M i c h e l l e B l a c k l e r E q u e s t r i a n L e c t u r e S e r i e s
The Fashion of Turnout
I am always flattered to be asked questions about Turnout. Usually the questions are not about Turnout, but about Fashion. It is nice to know that people think I am a fashion maeven, but Carriage Driving is not a Fashion Show.
Turnout is about Form & Function: Suitability of Horse, Harness, Vehicle. Tradition forms the basis for good form:
"Simplicity of outline, appropriateness, consistency, harmony, and good judgement in the selection of vehicles, form the foundations of good form." Francis Underhill, Chapter 1, Page 1, Paragraph 1. [If you have not read this book: Driving For Pleasure, buy it and read it. The answers to equipage and appointments are contained within the pages, and there are lots of pictures.]
My Rule for Turnout is: Adorn the Horse. Consider yourself an accessory. Make Frank Underhill proud.
However, since the most frequently asked question is about fashion, I have collected some of my memories of Turnout to share what works and what fell short of a beautiful Turnout.
Harmony of Colors
The use of Primary Colors together is discouraged for harmonic Turnouts because it shocks the eye rather than soothing it. Take Red and Purple for example; if both are primary colors of the same hue and saturation, the statement is very bold ie: roses and irises, however, add lilac or heather to the roses and the statement whispers to the eye, drawing it closer. Mrs. Rozeboom’s outfit with the red T Cart is a prime example: she adorns the turnout without distracting from it. Had she been attired in red, the viewer’s eye would be conflicted about where to look: Wheels/LuEllyn/Wheels/LuEllyn…
Tertiary colors are more interesting and versatile when choosing an outfit for Turnout. The cardigan in the below photo is rust, ochre, sage & pine green floral on a cream base making it the ideal Turnout candidate as it has colors in it that have combinations of all colors in them. They are more interesting color choices in the quiet, harmonious pursuit of Turnout.
I bought the floral cashmere cardie in the above photo because I could not take it off in the shop. I have really never taken it off, I wear it EVERYWHERE including horse shows. And it is perfect in every way: big, bold, pretty flowers, tertiary colors compliment any color vehicle/horse, warm but not hot, makes me feel wonderful.
This turnout won at Royal Windsor’s Virtual Show in 2020 out of a class of 42 international competitors in the Haflinger Division. It was not a Turnout class, but I think this really shows how to think about Turnout: Adorn the Horse. This photo shows off Iris in all her glory. Judge Nigel Hollings sited her on her strength & versatility which separated her from the field of entries.
A Note On Harness and Vehicle Suitability
Notice the harness and vehicle on Iris in the above photo: everything is adjusted so the lines are completely attuned to the job of the harness in relation to duty of the vehicle. The Line of Draft on this modern Sprint Cart by Frey Carriage Company is suited to a breast collar. In the photo of the Rozeboom’s T Cart, Melchior is wearing a full collar due to the Line of Draft being quite a bit lower as regards the vehicle’s weight, which also requires a heavier harness.
Driving the incredible Lipizzaner, Zenit for Francesco Aletti Montano in CIAT Lisago, Italy 2015. Elements of this turnout [Horse, Harness, Vehicle] were borrowed from different sources and the only correct components are Zenit's pride, our smiles and impeccable cleanliness. On the Judge's Comments: What A Horse!! — with Emma Horniblow at Borgo di Mustonate. Remember, it is a HORSE SHOW. Photo Giovanni Vitali
Earth Tones are always a safe bet: in the above photo, my jacket is a Tattersall print of dark brown on beige, but as you see, it reads as grey, however, the feathers in the brown felt hat bring it all together for a more interesting picture. The olive and navy tartan of the groom’s undress livery was a stroke of luck as it harmonized better than the only other choice of black. And the beige apron was chosen because black was too strong a contrast and drew the eye away from the horse. The strategy was all about the horse and it worked, we placed third out of 29.
FAQ: What should I wear for my Turnout?
ANSWER: If your equine suits its vehicle and the harness is appropriate to both, it all fits, then you can worry about what you will wear. Here are some guidelines:
1.] Shop your closet, I'll bet you good money you already have a lovely outfit that will suit your turnout. Why? Because people usually buy things they like: horse/pony, vehicle, clothing, furniture...and usually there is a theme: Country style, Sporty style, Formal style...
2.] Define your style and dress as though you were going to a daytime wedding, in that style. I say WEDDING for a reason: do nothing to outshine the bride! In this case the BRIDE is your EQUINE.
3.] You do not need to dress to match the color of your equine/vehicle. In fact, to many, Matchy Matchy is a fashion faux pas. But if that is your style: do it. Avoid being too coordinated/contrived. Choose an outfit that is *harmonious* with the turnout, that you like and feel fabulous wearing.
