It’s All In the Details: Putting Together a Winning Hunt Seat Look

July 31st, 2014 8:00 PM | 1 Comment

Contributed by Melinda Davison

Image Courtesy of the Quarter Horse Journal.

Image Courtesy of the Quarter Horse Journal.

The saying that first impressions are everything is especially true in the show pen.  When a competitor enters the arena or steps up to that cone, the first thing the judges see is their appearance.  How is the horse turned out?  Is the rider wearing the appropriate attire?   Do they portray confidence in themselves and their horse? has teamed up with AQHA trainer and judge, Rob Meneely, of Meneely Show Horses, to answer some common questions on how to pull together that winning look and make sure you look your best in any event.  The first part in this series will cover the hunt seat classes from hunter under saddle to equitation to the fence classes.

What do judges look for in a well turned-out hunt seat horse and rider?

I look for a horse that is well-groomed and at a good weight, not under-weight and not too heavy.  Hunt seat horses should be neatly braided and if they carry their tail lower, I like to see a braided tail.  As for the rider, their overall appearance should be clean and neat with a conservative, traditional English look.

What are the basics of every hunt seat wardrobe?

A well-fitted hunt coat (preferably a classic color like black or navy), a ratcatcher in a conservative color with a choker for women and a tie for men, clean breeches in khaki or tan, and well-fitted black hunt boots that are the appropriate height.

Hunt seat attire is rooted in tradition, but lately there have been many trends emerge including engraved stirrups, rhinestoned chokers, and printed ratcatchers.  Should riders have fun with these trends or do you prefer them to stay more traditional?

I definitely prefer the more traditional look.  I’m okay with engraved and black stirrups, but the sparkly and bling should be left for the appropriate western events.  Printed ratcatchers and brighter colors are okay for hunter under saddle, but for the equitation and fence classes, I really want to see a conservative white or light color shirt.  Those events should be more conservative and traditional in their attire.  Women should also be sure to wear gloves in all hunt seat classes as it pulls together the look.  

In terms of English tack, there are some people who feel it is “out of fashion” to use breast collars on their hunt seat horses, even the ones with high withers.  From a training standpoint, is there a functional issue with using one?  As a judge, is this something you even notice in the show ring?

Image courtesy of the Quarter Horse Journal.

Image courtesy of the Quarter Horse Journal.

Some people feel that it inhibits their horse’s stride for the hunter under saddle events, but if it doesn’t affect your horse and they need to use it for functional purposes, by all means, go ahead.  As a judge, it’s something I don’t even notice from the center of the pen.

If hunt seat riders could only invest in one really good piece of attire, what would be the most important item?

Definitely boots.  Custom boots are pricey but well worth the money to make sure the fit is perfect, and they are comfortable for the rider.  You’ll be spending a lot of time wearing them, so make sure they fit well and don’t rub your feet and create blisters.  The higher quality of the leather, the longer they’ll last and the easier they’ll be to break in and ride in.

As you know, this is the first year that AQHYA members will be required to wear ASTM-approved helments in all hunt seat classes beginning with the 2014 Ford You World.  Do you have any advice for those shopping for a helmet and what to look for?

It’s definitely something that should be tried on first.  Every helmet will fit every rider differently, and you want to make sure it’s a good fit for you.  Check the way it sits on your head, and if it’s comfortable.  The new ASTM-approved helmets aren’t as bulky as their predecessors 20 years ago.  They’re much more streamlined with a lower profile.

For Small Fry riders, there is often some conversation about whether they should wear jodhpurs and paddock boots or breeches and tall boots.  Do you prefer to see one or the other?  

For Small Fry riders, either is fine.  Jodhpurs are definitely a classic look for children and some parents find it makes more sense to go that route before investing in a pair of tall boots while their child is still growing quickly.  


meneelyRob Meneely has trained and coached numerous World Champions across a variety of disciplines including AQHA and ApHC.  He holds judges cards in AQHA, APHA, ApHC, NRHA, NSBA, and PHBA, in addition to being named The Professional’s Choice Most Valuable Professional of 2013.  His wife, Mary, is an Associate Head Coach for the University of Georgia Equestrian team. Together, they own and operate Meneely Show Horses in Conyers, GA.  


One Response to “It’s All In the Details: Putting Together a Winning Hunt Seat Look”

  1. Actually, tradition dictates that a black hunt coat is considered “formal” and should ONLY be worn with white breeches, but that is “formal attire” and NOT suitable for hunt seat classes, either hunter under saddle or hunt seat equitation. Typically you only see black coats (with the prerequisite white breeches) in hunter derbys and/or hunter classic classes (over fences). While they may be “out of trend” rust (or brick) colored breeches are considered a “classic” color and is certainly a suitable color and most agree that is the preferred color of breeches when riding a grey horse as the tan, or beige, and grey breeches tend to either wash-out and/or clash with a grey horse.

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