Training & Services

Western Dressage – The Clothing Conundrum

By Michelle K. Binder-Zolezzi, Relational Riding Academy
Every day I head out to the barn to work. Like other trainers, I work outside in temperatures from 0 to 100 degrees 7 days a week, almost 365 days a year, from dawn till dark and sometimes longer. As a professional trainer and riding instructor I am called on to muck stalls, fix fence, buck hay, dump grain, rake footing, fill water buckets, sweep the aisle, clean tack, change bandages, medicate, lead beginners, longe riders, heft children into saddles… oh! And ride horses. My daily attire needs to be flexible and frequently involves layers upon layers of various types of fabrics depending on how deep the snow is in Spokane. The first layer, however, is always proper riding attire. Proper riding attire? For Western Dressage?

So what does one wear for Western Dressage? Actually, there is both schooling attire and show attire. I really laughed at myself when I thought about the clothes I wear some days. I am likely to be found schooling in my helmet, a pair of Justin Ropers w/kilties, Ariat half chaps, leather full seat breeches, a custom stock seat equitation saddle and my white lined black Kieffer dressage bridle with a German hollow mouth snaffle. I cracked a joke last week in the Horse Radio Network interview I did about Western Dressage on the “Horses in the Morning Show” saying that I can’t wait for the new “boot cut leather full seats!” Imagine my surprise last weekend when one of my dressage students showed up at a clinic wearing a pair of Kerrits boot cut breeches with a knee patch! The full seats are actually here…. Thank you Kerrits, you brought it! We Western Dressage riders were just waiting for these…

It seems I am not the only one who can’t find clothes and tack that are perfectly suited for our riding style. I have discovered that many Western Dressage enthusiasts wear a blend of different items of apparel from both disciplines and furthermore, seem quite happy to use “whatever works!” Ariat and Kerrits products seemed to top the list for foot and legwear, with jeans and cowboy (girl?) boots running right up there. I don’t care much for the seams in jeans, but I have now gotten my husband to try “Western Dressage” because he can wear his Levi’s instead of those funny skin-tight pants! The best of both worlds indeed, my friend Phyllis wears breeches that look like jeans and I understand you can get them at St. Croix Saddlery, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I decided the best place to see what riders are wearing would be YouTube so I took an afternoon off in the name of research and explored the infinite number of video clips associated with the search words “Western Dressage.” OMGosh! I saw horses in every conceivable type of saddle, a typically western (read: ‘Appaloosa’) horse looking spectacular in a dressage saddle with a rider in a shadbelly and a very warmblood looking horse with a big rear in a western saddle whose rider was in western attire (remarkably both these were on the same channel). There was a guy in jeans and cowboy boots with a white shirt and tie under a dark dress coat jogging around with a helmet on. There were people looking like Pasadena Rose Parade entries, cowboys looking fresh (?) out of the cow pen, cowgirls with big hair riding big hair horses in big dresses and teens in shorts and flipflops bopping around a round pen on strung out star gazing horses (“You think I’m doing it right now Mom?”). No wonder people are asking “What is Western Dressage?”! While what we wear to school our horses is a matter of personal preference, show attire is bound to be determined by a governing body in the sport. So, North American Western Dressage has these offerings from the proposed 2012 Official Rulebook.

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Jillian C.