Good habits.. and some bad ones too!
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
The turnout of a side saddle rider is steeped in tradition with all its weird little quirks and
intricacies. Most countries tend to follow the rules/guidelines of the Side Saddle Association in the UK; Australia for the most part does as well. Of course, the lack of access to side saddle items in Australia makes following the rules to a tee difficult. Sometimes, we have to beg, borrow or make do with what we've got. Our inability to wear top hats or bowlers under most associations here also changes things a little, but we will talk to both kinds of turnout.
Let's start with the main piece of dress: the habit. Your habit consists of a jacket and apron (or safety skirt). It is traditionally made of a heavy wool in a restrained hue - generally a variation of black, navy or tweed and which colour you wear is circumstantial based on a few different factors. Lets start to dive further in to the intricacies of turnout based on habit and headwear choices.
ADULTS WEARING A BOWLER HAT - Habit of a restrained hue with long black boots OR - Tweed or discreet check habit with long boots. If brown boots are worn, it should be with a brown bowler and black boots with a black bowler (never mixed). (Did you know that traditionally, a black habit was only worn once the woman was married?!). - A blunt spur or spur band to be worn. - The hem of the apron should be parallel to the ground, and the bottom of the hem should be approximately one hand’s width above the seam of the boot. The right toe should never show under any circumstances. The habit should be made of sufficient weight to prevent the apron blowing around in the wind. (Lighter weight habits are preferable in our Australian summers (trust me, pure heavy wool in 35° heat makes a lady sweat in places one never should!) though we must take care to make sure the apron is properly weighted if using a lighter weight material to avoid the apron flapping around when in motion).
- The hem of the jacket should not touch the back of the horse, and ideally should be just clear of the back of the saddle. - Breeches of a colour similar to or the same as that of the habit. Light coloured breeches (if worn) must not show at any time. - The bowler hat should be a safety bowler and be worn with an unwrinkled ideally matching coloured veil (e.g. brown with brown bowler) that does not show above the brim of the hat. The back of the veil to be fastened centrally in the brim of the hat in either a V-shape, or meeting centrally on or crossed over the bun. The veil can be rolled, or cut and re-threaded to fit the wearer if too large. The brim of the hat should be parallel to the ground and just above the eyebrows. (There is a few practical purposes to a veil. They help keep the bowler or top hat on at high speeds across the hunt field. They also assist in cover from the sun, mud, debris and can help hide a ladies 'flushed' complexion that she may succumb to on long, exhausting hunts.) - Hair should be worn in a bun (real or false) no bigger than the size of a small doughnut, and the bun should be high enough to touch the underside of the brim of the hat. Hair should be held tidily, with no wisps, in fine mesh hairnets of the same colour as the hair. - A shirt (either plain or discreetly striped) with snugly fitting collar and tie, the tie securely fastened (tie-pin optional). - Waistcoats should not be brightly coloured (e.g. red). The fastening of the bottom button is optional. - Brown or tan leather gloves (never black) or string gloves of similar hue. (Black gloves would only ever be worn by someone in mourning after a death and generally, someone in mourning wouldn't be riding a horse!) - A whip or rigid cane not more than one metre in length will be carried, and must be of sufficient length to be used as a right leg aid. Dressage whips should be of the leather covered type and the end-tassel should not be of a bright colour. (In Australia, most associations that allow you to ride aside require you to follow their normal astride turnout rules. This will include whip length. It's recommended you check the rules of the association you're competing under to make sure your whip is compliant. From my experience, 75cm is generally a safe bet under most associations for showing and 1.2m for dressage). - Where a rider chooses to wear a helmet, the guidelines above apply, with the exception of the veil. (In Australia, this rule would generally be transferred to those wearing a helmet as well. Brown boots with brown helmet and black boots with a black helmet).
