What Should I Wear to My First Horse Riding Lesson?

What Should I Wear to My First Horse Riding Lesson?

I remember the excitement leading up to my first horse riding lesson. I was nine years old, and I knew nothing about horses except for the fact that I wanted to ride more than anything. In my preparation for that big first day, I was left wondering– what should I wear to my first horse riding lesson?

English or Western?

Before determining what to wear to your first riding lesson, knowing which riding discipline you are pursuing will make a difference. Whether you are riding English or Western will affect what you wear to your first riding lesson. Let’s take a look at some of the major differences in the two most common riding disciplines. 

Western Riding 

Western riding is the type you have probably seen most often in the movies. It is the style used by cowboys and cowgirls who work cattle on the range. 

Western saddles have a large, deep seat designed for comfort and functionality. Cowboys typically spend many hours in the saddle, so the larger saddle allows for more comfort for the rider. 

There are a couple of variations in western saddles, but the majority of western saddles have a horn in the front for hanging rope and securing calves. Many new riders find the horn as a source of comfort since it gives something solid to hold onto. 

English Riding 

English riding uses a smaller, lighter saddle that allows for closer contact with the horse’s back. This style originated in Europe and lends itself to many variations of disciplines such as hunter/ jumpers, dressage, and eventing. There are several variations of English saddles. All are designed to allow the horse more freedom of movement in its back and shoulders. 

Most new riders will begin learning to ride English in an all-purpose saddle. 

English saddles have a more shallow seat than western saddles, and they do not have a horn in the front. 

So now that you know the difference between English and Western, let’s take a look at what you should wear to your first lesson for each discipline. 

What to Wear to a Western Riding Lesson

Jeans or boot-cut riding pants– For western riding, jeans are a great choice. Choose a pair of boot cut jeans such as this pair for men, or boot cut riding pants such as this pair for women.  

Boots with a low heel– While you don’t have to run out and buy an expensive pair of cowboy boots for your first riding lesson, a boot with a heel is a must. Sneakers or tennis shoes should not be worn for safety reasons. Flat shoes could easily allow your foot to slip all the way through a stirrup. This could pose a risk for being dragged should you have a fall. 

Button-down shirt or fitted t-shirt- For your shirt selection, choose a button-down or fitted shirt that you can tuck into your jeans. Avoid excessively baggy shirts that could get caught up on your tack and equipment. Baggy clothes also make it difficult for your instructor to see your form through your back and shoulders. 

Men can choose a classic button-down shirt. Women can wear a button-down or a fitted quarter zip with their jeans. 

What to Wear to an English Riding Lesson

Breeches or jodhpurs

For an English riding lesson, you will want to wear a pair of riding pants. Breeches typically has a tapered bottom and fit inside a pair of tall boots. Check out this pair of breeches for men as well! Jodhpurs have a cuffed bottom and go on top of ankle-high paddock boots. Typically jodhpurs are worn by younger children. 

Both types of pants are fitted and stretchy and allow for freedom of movement. They also have additional material on the inside of the knees to protect your calves from being rubbed by the stirrup leathers.  Stirrup leathers on an English saddle can pinch or rub the rider’s leg if not protected. 

Fitted shirt

For your first riding lesson, any fitted, athletic-type shirt is fine. Avoid a shirt that is too long or baggy. A long shirt that is not tucked in could get caught on the back of your saddle or interfere with your tack. A shirt that is too baggy will prevent your instructor from being able to see your form. 

Boots with a low heel

For your first riding lesson, select a pair of boots with a low heel to prevent your foot from being able to slip through the stirrup. English riding boots are either knee-high or ankle-high. Ankle high boots are called paddock boots, and they are typically less expensive than knee-high boots. 

Do You Have to Wear Long Pants When Horseback Riding? 

Even if it is hot outside, it is important to wear long pants when horseback riding. Whether you are riding English or Western, the leathers that connect the stirrups to the saddle can rub your legs raw. Anyone who has experienced this will tell you that it is not worth the risk!

Additionally, you don’t want to sweat directly onto the leather of the saddle if you can avoid it. It would be uncomfortable for you, and not good for the leather itself. 

Can You Wear Leggings? 

Leggings might be stretchy like riding pants, but they are thin and don’t offer much protection. Because of this, leggings should not be worn while riding. Anyone who has been rubbed raw by stirrup leathers will tell you that while leggings may be comfortable to wear on the ground, you will not be comfortable in them while riding or after riding. 

Protection While Riding

Safety and protection is an important part of riding. There are a number of safety equipment items to consider. Some are non-negotiable, while others are more of a choice. Let’s take a look at what is required, and what is optional. 

Riding helmet

Whether riding English or western, a riding helmet is the number one non-negotiable piece of safety equipment that everyone must have. Many barns will most likely have some spare helmets for you to wear at your very first lesson, but if you are planning to stick with riding, you will want to buy yourself a good-quality helmet. Be sure to inquire well in advance of your first lesson if the barn will have helmets available for you to borrow if you do not yet have your own. 

Riding gloves

While certainly not required, riding gloves offer great protection for your hands. Blisters can easily develop on the outside of your ring fingers from holding the reins. Gloves can prevent painful blisters. 

Safety vests

These safety vests are not required for your first lesson, however, they do provide a good bit of protection to your upper body, including your ribs, spine, and internal organs. Safety vests offer heavy padding, but they are relatively lightweight. Some are inflatable and will fill with air when a cord attached to the saddle is pulled by the force of a fall. 


Half chaps cover the bottom part of your legs and are worn with paddock boots over your riding pants. While these are not required, half chaps do give some added grip to your lower leg and also give additional protection against rubs from the stirrup leathers.

Full-seat breeches

Some breaches are made with protective knee patches, but others have a full suede or silicone grip seat. Full-seat breeches provide a bit more “stick” in the saddle and may help you stay on more easily as you learn how to ride. 

Planning for the Weather

When deciding what to wear to your first horse riding lesson, it is important to take the weather into account. Here are some tips to help you plan for whatever situation Mother Nature may throw your way. 

In the heat of Summer

If it’s hot and humid, plan to wear a lightweight, quick-drying shirt or tank top. You will surely sweat under your helmet and long pants, so a shirt designed to keep you cool is important. Check out this cooling sun shirt, which helps cool your skin when wet. 

If it’s chilly or windy

Dressing in layers is a great way to stay warm around the barn. If you get too warm while riding, it’s easy to shed a layer or two. Then you can put the layers back on if you get chilly while in the barn untacking after your ride. I love vests for this reason. They are easy to put on and take off, and a good puffer vest will block a fair amount of wind. 

If it’s wet and rainy

A rain jacket is a great way to combat a passing shower. Be sure to avoid anything that fits too loosely that may flap around while you are riding. This could scare your horse or another horse that may be in the arena with you. 

If it’s downright cold

In the dead of winter, prepare for your lesson by wearing long underwear under your riding pants and wear lots of layers on your upper body. Some winter coats are made with pleats in the hips that make sitting in the saddle more comfortable. Wool socks will help keep your feet warm, and there are also insulated riding boots available if you plan to do a lot of riding in the cold. 

Horseback riding is a year-round sport that is enjoyed by people of all ages. Knowing what to wear is key to achieving safety and comfort. No matter the weather, you are sure to enjoy your first riding lesson even more if you know how to dress for it. Saddle up!