Finding Your Perfect Horse Show Coat And Fit Guide

So you’re in the market for your first horse show coat!!

Congratulations, you're starting in the right place. There are lots of things to know before clicking a few buttons and buying a show coat. 

The phrase show coat and show jacket are used interchangeably in the equestrian industry. Originally show coats were made for the hunt field of heavyweight wool to keep riders warm, dry and protected while galloping through thistles, shrubs and brush. These coats were well-tailored and made to order and were much longer than show coats used today. 

As equestrian sports evolved, affordable easy access show attire became an obvious need. As such show coats are now machine-made in a variety of colors, styles and cuts to suit the needs of multiple equestrian disciplines. Over the last 20 years, show coats have moved away from wool and wool blends into the modern age of technical fabrics. Wool coats although beautiful, are known to be heavy, hot, and restrictive when riding with the need for frequent dry cleaning.

Modern show coats are now made from a variety of high-tech synthetic fabrics such as microfibre, softshell and even mesh. These new fabrics allow for stretch and movement while riding as well as temperature control to help keep the rider from overheating in hot weather. Some are also treated to be water-resistant. Another bonus is that these technical fabrics are machine washable as well as wrinkle and odor resistant.

How do I know what style show coat I need? 

If you’ve already started window shopping, you’ve noticed that some coats have 3 button fronts and others have 4. Aside from the buttons, some coats have long tails others look like a modern men’s sports coat. Let’s break down the different styles within each discipline to help determine what you need from your show coat.


Hunters and Equitation

The classic hunter and equitation show coat is a subtle conservative color like navy or black, offers a 3 or 4 button front, a double vented back flap, front slash pockets and perhaps some accent buttons on the sleeve cuffs. Other subtle colors are used, however black and navy are the most popular and never go out of style. 

For our hunter and eq riders, any sort of glitzy flashy adornment on your coat is considered inappropriate. You can express as much style and creativity as you like on your belt. Additionally, it should be noted that over the years the number of buttons on the front of your coat has become less important by discipline. However, you will note that in most upper-level medal finals equitation classes the riders will stick with the traditional 3 button hunt coat. 


Eventers and Dressage

Event and dressage riders often wear a black 4 button show coat of similar style but enjoy adding some flair to their attire by way of crystals, colored piping, colored coat linings, and contrasting buttons. You will see other colors but black is the most common. 



Jumpers on the other hand wear 4 button jackets and are free to express their style and creativity with their show coats. Bright colors, crystals, contrasting piping, and shiny buttons are the norm in the jumpers. In addition to the classic navy and black... bright blues, burgundies, and more are completely acceptable. 


What should I expect to spend on a horse show coat? 

The equestrian sport is often referred to as "The Sport of Kings" but it doesn’t have to be. With some knowledge and smart shopping, you can find incredibly affordable show jackets. Like anything, you can spend as much or as little as your budget allows. We offer show coats starting at $100 for riders just getting started. For professionals and active competitors, we also offer professional fitting services with options to customize an entire coat tailored to your needs. 


What is the best coat if you're just getting started?

If you’re just starting in the horse show world we recommend a navy blue 3 or 4 button conservative show coat. You can never go wrong with a navy blue show coat, the classic color combined with proper styling can go in any show ring, any time. Navy never goes out of style in the horse show world. The R.J. Classics Sydney II coat is an excellent starter show coat.

The R.J. Essentials collection is available for women and girls starting at $149. This well-made coat is the perfect starter piece with traditional styling as well as updated features like machine washable, moisture-wicking technical fabric.


How do I select the right size for my show coat?

If you’ve done any shopping at all you’ve seen sizes are all over the place and it may not make any sense to you. You're not alone! Sizing often depends on where the coat was made U.S. made coats like Ariat and R.J. Classics use American sizing... as does Horseware - despite being made in Ireland.Samshield uses French sizing. Italian sizing will be found on brands such as Animo, Ego 7, and Equiline. Check out our blog "Making Sizing Make Sense" an in depth look at converting from one sizing system to another.

When you're ready to start figuring out your size, be sure to have a fabric measuring tape handy. And if you're still confused, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call us. We’re always just a call away.


How should a show coat fit? 

A well-fitting show coat should give you a tailored look, but not be uncomfortable. Back when fabrics were made from wool and wool blends, coats were snug and did not allow for much freedom of movement. Thanks to advances in textile technology, show coats are now made from glorious fabrics with stretch. These fabrics offer that fitted tailored look while not restricting movement. That said there are some things to look out for with these tech fabrics.


