Presenting a Picture-Perfect Photo

It’s worth the extra effort to create a camera-ready show look for both horse and rider.

By Kristin Pitzer

Wearing a carefully thought-out look helps build confidence in the show pen and ensure that you look great in the photos you take home from the show. (Photo by Kirstie Marie, Courtesy of Hobby Horse)

When the lights have faded and exhibitors have returned home, all that’s left of a run are photos and videos. Especially when you’re not showing, these treasures can be what keep you connected to your sport and get you pumped to return to the show pen. But if your carefully planned outfit doesn’t look as you’d envisioned it, you can feel disappointed and discouraged.

If you want to dress to impress, color is everything—from your hat to your shirt to your chaps to your pad. You must learn what works well in photos and what should be avoided, which is dependent on the color of your horse, among other factors. We spoke with a few apparel experts and NRHA Hall of Fame photographer Barb Waltenberry for advice to help you look your best at your next show.

Coat-Color Considerations

No matter at what level you show, it’s important to be show-pen ready. Kristin Titov, NRHA non pro and CEO of Western show clothing company Hobby Horse, said dressing the part makes you feel more confident.

“If you go into the pen feeling put together and you’ve put a lot of thought into the details of how you’re presenting yourself, you’re going to feel a little different about it,” Titov said. “You’ll feel more confident, and that’s going to show in how you ride and how your horse reacts. In an industry where major championships are won and lost by half a point, every little bit counts.”

Another thing to consider is that photos will be around long after an event is over, much like wedding photos. If you aren’t happy with your aesthetic, those photos could haunt you for a long time, whether they’re on social media, in industry magazines, or hanging on your wall.

Photographers like Barb Waltenberry, wife of renowned reining photographer Dick Waltenberry, are willing to put extra effort into editing your photos. Waltenberry’s goal is to produce a photo you want to buy and will treasure. Still, with as many photos as she processes, Waltenberry appreciates it when riders keep in mind little details that improve the overall look. One thing that can pose a problem, for instance, is color combinations with a lot of contrast.

“It helps if you don’t wear a white shirt while you’re riding a black or dark bay horse, because that’s hard for the camera to handle,” Waltenberry said. “Mid-tones like tan work really well, and so do bright colors—blue, red, green, and purple. White is the hardest. But if you have a light-colored horse and you wear light-colored clothes, that’s easier.

“It also depends on arena lighting, and that depends on the size of the arena,” Waltenberry continued. “Take Oklahoma City. In the main arena, strobes are hung far away from the ground, so it spreads the light more. In the Adequan® arena, the strobes are right by the fence, so they tend to blast out light colors.” 

Pairing a bright shirt with a more plainly colored horse will give the horse the flash he lacks and help him stand out from the arena’s sand. (Photo by Kaycie Timm)

Think white is your only option because you show horses of varying colors? Think again. Hobby Horse created a color wheel that reveals which colors work best with each coat color, and some that go well with any horse.

“If you have a horse in what we call the redheads group, like your chestnuts, liver chestnuts, or red roans, then it’s nice to bring out your tans,” Titov said. “Chocolate colors look lovely with those horses. If you have what we call the brunette group—bay, black, white, gray, blue roan—then you’re going to want to look more at pinks and reds.”

If you ride horses in both color groups, try jewel tones—purples, blues, and teals—which look good on any horse. Titov added that she’s a fan of golds on her dark palomino, and said that for horses with extremely light or dark coats, bright colors help them stand out.

Plainer horses—those without much chrome, or white markings—can blend with the arena, especially in a darker space. When this happens, the camera has trouble distinguishing the moving horse from the dirt, which can cause blurred action. This happens more with sorrel horses than other colors, but sometimes bays and even palominos can appear dirt-colored depending on the available lighting.

“If the arena is lit correctly and the lights are hung in the right places that define the outline of the horse, horses will show up against the dirt,” Waltenberry said. “But if they’re in a part of the arena where the lighting doesn’t hit directly on them, so they don’t have a lot of natural highlights in their coats, then it’s harder to define them against the dirt.”

Lighter-colored leg gear can help a little, but brighter outfits draw more light into the photo, too.

A bright shirt with a loud pattern can appear vastly different from far away than close-up. Be sure to consider how your outfit looks from a distance. (Photo by Kirstie Marie, Courtesy of Hobby Horse)

“If I have a horse the color of the dirt, I’m going to gravitate toward jewel tones and sparkles,” Titov said. “If the horse is plainer and doesn’t have any chrome, that’s not going to deter me at all if he has the talent and the mind; but I’m going to use some bright colors and add sparkle.

“That doesn’t necessarily stop me from putting sparkles on the flashy horses because, well, I like sparkles,” Titov added with a laugh. “But on a horse that’s really flashy, a plain shirt’s not going to look plain. On a plainer horse, I’m probably going to choose a more exciting saddle pad as well, with some more bright colors.”

Top It Off

(Photo by Kaycie Timm)

You’ve chosen the perfect shirt, matching chaps, and a coordinating pad—but you’re not quite ready to go. Your hat finishes the look. 

