Finding Your Perfect Horse Show Coat And Fit Guide

by Michelle Drum January 08, 2020 9 min read

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 & 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 & protected while galloping through thistles, shrubs & 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 & cuts to suit the needs of multiple equestrian disciplines.

Over the last 20 years, show coats have moved away from wool & 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, soft shell & 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 & odor resistant.

                            Equestrians in show jackets

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 really 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.

The classic hunter & 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 & perhaps some accent buttons on the sleeve cuffs. Other subtle colors are used, however black and navy are the most popular & never go out of style. 

Event & 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 & 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 own style & creativity with their show coats. Bright colors, crystals, contrasting piping & buttons are the norm in the jumpers. In addition to the classic colors, bright blues, burgundies, & more are completely acceptable. 

For our hunter & eq riders any sort of glitzy flashy adornment on your coat is considered inappropriate. You can express as much style & 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. 

Samshield Victorine Jacket

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 show jackets that are incredibly affordable. 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 & 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 out 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 or the Ariat Artico show coat are both excellent starter show coats.

The R.J. Essentials collection is available for women and girls starting at $139. This well-made coat is the perfect starter piece with traditional styling & updated features like machine washable & moisture-wicking technical fabric. The Ariat Artico is a bit more technical in fit, style & fabric. The soft shell fabric is machine washable, ultra-lightweight & offers flexibility for freedom of movement while riding. It has interchangeable buttons that make it easy to use in the hunter ring or dressed up a bit for the jumpers.

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. Your not alone! Sizing often depends on where the coat was made U.S. made coats like Ariat & 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 & Equiline. We offer sizing conversion charts we will share at the end of this blog post to help you determine your size. Be sure to have a fabric measuring tape handy. If you’re still not sure, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call us. We’re 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.

how to measure for a show coat

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 & 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 giving yourself a hug.

Torso of the coat should lie close & smooth against the body, without wrinkles, pulling or bulging. Your natural waistline should be fit in line with the coats 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 & the fit 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 up front.

                                                how to measure for a show coat

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. 

                            how to measure for a show coat

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. 

too big show coat properly fitting show coat

Note the difference in fit between these two jackets. Justine is modeling the RJ Sydney starter jacket 
on the left. It fits 'okay' the sleeves are a bit too long & the waist is a bit too loose. But the shoulders and the torso
length fit well. Look at the jacket on the right, Justine models an  Equiline Jasmine coat for us, it fits perfectly through the waist, shoulders, torso and sleeves. 

 The biggest difference in jacket cost is going to be the tailoring & fabric. The higher end coats are more tailored and offer more details and features. The coat on the left can easily be modified by a local tailor for minimal expense.Less expensive coats offer a boxier fit to fit a wider variety of body styles & are often plain when it comes to details and features. 

RJ Classics shadbelly

What is a Shadbelly & 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 & 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 riders knee when unmounted. These formal show coats are worn for upper level dressage classes, hunter derbies & 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 & design. Detachable & 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 & 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 being to keep the tails as still as possible while not distracting the horse or taking away from the test the pair are performing. Where as hunter riders prefer the classic look of flowing tails. Shadbelly coats used in the hunter ring are generally lined with a lightweight fabric & 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 riders 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. 

garment bag


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 & instructions for detergent used. If you are washing your show coat with other laundry, we recommend putting your coat in a lingerie bag or a pillowcase to keep it safe it 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 & 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 & 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 #founditatfarmhouse .

show coat size chart

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