Home » Dress Right For Horseback Riding: Clothing To Avoid 

Dress Right For Horseback Riding: Clothing To Avoid 

Guess what!  There are no strict dress codes for the average equestrian when horse backing riding!  You can technically wear whatever you want.  However, comfort and safety should always be your top priority, regardless of how or where you ride.

Specific riding disciplines are more comfortable with certain types of clothing and it’s often more fun to look the part.  If you join a high end stable, take riding lessons or participate in horse shows, there will be specific dress codes you must follow.  However, for the sake of this article, we will assume that you just want to go on a nice trail ride or do some at-home arena work.  Nothing fancy required.  So what should you wear horseback riding?

The best clothing to wear while horseback riding includes sturdy boots with a block heel 1-2 inches tall, snug fitting long pants with flat seams to prevent rubbing, and any shirt that allows free movement while in the saddle.  For safety, never wear dresses, high heels, sandals, bulky coats or overly loose clothing.

This quick answer is very much open ended.  Keep reading and I will dive into more details so you can be sure your next, or maybe even first, horseback ride is just as comfortable as it is safe.

What type of shoes should I wear horseback riding

Proper shoes are the most important safety feature you can wear besides a helmet.  Regardless of riding discipline, sturdy boots with a block heel that give plenty of ankle support are essential.  Most equestrians opt for leather boots.  Be it ankle, calf or knee height, leather boots are tough, weather proof and provide adequate protection while riding, on the ground and during barn chores.

Laces or slip-on is personal preference and depends on the style and brand of boot you choose.  Classic cowboy boots are slip-on while many ankle boots lace up.  Over the years, I literally wore the soles off my favorite pair of leather Ariat lace up boots.  Once broken in, they were the most comfortable chore and riding shoes I owned.

Western riders typically wear traditional cowboy boots or calf to ankle length lace up boots such as packers or lacers.  The classic look is made of brown and/or red tinted leather.  Of course, there are numerous colors and bling to choose from.  Find a style that fits your feet and legs the best.

English riders, on the other hand, often opt for smooth leather boots, usually in black or  dark brown.  It’s a more sleek style that matches the entire ensemble of horse and rider.  Tall boots also protect your legs from pinching in the stirrup leathers.  Boots ranging from ankle to knee high are available.  When riding English, ankle boots paired with half chaps protect your legs from the stirrup leathers.    

What shoes should you avoid while horseback riding

Besides protecting your feet, why is wearing boots with a heel so important?  Mainly because block heels keep your feet from slipping through the stirrups.  This not only keeps you in the saddle while riding at different speeds and over varying terrain, it also protects you in the event you fall off.  

There is nothing more dangerous than wearing a pair of flat soled shoes like sneakers or sandals.  If your foot slips all the way through the stirrups and you fall off that side, your leg will remain caught and you will be dragged upside down by your horse if they spook.  The weight from your body makes it almost impossible for you to bend your leg and remove your foot at that angle, especially if your horse is moving.

Like I just mentioned above, any pair of shoes with flat soles are a no-go.  Never wear tennis shoes, slip-on flats, sandals or clogs with open heels while horseback riding.  You don’t want your shoes falling off or your toes getting smashed.  

And ladies, definitely leave your fancy high heel stilettos in the closet.  Not only will you not be able to walk around the dirt paddock or arena, they have absolutely no place being in saddle stirrups.

I get asked all the time if construction or hiking boots are okay to ride in.  They are sturdy and usually have a small block heel.  For a quick trail ride, hiking boots will probably suffice.  However, these boots are rather bulky and might not fit into the saddle stirrups.  If they are too wide that the balls of your feet can’t rest in the stirrups, opt for another pair or ride bareback where stirrups aren’t an issue.

What type of pants should I wear horseback riding

Appropriate pants are paramount for your comfort in the saddle (and while bareback riding).  Tight fitting long pants are ideal.  For the Western rider, a comfortable pair of blue jeans is hard to beat.  The material is durable and withstands loads of abuse while still being flexible enough to bend with you in the saddle.  Buying the legs a size longer than you normally wear will also keep the pant legs from riding up and needing constant adjusting.

Western riders sometimes wear chaps or chinks on their legs for added protection or style during shows and events.  Leather chaps cover the entire leg from ankle to hip.  Leather fringe typically hides the full length zipper on each leg but you can get them without.  The butt area is left open showing your pant seat.  

Chinks are also made of leather with or without fringe and are looser around your legs than chaps.  They wrap around your upper thigh only and typically hang just below the knee leaving the bottom portion of your leg exposed.

Chaps versus chinks are, again, a personal preference.  Some people like that their entire leg is protected by chaps.  Others can’t stand how tight chaps are and prefer chinks.  Both are appropriate for ranch work, trail riding and events.