ADULT WEARING A SILK HAT/TOP HAT
(Only correct if worn after midday at shows of Royal standard and upwards). - Side saddle habit of dark hue with long black boots. (As black boots are correct, a black helmet would be worn. In Australia, a navy helmet may also be acceptable with black boots and a black or navy habit). - Hunting tie or stock made of cotton, cotton mix or silk, worn over a collarless shirt (ratcatcher shirt), and tied if shaped as for hunting, or if fourfold as for showing, both ways pinned with a plain stock pin or hunting tie pin horizontally through the knot. - Spur, veil, bun, breeches, waistcoat, whip as above. - Gloves of dark brown or tan leather or cream chamois leather. - A lady’s silk hat/top hat should measure between 120mm. (4.75”) and 133mm. (5.25”), depending on the height of the wearer. JUNIORS As above (like an adult wearing a bowler) except: - Helmet to be worn. - A blunt spur or spur band is permitted. - Hair ribbons (if worn) to be plain black, brown or navy, and hair (however worn) should be exceptionally neat and tidy.
- Whip not to exceed 76cms, when riding a pony not exceeding 14.2hh or one metre, when riding a horse/pony exceeding 14.2hh, and of sufficient length to be used as a right leg aid. - In the case of small children, black or brown jodhpur boots are acceptable regardless of colour of habit. Plain gaiters may be worn, but not half-chaps.
MALE RIDERS - Gentleman riders to wear traditional ratcatcher. Bowler (or helmet), collar, tie, tweed coat, breeches, boots and spur.
Given that most associations in Australia require you to wear a helmet, the bowler/top hat rules do get thrown out the window a little. Most of us follow them as best as we can to try and maintain the traditional side of the turnout as much as possible. For me, I opt to wear a collard shirt and tie when competing in local and agricultural type shows in both open, breed and side saddle classes. If competing in side saddle classes at national or royal level, a stock tie/hunting stock is considered the most correct (even without the use of a top hat) and the preferred choice for most competitors at that level.
Skipping across the ditch for a moment to our Kiwi cousins: for many years the New Zealand Side Saddle Association wore top hats and bowlers. Recently, they were forced to move to wearing helmets like us here in Australia. They cleverly re-wrote their rules to maintain some from of that top hat/bowler divid. They decided that if you were opting to use a snaffle bridle you followed the rules of those who would ordinarily wear a bowler (collared shirt, tie, etc). If you were using a double bridle, you would follow the rules of those wearing either a top hat or bowler - with a ratcatcher, stock tie, etc. being acceptable if using a double bridle. I think this is a very clever way of adapting the turnout rules to suit helmet wearing situations and something Australia might like to consider adopting in future!
And of course under some associations, most of these turnout rules go ALL the way out the window!! We're very lucky that the Pony Club Association are very welcoming of side saddle riders. In this instance, a Pony Club member competing in a side saddle would wear their Pony Club uniform (As pictured). It's also worth noting that there are some associations in Australia (like the Arabian Horse Association of Australia or the Australian Hunter & Show Horse Association) that carry their own set of side saddle turnout rules/guidelines. These should be observed when competing in classes under those associations.
Most of the equipment required for astride turnout is very much transferable to that of a side saddle rider which makes it easily accessible and affordable, especially to find second hand. The biggest difficulty for side saddle riders in Australia lies within finding yourself a habit or an apron (as an astride jacket of the appropriate colour can be used if needed). If you're handy with a sewing machine or know someone who is, it's certainly doable to buy an apron pattern and make your own! Habits do pop up for sale occasionally on Facebook in the showing and side saddle pages. You can also buy second hand or new made-to-measure from overseas (if funds allow). If you were looking to invest in a habit or apron it would be wise to learn how to measure yourself correctly for an apron first. Or alternatively like I mentioned earlier: beg, borrow or HIRE! Same Side Equestrian have a few habits available for hire for shows, photoshoots, etc. So, do you think you're ready to tackle the tasteful turnout of side saddle riding?? Let me know what part of these guidelines you found the most interesting or if you have any further questions in the comments below!! Showtime Tailoring in the UK have fantastic resources available for measuring yourself for a full habit: https://showtimetailoring.com/how-to-measure-guide/side-saddle-habit/ My recommendation for side saddle stock ties in Australia: https://www.facebook.com/Stunning-Stocks-Riding-and-Horse-Attire-160767950689331 An interesting article in regards to side saddle appropriate gloves by Amy Cattell Magee of Black Diamond Designs in the US. To note: the US has slightly different turnout guidelines in what they call 'appointment classes'. These are a whole other kettle of fish in their own right but it is still an interesting read regardless: https://www.facebook.com/sidesaddletack/posts/1171359643277427
Credits for images that aren't my own: - Alamy Stock Photos https://www.alamy.com/