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How to Dress Like an Honest-to-God Horse Girl

Fashion may have co-opted equestrian style, but for these riders, utility comes first.

A woman and a horse Photo: PeopleImages/Getty Images

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Remember that freaky child who cantered around the playground pretending to be a wild mustang? Or that girl in sixth grade who doodled magnificent steeds in looseleaf margins inside this binder? That was me.

And many others, too. Whether she actually rode horses or simply daydreamed about them while gobbling up Saddle Club books, the classic Horse Girl is colored by obsession. (And she gets a lot of shit for that.)

I haven’t been around horses since teenagerhood, but a few relics remain, most notably a pair of simple black boots. My jod boots haven’t seen a saddle in over a decade, but I wear them regularly. The slightly rounded almond toe and subtle half-inch heel make them feel trend-proof, while their ankle height feels pretty damn close to a Chelsea. And they’re tough because they were meant for sport. They’ve held up for close to 15 years.

Of course, they look nothing like fashion’s idea of “riding boots.” The gap between what women wear in a barn and what Ralph Lauren or Tory Burch think they do is laughably vast.

Sarah Maslin Nir, a New York Times reporter, has ridden horses since the age of 2, and recently inked a book deal on the subject with Simon & Schuster (Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World In Love With a Beast). “The problem with the Ralph Lauren-ization of riding wear is that it makes luxury and excess inextricable from the sport,” Nir tells me. “Yes, it’s the sport of kings, but for many of us, it’s really just connecting with an animal.” But when the gear gets co-opted by high fashion, she says, “you look like a snob walking down the street when you’re really just a sportsman.”

A horseback rider posing near her horse
Sarah Maslin Nir, who rides at Ithilien Stables

Marissa Lorusso, a music journalist who grew up riding in rural New England, agrees that fashion gives riding a gilded, genteel veneer that isn’t always true to life. “My experience of riding wasn’t in the world of overpriced horse shows and expensive imported warmbloods,” Lorusso says. “It frustrates me to see [fashion] reinforce the narrative that horse-related stuff is or should only be available to the obscenely wealthy, because that wasn’t the experience of everyone I rode with.”

Fashion tends to gloss over the unglamorous fact that anyone who spends a lot of time around horses, rich or not, usually has shit on their shoes.

Megan, who lives in Decatur, Georgia, rides Western and has been around horses her whole life. “I was taught to dress for the job and the worst case scenario,” she tells me. “You definitely might look the part in fringed, spangled Western wear, but when you see some fence that needs tightening or you get thrown [off], you’ll be glad you’re in Dickies.”

Practical or not, the equestrian style narrative persists. So I asked these horse girls and a few of their peers about the actual barn gear they manage to sneak into their everyday wardrobe.

The footwear

Jessie Lochrie, a rider and a manager at Manhattan Saddlery, owns a slick pair of black zippered Parlanti paddock boots specifically dedicated to streetwear — she says she refuses to wear them inside a barn. Ali DeGray, an avid and lifelong equestrian who’s competed in numerous styles including saddleseat and harness, once bought hunt seat boots at a horse show simply because she liked the way they looked. “A few years later, I started to show a hunt seat horse, and I was freaking delighted that my boots were legal to show in,” she says. “I still wear them out to do non-horsey things.”

At the other end of the style spectrum, there’s Western, iconic for its cowboy boots and Stetson hats. Megan in Atlanta rides Western under the Natural Horsemanship style (think Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer) and describes her riding wear as “very workaday.” She has a pair of classic Durango cowboy boots that she wears both in and out of the barn. “They’re perfectly worn in, and it’s enough of a heel that I look like I tried,” says Megan. “I get compliments all the time and get asked where I got my ‘broken-in boots’ and if I bought them used.”

True horse girls will always have a little something extra when it comes to boots, though. “Mine may not have rhinestones or embroidery, but they are caked with actual shit,” says DeGray. “That’s gotta be worth something.”

A girl riding a white horse
Liz Lapidus

The shirts

At 26, Casey Lorusso (sister of aforementioned Marissa) has ridden hunt seat for two decades and still rides at the competitive level, primarily as a jumper. She says she’s successfully transitioned some of her riding shirts into her regular wardrobe. “The fancier ones look like dress shirts, and I'm often asked where I bought them,” she says. “Usually when I say Dover Saddlery or Smartpak, people look at me like I have 10 heads.”

Saddleseat riders like DeGray wear a full three-piece suit and tie in competition, and riders often get creative with the patterns and colors of the shirts they wear with their suits. “The button-downs are really cool fabrics and patterns, and I live in button-downs,” she says. “So when those retire, they just move into my regular closet.”

The outerwear

“I know a fair amount of ladies who will wear their show coats as blazers,” Lochrie says. Casey took that one step further by wearing her hunt coat to the interview for her grad school internship. “I got the placement, so it must have been convincing,” she says.

The pants

Lochrie’s shop — the only tack shop in New York — often gets non-riders in search of the authentic versions of garments they see in the pages of Vogue. “I have a lot of customers who don’t ride, but wear breeches around the city,” she says. The genuine article is cheaper than designer, and they’re built to withstand athletic activity. Liz Lapidus, a publicist based in Atlanta, tells me she likes to bust hers out for cocktail parties underneath a long, jade-green Chanel coat. (She also owns a pair of these sweet camo breeches.)

A horseback rider with her horse

The total package

True horse girls are nothing if not fully committed. Sarah Maslin Nir tells me she recently showed up to a pre-riding brunch date in the West Village wearing her entire riding ensemble head-to-toe: tall black boots with patent trim, gray breeches with gray leather knee patches, a punched leather belt, a baseball cap sporting the logo of her barn, and a white sunshirt with black vents. “There’s a kind of sex appeal to being fully kitted out,” she says.

Casey regularly finds herself showing up to family gatherings in her show attire, “often because I’m rushing back from a horse show to make the family party.” But sometimes, she says, “I just don’t feel like deciding on an outfit, and I pretend I was at a show. I joke they’re the nicest clothes I own, so why should anyone have a problem with them?”

The hats

English riders might have snazzy coats, but Western riders win the hat game, hands-down. Megan’s sage-green felt Stetson hat is meant for outdoor riding in the rain and sun, but it would look equally at home on the shelves at Madewell. “It’s sort of an Indiana Jones-cowboy hat cross, and it honestly looks great in the barn or at the bar.” And of course, there’s the classic cowboy hat.

Bree, another Western rider, says that she used to stow hers in her closet to keep it spotless for competitions, but now that she doesn’t show anymore, that’s changed. “My cowboy hat has slowly begun to inch into my summer wardrobe,” she says. “I have now totally welcomed in into my daily wardrobe for those hot summer days.”

The training aids ;)

Boots and jods are great, but perhaps my favorite answer comes from Caitlin, who started riding in fifth grade and later volunteered at a hippotherapy barn. “Rather than buying expensive and flimsy riding crops from stores like Babeland, I just get the real deal at saddle shops,” she tells me. “They’re better quality and cheaper.”