You will find most English riders sporting tight legging style pants called jodhpurs.  These are thicker and sturdier than your typical exercise leggings.  Jodhpurs have reinforced patches on the butt and inside of the legs where you make contact with the saddle.  English riders typically move up and down more often than Western riders in the saddle and these extra fabric or leather patches provide more support and prevent your pants from wearing out as quickly.  Tight pants also keep you from getting caught in the stirrup leathers.  

If you are just riding for fun at home, regardless of saddle type, wear what’s most comfortable for you.  I’ve worn my tighter jeans while riding English and then jodhpurs in my Western saddle.  You might get some funny looks with those combos out in public but at home, who cares?

What pants should you avoid while horseback riding

I’ve talked about the optimal pants to wear horseback riding.  Now, let’s quickly cover the pants you should avoid.  Nothing will make you cut a ride short or want to get off and walk like a pair of pants that pinch you in all the wrong places.  Excessively loose fabric of any kind will ride up, pinch and cause chaffing.  

Sweat pants, while comfy on the couch, aren’t comfortable or safe in the saddle.  The risk of falling off greatly increases with soft, slippery fabrics.  Also use caution with exercise leggings.  Make sure the fabric isn’t too slick that it makes staying in the saddle difficult, especially if your horse spooks or side steps suddenly.

Avoid pants with excessive pockets, like cargo pants.  As tempting as extra gear storage sounds, weighing down your pockets will throw off your balance and be extremely uncomfortable.  Utilize a pommel bag or saddle bags for gear instead.

Canvas or Carhartt style pants, while sturdy enough to handle anything out on the trail, are usually too thick to be comfortable in the saddle.  You want jeans that conform and bend with your legs, not control how much your legs can move.

What type of shirt should I wear horseback riding

Shirts are less of an issue than pants when horseback riding.  There isn’t the problem of pinching or riding up.  Typically, tighter or form fitting shirts are easier to move around in.  Tank tops, t-shirts (short or long sleeve), sweat shirts and light jackets are all okay to wear.  The weather is going to be your biggest determining factor in how many layers you need to stay warm.  

Just make sure you aren’t so bundled up that you can’t comfortably rotate and move around easily, both on and off your horse.

A great combo for riding in chilly weather is a long sleeve shirt with a vest.  The vest keeps your core warm while allowing your arms greater freedom for using the reins and staying in the saddle.

What shirts should you avoid while horseback riding

You want to avoid overly bulky or extremely loose fabric when you ride.  Absolute control while riding is extremely important, for both your safety and your horse.  So big, bulky shirts or coats that keep you sitting like a marshmallow in the saddle are a no-go.   

Sudden movement from flappy fabric can spook even the calmest horse if they aren’t expecting it.  Loose shirts also have the potential for getting caught on the saddle.  This is more of an issue with the horns on Western saddles but an English saddle can catch fabric if you slip off your horse as well.

What to wear horseback riding in hot weather

Nothing beats a nice, summertime horseback ride.  However, that doesn’t mean you should break out the cutoff jeans.  Wearing shorts while horseback riding is not a good idea.  Yes, they are initially cooler than long pants on a hot day.  However, the chaffing, pinching, sunburn and dirt/hair that gets on your legs just isn’t worth it.  Compromise staying cool by wearing long pants with a lightweight shirt or tank top instead.  

I actually find my Mountain Hardware Crater Lake Long Sleeve Sun Shirt more comfortable than a tank top on really hot days.  It protects me from sunburns, bugs and dirt all in one.  And if I get really hot, I can still roll up the sleeves.  

Helmets are by far the safest thing to wear on your head while riding.  If you opt to not wear one, a large brimmed hat to block the sun is another must for staying cool.  And don’t forget the sunscreen.  Hours can easily tick by without you noticing that growing sunburn until it’s too late.

Always wear appropriate riding boots regardless of the weather and your choice of pants.

What to wear horseback riding in cold weather

Riding your horse in cold weather is a little bit tricker than riding in hot weather but not by much.  The most important thing to strive for is warm layers without the bulk.  Thermal base layers paired with sweat shirts and puffy vests are far better than a big, bulky parka.  

If you like wearing leggings or jodhpurs, look for a pair that’s fleece lined.  They are still form fitting but give you extra warmth.  In extreme cold, avoid wearing snow pants since the outer material is designed to be slick and you risk slipping around or out of the saddle.

And don’t overlook the need to keep your head and hands warm while riding in cold weather.  Beanie hats, ear bands, scarves and gloves go a long ways in helping you stay comfortable and warm in the saddle.  

Final thoughts

Finding the right combination of comfortable and safe clothing for horseback riding is less complicated than you might have initially thought.  Now that you have an idea of the types of shoes, pants and shirts that are most appropriate, you can dial in the specific brands and styles you like best.  It’s also not uncommon to have only one or two go-to horseback riding outfits that you use every time.  Especially, with boots and pants.  Once they are broken in and comfortable, you aren’t going to want to keep switching!