The relationship between riders and their horses dates back for centuries. Scholars believe that the earliest depiction of ridden horses date all the way back to 1900 B.C. Horses are amazing creatures that have held a variety of roles in different cultures throughout the years: sport, entertainment, function, transportation, companionship, and more.
And if we think of just how diverse a role horses have played in our culture, it makes sense that the fashion and clothing would also be diverse! Throughout history, equestrian clothing has changed and shifted to meet new roles, incorporate different technology and material, or through cultural shifts.
The history of equestrian jackets tells us not only about fashion over the ages, but the role that horses had in society at that time. Here’s an overview of the history of riding jackets through the ages.
A Timeline and History of Equestrian Riding Jackets
Before the stylish horse riding jackets of today existed, there were centuries of different equestrian jackets and clothing. What we know from ancient cultures is limited, but it is known that equestrian style and clothing varied significantly from country to country.
As horses were used in different ways, the styles and equestrian jackets changed significantly. Here’s an overview of some of the main trends in the history of riding jackets.
Ancient Cultures, 700 B.C. to 300 A.D.
We have limited knowledge on what ancient horse riders wore and must rely on what’s been studied or excavated by historians and archaeologists. As documented in Man and the Horse: An Illustrated History of Equestrian Apparel, the first horse riding jackets were not jackets at all! Here are some features of this time period:
- Carvings from the palace at Nineveh (mid-600s B.C.) show a man on horseback wearing armour that protects his legs.
- Paintings on vases from Greece (late-600s B.C.) depict horseback riders wearing a cloak, for a journey or extended travels.
- Historical evidence suggests that nomadic Asian tribes in the mid-500 to mid-300 B.C. era were the first to wear boots, trousers, and other covering clothing. This was to protect themselves from the hot sun and may be what modern rising jackets and costumes were derived from.
- A bronze sculpture depicting a Roman emperor (mid-100s A.D.) on horseback wearing a tunic and cloak.
From this, riding jackets did not exist in ancient cultures. Instead, they favoured long cloaks for traveling or armour when in battle.
Renaissance Era, 14-17th Centuries
Man and the Horse traces the next notable iteration of equestrian jackets and costumes to the Renaissance Era in Europe. During this time, horses were popular for war, art, and sport. The use of the horse determined what the horse riding jackets and costumes would look like:
- War: Both riders and horses would wear full steel-plate armour since the mid-14th century.
- Art: Noblemen learned the art of horseback riding, which was considered on-par with fencing, dancing, or singing. Riders wore equestrian jackets that were comfortable to learn and perform tricks with their horses.
- Sport: Hunting from horseback was very popular during this time period. Parties of nobility would take to their horses and hung stags and other animals. Special hunting uniforms were required to hunt, and families were allowed to create their own uniforms (“boutons”) that had distinctive colours associated with them.
Horse riding jackets during the Renaissance period in Europe were designed for function—either battle or sport.
18th Century Equestrian Fashion
Equestrian fashion in the 1700s was very fancy and elaborate. This article explains how the military highly influenced horse fashions. Riding jackets had rich gold braids and ornaments with red fabric, mimicking military uniform.
At this time, women rode side saddle and had large dresses as part of their riding costume. The riding jacket, however, was very similar to most men’s clothing.
19th Century: Cowboys and Trousers
The 1800s had two notable changes for equestrian fashion: women began wearing trousers instead of skirts and cowboys began to roam the Wild West in America.
With this, equestrian fashion on the whole became more casual. Cowboys primarily road horses to herd cattle, so they needed to be in something comfortable. Riding jackets were not practical as they would hinder their movement; riders during this time wore simple shirts, pants, and chaps to protect their legs.
20th Century to Modern Day
Over time, new fabrics and styles emerged to provide a diverse array of horse riding jackets and costumes over the years. A typical riding costume from the 1900s into the present day would be jodhpurs, riding boots, a helmet, and riding jackets.
Many people choose to wear “normal” jackets when riding horses, including rain jackets or others to protect from the elements. Typical equestrian riding jackets are typically reserved for competition riding or other horseback riding sports and shows. Features of these horse riding jackets are a more formal look, usually with a collar and buttoned up the front. Fabrics like tweed or wool blends are common and give a traditional, classic look. Horse riding jackets typically have a tailored fit and may be worn with accessories such as a tie or pocket square.
Over the last ten years we have seen the innovation of waterproof jackets such as the Equicoat. The Equicoat was designed to allow horse riders to enjoy their riding in all weather. The more formal riding jackets of the past were not suitable for long rides in the rain and the harsh winter conditions.
The styles and fashions for equestrian jackets and clothing changed significantly over the years. The history of people riding horses dates back to 1900 B.B., after all! As the role of horses changed, so too did the type of riding jackets that people wore.
Today, you can see people wearing casual jackets to more formal, classic riding jackets. It will be interesting to see the continued evolution of equestrian jackets and apparel as horseback riding continues to be a popular and important part of our culture.Related Categories: Journal