Solid colors are tricky in Turnout. From a distance, they are just one splotch of color. This draws the eye towards the splotch, [especially if it is a bright, saturated color] and away from the harmony of the entire turnout. Tend toward soft, solid, pastel colors. Big, bold prints are easier to coordinate than tiny prints which tend to read as a solid color that is not the main color, but a combination of all the colors in a print. IE: red and white prints read as pink. Brown and cream or white read as grey.
Dark colors are hard to pull off, they look very funereal and no one should wear black unless they are driving a hearse. IMHO. Traditionally, groom's liveries were not black, either. Gents wear a jacket that lends itself to the style of your vehicle. Tweed is for sporting/country. Darker colors, burgundy, Brewster green, or navy for park vehicles. Adding a waistcoat or vest is an excellent way to break up dark outfits, but stay conservative with beige color tone, add highlight with a necktie.
4.] Have someone photograph you sitting in your vehicle wearing the outfit with the hat from 20' away: how does it read? The results of this exercise will very often surprise. Have several possibilities lined up to shoot, even the one you think can't possibly work. That is probably the one.
5.] There is nothing in the rulebook that says you have to wear a wool blazer with a scarf tied around your neck on a 90 degree day. You can wear a lovely blouse. A cute cashmere cardigan. A dress. A jacket with 3/4 sleeves. It also doesn't say you can't wear a strapless dress, but don't do that. Be modest. Keep showing skin to a minimum. Repeat: Nothing Must Stand/Pop Out.
6.] Footwear should be smart, sensible and clean. You should be able to hitch/unhitch your equine in the shoes you wear for turnout without breaking your leg or a heel. The best thing to be said about shoes is that they should not be noticed. You can wear boots but make sure they are polished.
7.] Driving Apron should be of a plain gaberdine [treat with Scotch Guard and it will resist dirt & wrinkles] in the color to coordinate with the upholstery. This article belongs to the vehicle. It should disappear into the turnout, not stand out in any way. Traditionally, black was never used because it faded, showed dirt too easily and was relegated to funerals.
Chic in Rain Gear — with Stephanie Wagner Wilson and Michelle Blackler at Villa Louis Carriage Classic, Inc. When it is raining, most fashion guides go out the window, but the Turnout rule is you must have rain gear. Generally the raincoat goes over the apron and if it is long enough to cover your knees, you may dispense with the apron. Note the string gloves tucked under the driver’s side seat: leather gloves get slippery on leather reins in the rain. String gloves are important elements in rain gear. It is advisable to have a rain hat as well as feathers/flowers on hats may have dyes in them that will bleed onto the hat and ruin it. I have a classic British rain coat in beige, Stephanie Wilson’s was navy, we didn’t care, it was damp and cold. Comfort first. Photo Bob Mischka
Carriage Driving Essentials
If you are showing outdoors and there is a threat of rain, you should have a raincoat, and string gloves. The coat can be stored in the boot, under the seat, or with your spares kit, but if the judge asks for it, you must present or you will be docked in the ribbons. String gloves go over your driving gloves in wet weather to keep the reins from slipping. They are placed between the seat and the fall on the driver's side and should show for presentation. This can be a challenge with modern vehicles with falls stitched to the seat. In the past, with this dilemma, I unstitched a 4" section specifically for the string gloves, securing the opening with staples on the underside of the seat.
You can buy inexpensive white cotton gloves at most large farm stores. Traditional string gloves can be bought at most Carriage Driving Supply Companies.
On the subject of spares kits, the must haves are rein splice, trace splice, hames splice, hoof pick, knife and a hole punch. You can assemble these items in a small bag or spend hundreds on fancy leather spares kits. Your choice, but you must make sure the brass on these items is polished for every show, if you are using brass hardware. [There is no harm in buying stainless hardware for the spares kit splices, it is tougher and longer lasting.] If the judge asks you to present the spares kit and you have not polished or cleaned it, it shows lack of preparation. I have been asked to open the knife in my spares kit by a judge. I had never used it and it was a challenge. I got 2nd place to an exhibitor who could easily open the knife. Do not under estimate the power of your spares kit. It is there for your safety in the event of an accident.
Your spares kit is not complete without a halter and lead rope. Make sure they are neat and tidy and easily to hand. See above: accident. It is a good idea to also have a quarter sheet for each equine in the hitch, especially in inclement conditions.
I've known a competitor who carries a flask of whiskey in the spares kit. When I asked why, I got a wry smile. I guess that is open to interpretation...!
