By Liz Elken
Those of us who show in Dressage, Sport Horse Under Saddle, and Show Hack may be wondering: whose brilliant idea was it to wear white breeches? Especially for those who prepare their own horse(s) at shows, white breeches are hard to keep clean. The tiniest speck of dirt can ruin the picture of cleanliness that we present to the judges. So, this prompted an investigation: whose idea was it? The first forms of modern dressage came about in the 1800s and according to USDF, “it was the 1912 Stockholm Games where the 'military test' first appeared and evolved into the separate Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing, and stadium jumping.” The clothes we wear “dat[ed] back to the mid-1800s, when style and dress accompanied the affluence of the Industrial Revolution” (AHA). The epitome of this style of dress was George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, who was known as the “Father of English Dandyism” (Dressage Different). According to Urban Dictionary, an example of a “dandy” is “men who consider themselves to be arbiters of culture and refinement and wit. Often considered... overtly flaming.” He is seen in the painting below as “wearing an ensemble that complies with all current FEI rules for a Grand Prix competitor” (Dressage Different). According to USEF “for all tests above Fourth Level, the dress code is: a dark tailcoat or a dark jacket with protective headgear...and white or light colored breeches, stock or tie or integrated stand-up collar, gloves, and black riding boots.” The clothes that we wear for Show Hack classes are modeled after Grand Prix Dressage, so it is safe to say that Beau would fit in; as far as the basic style of his clothes. (The tassels on his boots, however, are another thing entirely.)
From this research, I can conclude that the clothes we wear for Show Hack and Dressage were originally meant to be worn by aristocrats. When people went riding, they wanted to emulate aristocrats by dressing like them, most likely because riding is seen as a sport for the wealthy. Wearing white breeches was seen as a status symbol, because the aristocrats could afford to not get them dirty. For example, we don’t wear white breeches to muck out stalls just like someone from the 1800s wouldn’t wear them to do farm work, only to a formal event. This could also be why we only wear a shadbelly and top hat for advanced classes like Grand Prix or Show Hack, instead of a short coat like in lower level dressage or Sport Horse Under Saddle classes.
About the Author Liz Elken is the 2016-2017 AHYA Region 5 Co-Director Have a story you want to share on the blog? We’d love to hear from you; contact firstname.lastname@example.org today! “2016 Dressage Attire and Equipment.” USDF, 1 Apr. 2016, files.usef.org/assets/VqIPYDBJxJA/2016dressageattireequipmentbooklet.pdf. “Arabian Horses: Disciplines.” www.arabianhorses.org/discover/arabian-horses/disciplines/index.html . Bonnie Rae Walker. “Shadbellies: Uniformly Impractical.” Dressage Different, 12 Dec. 2014, www.dressagedifferent.com/2014/12/12/shadbellies-uniformly-impractical. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017. “Dandy.” Urban Dictionary, www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dandy. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017. “History of Dressage”. USDF, www.usdf.org/about/about-dressage/history.asp. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017. Pictures Painting: https://dressagedifferent.com/2014/12/12/shadbellies-uniformly-impractical/