habit. All of the showing rules originated in turnout for the hunting field.
Your mount should be immaculate with no marks or stains. The horse should be trimmed and plaited and, if needs be, chalked up to brighten white markings. Make up, baby oil and hoof oil can all be used to enhance the appearance of your horse. Tails should be pulled or neatly plaited. Quarter markers can be used and will be different, depending on the size and shape of your horse.
In side saddle classes, horses are generally ridden in a double bridle, although pelhams are acceptable with double reins. All leatherwork should be well-cleaned and oiled, with the bit and visible buckles polished. If you are wearing a silk hat, you should have a double bridle/Pelham with double reins.
However if you a wearing a bowler, double or single reins are acceptable.
A special thank you for Ciara O’Connell, Kalindi Lawrence & Emma Richardson-Steele for providing us with this information. These general comments have been collated with the help of side saddle riding customers; but it is important to note some classes may have specific requirements that vary from the ones listed above.