For hunting and showing in Ireland, a side saddle rider must wear a ‘habit’. A habit is the proper name for a traditional side saddle outfit. It is made up of a jacket and an unusual skirt called an apron. A light coloured waistcoat, plain or with a light check, should be worn under the habit with the lowest button left undone. The jacket is slightly longer and more full skirted than an astride jacket, it is usually double vented in the back and has a cut away front so that it lies neatly across the thighs and shows off the waistcoat underneath. It should sit just above the saddle when mounted. The apron wraps around the waist and buttons on the left hip. The apron covers the right thigh down to the saddle and drops down over the left leg. It covers the right toe. The back of the apron should sit just above the seat of the saddle all around. The length of the apron should sit around one hand on its side above the ankle of the boot. Matching coloured breeches are worn underneath. Habits can be navy, black or tweed in colour.
There are traditions as to which habit should be worn where and when! For example, tweed habits should be worn when cub hunting, or for showing native ponies in the U.K. Also, when side saddle riding was at the peak of its popularity in the early 20th century, the hunting field was a great place to meet a future husband. Gentlemen knew by the colour of a ladies habit whether she was spoken for- unmarried ladies wore a navy habit with a bowler hat while married ladies wore a black habit with a silk (top) hat if they were a subscriber, or a black habit and bowler hat for less significant/important meets or whilst visiting another pack. This rule has now fallen by the way side although some judges still prefer to see a silk hat worn only with a black habit. All of the showing turn out rules originated in turnout for the hunting field.
Head & neck gear
Silk hats (always referred to as a ‘silk hat’ never a ‘top hat’) are for formal occasions only, and this means that the whole turnout of you and your horse must be formal. Your habit should be back or navy, you should wear a white or cream stock and a spur, and your horse’s mane should be plaited with seven or nine plaits and in a double bridle. Although, the old rule that silk hats would only be worn at Royal Shows has been relaxed, they are still only worn after lunch. Silk hats should be no shorter than 4.75 inches or taller than 5.25 inches, depending on the height of the rider and overall picture on the horse. The hat should sit just above eyebrows and be straight and level to the ground when mounted.
A plain cream four-fold silk stock and plain white stock shirt should be worn with a silk hat. The stock should be tied tight enough to stay in place, but still be comfortable, and secured by a plain stock pin placed just under the knot when tied. Cream or yellow gloves should be worn with a silk hat although brown is also acceptable. Hair should be tied back into a tight, very neat, small doughnut-sized bun, just touching the bottom of the hat. A fine hair net should cover both bun and hair. Riders with short hair should wear a false bun to create the illusion of long hair. There should be absolutely no hair whatsoever escaping from under the hat.
When wearing a bowler hat, a black bowler is always considered correct with a black or navy habit and long black boots. A brown bowler can also be worn with a tweed habit and long brown boots. A plain-collared shirt of a muted colour, preferably light cream should be worn with a dark tie, tied neatly and tight up to the collar. In the show-ring in Ireland and the UK, whatever the class, if a bowler hat is worn, it must be with collar and tie, and hair in a bun, even if this means using a false bun. Brown gloves should be worn with a bowler hat, well fitted and clean.
A black face veil should be worn with a top hat or black bowler. It is worn crossed over the bun at the back and held in place with hairgrips either side. There should be no creases or wrinkles in the veil and it should be taut over the jawline. Black gloves are a major faux pas because traditionally, black gloves signified that you were in mourning and therefore shouldn’t be riding. Long, well-polished black boots, with a spur on the left boot only, should be worn. It is crucial to clean the underside of your boots, as these are very visible when riding side saddle. A cane is carried in the right hand to act instead of the right leg. The rider is expected to wear light make up under the veil. This should be subtle but enough to define the features of the face. No jewellery whatsoever should be worn. A smile from ear to ear completes the look.