Equestrian dress: archaic or part of a rich tradition?

The study, by Leeds Beckett University, found that riders appreciated the distinct visual identity that competition attire gave to dressage and show jumping. The formality of the dress was seen as reflecting the core values and traditions of both sports, in particular poise, elegance, dignity and respect.

Dr Kate Dashper (pictured) – herself an amateur dressage competitor for over 20 years – conducted in-depth interviews with 80 competition riders, over a third of them professional. The interviewees included both men and women, ranging in age from 16 to 70 years.

Although her findings – published in Annals of Leisure Research – show that those interviewed were mainly in favour of retaining the dress rules for their sports, they did voice criticism of some aspects of the competition attire.

“The dress that competition riders wear is based on traditional hunting and military attire as these are the roots of the sport,” said Dr Dashper. “Both were predominantly masculine pursuits and the clothes – essentially breeches and a formal jacket – were originally designed for men. But both men and women now find aspects of the costume difficult. Some women of a shorter build find it hard to find comfortable tailored jackets and many men find tight-fitting breeches overly ‘revealing’. ”

She believes that small changes to competition dress may be acceptable, such as more colour options for jackets, but radical change to try and modernise the sport’s look would be rejected. Even the recent rule change to allow riding without jackets during hot weather is unlikely to be taken up in many cases, as riders said they didn’t feel right unless wearing the full costume.

“With all Olympic sports having to make their case for continued inclusion, there is some pressure on equestrian sports to respond to those who see the attire as being archaic, elitist and off-putting,” said Dr Dashper. “The governing bodies will need to strike a balance on how far they go to appeal to those outside the sport, without adversely affecting those who actually take part.”