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  • Writer's pictureMary O'Malley

The Unspoken Fashion Rules of the Show Pen

Looking back at old show photos can sometimes lead to cringes, even for the most seasoned exhibitors. Show pen fashion is an ever-evolving landscape. We've all had those moments when we question why we ever wore that spray-painted pink flame showmanship jacket (yes, I did show in one, and yes, i felt ridiculously cool at the moment).

Mary Caitlyn

Navigating the world of show attire can be a challenge. While the rule book is your go-to guide, some unspoken rules might slip under the radar. It's always a smart move to consult your association's rule book for a solid foundation.


Equitation, known for its traditional stance, often prefers well-fitted, solid-patterned black or navy jackets and white shirts over louder patterns and bright colors. Yet, beyond what's written, there's a wealth of unwritten guidelines.


We've gathered insights from seasoned exhibitors to uncover these subtle yet crucial fashion etiquettes in the show pen.

Mary Caitlyn

From Hiliary Holbrook comes a vital piece of advice: always sport a well-shaped hat, keep jewelry simple (no hoops or dangly items), opt for well-fitted clothes, ensure proper pant length, and maintain neat hair.


Brandy Brown emphasizes visibility; your number should always be visible and not laminated. Fit reigns supreme over glitz and glam, and just because it's your favorite color doesn't mean it complements your horse.


Amber Daniel weighs in on the hat and boots combination, emphasizing that your hat should never be darker than your boots.


Grace Cochran sheds light on showmanship pants, highlighting the importance of a slight "stack." They should be long enough to cover your heels when running. Keeping them tucked in for as long as possible maintains their cleanliness.


Michelle Might stresses the significance of keeping your ponytail off your numbers, ensuring that the judge can clearly see your number for accurate judging. Also, straighten your number; a crooked display can mar your overall appearance.

Mary Caitlyn

Holly Wilson shares an essential rule for headwear: opt for straw from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but when showing indoors, regardless of the time of year, go for felt. This applies to showmanship and horsemanship year-round.


Our conversation with Ashley Enoch-Scott reveals another unspoken rule: always have tidy nails for showmanship. Judges might observe nails for cleanliness, polish, and colors. Neutral shades or black are advisable to avoid standing out against black hoof polish or spray paint.


Ultimately, individual judges hold varying opinions. What's appreciated by one might not resonate with another. As exhibitors, our responsibility is to educate ourselves to present our best selves, adhering to both written and unspoken guidelines.

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