Hat expert Shorty Koger of NRHA Corporate Partner Shorty’s Caboy Hattery shared her tips for picking the perfect hat to top off your photo-ready attire. 

“People often like to match their hats according to the color of their horse, but I go by the rider’s face, complexion, hair color, and eye color,” Koger revealed. “I can tell by looking at the individual what color and style would look good. Pecan is a very popular choice that goes with a lot of hair colors and complexions.”

 Although black is an appealing choice to pair with many outfits, Koger cautions that it can make you look shorter, and encourages customers to consider other neutral shades, too.

Once you’ve picked a color, good shape is key. A poorly shaped hat can ruin the overall look of your appearance, both for the judges and in your photos. 

“We make the crown according to face shape, and then shape the brim right at the edge of the eyes,” Koger explained. “It’s very important that the brim is shaped to look good at a distance. You need to be looking professional when you walk in the pen if you’re going to bring home a trophy.”

Remember the Details

Color isn’t the only thing that can make or break a shirt in a photo. Because photos are often taken from across the arena, tiny, intricate patterns can appear as a solid color. Spectators and judges certainly won’t see them. While that might not ruin a photo, it can be surprising to find out that a shirt doesn’t photograph how it looks in person.

“I often hear  people looking at their pictures say, ‘I am never going to wear that outfit again!’” Waltenberry said. “I don’t think they realize what it looks like from a distance as opposed to close-up.”

“When you’re looking at your outfit, you shouldn’t look at it from only an arm’s length away,” Titov said. “I’ve been known to hang it on a hanger and walk 20 feet away from it, and then make my decision.”

This method works with saddle blankets, too, which Titov said can ruin the overall look if they clash with the shirt. Choosing a saddle blanket can vary in difficulty. If you wear a solid-colored shirt, it’s as easy as finding a blanket with that color in it. Bold, patterned shirts might require more effort. To assess how a blanket and shirt will work together, Titov discourages laying the shirt up against the pad.

“When I’m evaluating if a pad goes or not, I don’t lay the shirt on top of the pad because that’s not how it’s going to work in real life. If your shirt is on top of your pad when you’re showing, you have bigger problems than whether it clashes or not,” Titov joked. “I think it’s important to hold the shirt above the pad and realize most of the pad’s getting covered by the saddle. So, does the combo look good from far away?

“Even if the color is not a 100% precise match, if it’s just a shade off, you won’t notice from a couple feet away, which is more representative of what it will look like when you’re in the saddle,” Titov added. “So, while details are important, it’s also important to look at the overall impression from a distance.”

Kristin Titov, pictured at the 2018 NRHA Derby, likes to pair her palomino, Gunsup In Tinseltown, with gold tones and sparkle. (Photo by Waltenberry)

Don’t be afraid to use contrasting colors. Not everything has to match; in fact, contrasting colors can make an outfit stand out—in a good way. The shade of the color is most important, Titov cautioned.

Other details in show outfits, like bling on shirts, vests, and chaps, can have unintentional effects on photos. Those studs, jewels, or conchos might reflect the camera’s flash in unexpected ways.

“Sometimes, blings cause flare,” Waltenberry said. “In some cases, that’s kind of cool. But sometimes it reflects up on people’s faces so that there are little colored spots.”

Jewelry is something to consider, too. Necklaces, watches, earrings, and even rings can add in more pops of bling, but they shouldn’t clash with the rest of the outfit. Remember that you’re there to show off your horse; not blind the judges with glitz.

Hats, boots, and chaps all help finish off the overall look. Pair those elements with the base colors in your ensemble. For example, a black hat looks good with a pad that has a black base, but avoid a pad with a lot of black if you wear chocolate chaps.

“I think that helps it really tie together,” Titov said. “That way, even if you have a bunch of other colors in there, as long as the colors go together and your base is on track, that’s going to look better.”

While there are many elements to take into consideration when putting together a show outfit, it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Watch for combinations you see in the arena that you like, ask your friends and trainer for input, and have fun with it.

2020 Fashion Trends

While reiners often sport glamorous, blingy outfits, Titov thinks there might be a shift in the trend this year when reiners return to the show pen.

“Because it will take longer for the economy to recover, I think people won’t spend large amounts of money on show attire,” Titov said. “I think it’s going to take longer for new trends to jump up.”

Titov expects to see a trend of refreshing items you already own or purchasing lower-cost, less-bejeweled fashions. As another cost-saving measure, you might pair your existing  brightly colored pads with solid cotton shirts to create a new, less-pricey look.

“People might lean into things like our HobbySport shirts,” Titov said. “The shirts cost around $100, they don’t show pit stains or sweat marks, and they require no dry cleaning or ironing. A lot of them come in bright colors and patterns, so you get that something interesting without spending as much money. 

“Dry cleaning really adds up,” Titov added. “If you’re looking to save money here and there, not having to dry clean something after every show is going offer savings over time.”

If you’re on a budget, try repurposing last season’s pads and looking for less-embellished shirts that look sharp, but don’t cost a fortune. (Photo by Kirstie Marie, Courtesy of Hobby Horse)