The shoulders of the coat should be snug, but not restrictive. If the shoulders are too big, the coat will hang like a box, too tight and it will pucker and bulge in the most unattractive of ways.


Broad shoulders or those who are well endowed may need to go up a size for a good fit with the possibility of needing to have the waist and/or sleeves taken in by a local seamstress. Cross-check the look in a mirror by crossing your arms over your chest and hugging yourself.


The torso of the coat should lie closed and smooth against the body, without wrinkles, pulling, or bulging. Your natural waistline should be fit in line with the coat's silhouette. Using the 3rd button as a guide, it should sit at your belly button. If the button is higher or lower, you may need to try a short or tall coat so that the silhouette is sharp and the silhouette is perfect. Stretch fabric coats often have a hidden zipper front with a button-over closure. This allows for a closer more tailored fit without sacrificing the classic button upfront.                         

The sleeves (with your arms hanging loosely at your sides) should end at the tip of your wrist bone. There should be 2-3 inches between the end of the sleeve and your hand. 


The length of the coat should cover about ⅔’s of your behind when standing on the ground. When mounted, the coat will just lightly touch the seat of the saddle. 

The biggest difference in jacket cost is going to be the tailoring and fabric. The higher-end coats are more tailored and offer more details and features. Less expensive coats offer a boxier fit to fit a wider variety of body styles and are often plain when it comes to details and features. 


What is a Shadbelly and when is it worn? 

You may see some riders dressed up to compete in a show coat with long tails that drape down over the saddle behind the rider. The Shadbelly show coat is considered the tuxedo of equestrian competition wear for the hunter and the dressage disciplines. Generally designed with a double-breasted button front in black, navy blue, and less often you may see dark grey or forest green technical fabrics. The back of the coat has a single split vent with long tails that should touch the back of the rider's knee when unmounted. These formal show coats are worn for upper-level dressage classes, hunter derbies and hunter classics.

Originally these coats were designed to be worn with a wool canary yellow or tattersall vest underneath them. Over time the Shadbelly has received numerous upgrades in both style and design. Detachable and often reversible canary points have taken the place of a full vest under the Shadbelly jacket. The look is completed with a white stock tie, tied in a square knot and pinned in place with a large decorative pin known as a stock tie pin. Although similar in style and fit, these coats vary slightly between dressage and hunter disciplines.

Dressage riders prefer their tails to be leather lined and have small weighted discs sewn into the bottom of the tails. The purpose is to keep the tails as still as possible while not distracting the horse or taking away from the test the pair are performing. Whereas hunter riders prefer the classic look of flowing tails. Shadbelly coats used in the hunter ring are generally lined with a lightweight fabric and may have piping or a tonal design on the lining.

Should I wear my Shadbelly in the medal class at Pony Finals? 

We get this question a lot, the answer is no, and here's why. This coat, when worn in the hunter discipline is meant solely for the over fences portion of a classic or finals hunter class. In short, it mimics formal hunting attire so it is worn for the most formal of hunter classes. In addition to the tails being a large distraction to the judges, these classes are judged primarily on the rider's position and skill which can be difficult to see accurately if a rider is wearing a Shadbelly. These coats are considered incorrect attire for equitation/medal classes as well as jumper classes.

Either style Shadbelly may require a few practice rides with a horse unfamiliar with being ridden in a Shadbelly. It can take a ride or two at home to get the horse accustomed to feeling the tails float across his flank or rib cage while being ridden. 

Have more questions about shadbellies? Check out this BLOG!


How should I care for my show coat? 

Be sure to read the label instructions before cleaning your coat. Many show coats sold today are machine washable, however, some have special needs and instructions for detergent used. If you are washing your show coat with another laundry, we recommend putting your coat in a lingerie bag or a pillowcase to keep it safe from accidentally snagging on other items in the wash cycle. Remove promptly, button/zip the front, and hang to air dry. Once dry, store it in your coat bag in a climate-controlled environment, like your home. The best way to keep your coat looking like new is to keep it out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat.


If you’ve found a coat that meets all the fit points - congrats! You've found the perfect coat for you! If you are struggling with any of the fit points it is always good to try different styles within a brand as well as a variety of different brands. Fit can vary a little by style and brand, many brands also offer options such as long, short, slim. Some even offer an endowed cut. There may be a wait for such customized options, but the patience will be well worth it for the perfect fit. We love to see our happy riders in their show coats, tag us in yours on Instagram @farmhousetack or use the hashtag #farmhousefinds.


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