Being bitten by the “show bug” is easily one of the best things that has happened to me in my life. From a young age, I learned the meaning of responsibility, dedication, focus and sportsmanship on the back of my horse, and even now I still take away valuable lessons from each leg of what will likely be a lifelong journey in the saddle. These lessons, though, have not come cheap…literally, because, as we all know, horses are expensive, and showing horses can break the bank if you’re not mindful. It has taken me years to map the “in’s and out’s” of “showing on a shoestring”, and I’m here to tell you that it is quite possible to be a budget conscious champion!
One of the things that I have learned over the years when it comes to showing (with a lot of help from my “style guru” mother) is that the right wardrobe is an essential part of winning in the ring. Indeed, the typical western rider at a Class A or Regional level horse show will spend close to $1000 dollars on a single “ensemble” if they are paying retail prices, and many easily spend much more. I, however, was fortunate enough to learn something else from my mother…you don’t have to spend a million bucks to look like a million bucks. The following are a few tips to help you figure out what things you should spend money on and where you can save.
Quality Over Quantity
Everybody wants the ability to “change up” their look at a horse show, especially when dealing with multiple classes. Still, it’s important not to sacrifice quality for quantity, because one or two classic, well tailored outfits will get you a lot farther than a trailer full of clothes that are cheaply made or ill fitting. It is, however, easy to put together several unique looks with the same basic pieces. A good pair of pants, chaps and hat can be combined with multiple colored shirts and coordinating saddle blankets to create unique outfits.
Spend Money on the Important Things, Save on the Rest
When it comes to a show outfit, there are five basic elements: hat, shirt, chaps, pants, and boots. Of these five elements, the most expensive acquisitions will be your hat and chaps. Consider these two elements your “staples”, sort of like a woman’s “little black dress”. For anyone who is familiar with the show circuit, it is easier to spot a quality pair of chaps and a quality hat, than a shirt, pants or boots, thus these are the things that will make your outfit look “expensive” or “inexpensive”. When budgeting for your show wardrobe, plan to spend the majority of your budget on your chaps and your hat.
Asmentioned earlier, your chaps and your hat are probably the most important aspects of creating a showring look that appears expensive. A new pair of quality show chaps can easily retail for over $1000. This is when purchasing second hand can be a lifesaver. Measure your waist, upper thigh and the length of your inseam, and you will have the basic blueprint for your chap size (of course, fits vary greatly from one person to another, but this is a good place to start). Have a look online, as there are several great websites that cater to “second hand show apparel”; I like www.showmeagain.com for really good quality products that have been “vetted” by a professional for damage (though they can be slightly pricey), but www.tacktrader.com is also a great resource where you can find amazing deals on everything from show chaps to vintage tack if you’re willing to ask the right questions and spend the time looking. Don’t forget to check out consignment / tack stores (Check out The Tack Room in Paso Robles), and sometimes just taking a walk around at a horse show will lead you to a great deal. When you do find something that will work, know that certain small things (like length, waist belt, etc.) can be fixed or altered by a professional leatherworker, but for the most part you should be buying something that fits.
When it comes to a show hat, it’s usually best to buy new, as they really aren’t that expensive. Personally, I have two show hats, one black and one white, both felt; this gets me by for just about every outfit that I put together. Both are “Eddy” brand, retailing for around $100, and have lasted me for over 10 years. If you keep your hat covered and in a hatbox (I like the strong, plastic boxes for storage and travel), you should be able to get by with only the occasional cleaning every couple of years. Make sure to used bobby pins when you’re in the ring to avoid that embarrassing moment when your hat comes off halfway through your class!
Once you have your chaps and hat, the last things that you really need are a good pair of show pants (either nice western jeans or polyester, color coordinated to your chaps, depending on your discipline), boots and a show shirt. The show shirt is really what brings your ensemble together. As with most things, a fully stoned or embroidered, custom made show shirt can run you anywhere from $200 to $1000…crazy, in my opinion. So, this is where you need to get creative. Search around at local thrift stores or second hand stores for a good “base” shirt that might work; you will want something with a western collar, cuffs, and a little “give” or “stretch” in the material. If you come up empty, visit your local western apparel store and get yourself something plain and reasonably priced. You can either go for the “classic” look, or take what you have found and add embellishment to create your own custom show shirt. It is not difficult to learn how to add rhinestones and other decoration to material, and everything you need is at the local craft store. My suggestion, if you choose to embellish your shirt, is to be conservative…a few stones on the collar, yoke and cuffs is usually plenty. Look at pictures and be observant at horse show for ideas.
So, hopefully these tips have given you some ideas for how to cut your expenses in the show ring. Just to demonstrate that these things really do work, have a look at the picture included for this article. First, the hat was purchased nearly 10 years ago for around $50, the chaps were found at a tack and apparel consignment sale for around $25 and another $35 at a leather shop in LA gave them leather to match my saddle and silver conchos, and perhaps best of all, the shirt was found by my mother at a local second hand store for $5! That means that I competed at a Regional Level Championship Show and earned Top Five in both of my classes out of more than 20 horses with an outfit that cost under $200 total. Remember, clothes don’t make a winner, but they do help, and you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to look like a champion.