Park Turnout: top hat, waistcoat for Dr. Jerry Rozeboom, elegant but simple hat & jacket for the lovely LuElyn, with aprons corresponding with upholstery. A very harmonious turnout focusing on the horse, and the lines of the vehicle. LuEllyn’s red hat adds just the right flourish of color and the big, graphic houndstooth pattern of her jacket shimmers as much as the harness and Melchior. This turnout is carefully considered but not contrived. Photo Bob Mischka
A Note on Bits
The Liverpool is a sport bit: not a traditional bit for a formal gig, but times have changed and we do not wear black tie for dinner, either. A gig bit requires a bridoon and full bearing rein in order to be correct and we have also dropped that tradition. Turning out with a gig bit without a bridoon and full bearing rein is like wearing a tux without trousers, not to mention dangerous- gig bits are notorious for getting caught on other parts of the harness/vehicle. Unless you tie the horse's head up with the bearing rein and then tie it down with a standing martingale and have a groom at the horse's head the moment the vehicle stops, a gig bit is not practical for modern carriage driving. Ditto Buxton bit. A couple of Old Guard judges disagree, but safety over slavish tradition.
It all started with that hat: I couldn't take it off, had to have it. I was in a Red Chapter: hitch red and black horse, repaint the gig, pay a small fortune for the cardigan. I never felt comfortable with it: nothing really *went* with the hat, no matter how hard I tried. People would say, "Wow!" when I emerged from the dressing area, not: "Wow, you look amazing!" I do love the drab green of my passenger's outfit in relation to the red, it is more interesting than grey or funereal black, and works beautifully for the sporting theme. This class was Tandem Working Pleasure — with Bill Kraatz at Altech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. Photo Pics of You
Shop Your Closet for Turnout
So many times, I have gone shopping for the perfect outfit for turnout. I have spent big money for outfits I have worn once and never got that illusive ribbon I desired.
Whenever I just grabbed something from my closet, a piece that I adore and put on a hat: Win. The key to being stylish in turnout, is to feel fabulous. For me, it is usually a cashmere cardigan and pearls. Choosing a fine cashmere or merino or alpaca blend wool sweater for summer months may seem nuts, but, in fact, they are cooler than cotton, wick away sweat, thus do not smell or stain and brush clean with ease.
The Red Hat again, and the grossly expensive cardigan, adorning the turnout a little too much. It would be fine if I was driving, but alas distracting as a passenger. Dr. Jerry Rozeboom's choice of a blue shirt is more interesting in this turnout than a white shirt would be, and his pale wool fedora was more dashing than the black one. Even so, Melchior was so brilliant, I doubt the judge even noticed what we were wearing. Photo Bob Mischka
A pretty turnout, cardigan from the drawer at home, my job was to adorn the horse & driver. BUT: the black aprons bring the whole effect down, beige would have highlighted the vehicle and horse better. This turnout failed in the equipage area. The full collar is not suited to the Line of Draft, and with a gig that is the single biggest mistake. My client is pulling back on the reins, the horse is out of draft, traces flopping. That is the kind of thing that loses Turnout. But that smile on my client's face is real: best 4th place ribbon ever. Photo Bob Mischka
Another Hat I loved, but nothing really went with it. Turning out a black horse, with a black harness and a black vehicle is really difficult. This is the same gig as in the last photo of client and I, but the equipage is better, breast collar with correct Line of Draft rather than neck collar. Overall Effect: Blah, but it won us the Blue for Lucy Fur, in the hotly competitive Carriage Dog Class at Villa Louis. Photo Lori Schoenhard
A beautiful silk jacket that had the exact color of Chestnut to match Don Pecos, a big, bold print, excellent fit & drape, but it just didn’t work. It read pink, and none of my hats loved topping it. A very expensive mistake that I was sure was perfect before I saw the photographic proof. It was windy and that long, flowing Morgan mane was a distraction. I pull them now, much neater and if I braid, it is very precise. There is a lot of speculation on braiding, as well. Traditionalists insist it is a 20th Century affectation. A neat, pulled mane is always correct. If your equine is of a breed known for long manes, a French Braid presents well.
Sporting Tandem Turnout, Evening Class, CAA Carriage Classic 2015 Black aprons were chosen for this unusual evening performance. Traditionally a sporting tandem would not be driven at night, nor were hats worn in the evening: hence the fascinators. If I had this to do again, I would stick with sporting daytime turnout, despite the evening performance. Compare with the previous photo, for black vs tan aprons. — with Heather Vlietstra at Altech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.
It is really hard to turnout a black horse put to a black vehicle with black upholstery. I love it when Melchior fades in the summer to this perfect turnout color. I put Dr. Jerry Rozeboom and LuEllyn in grey aprons to break up the black. LuEllyn’s hat was originally purchased to go with another vehicle, but, by accidental sagacity, the hat, which she loved, also highlighted Melchior when his coat faded. — at Villa Louis Carriage Classic, Inc. Photo Bob Mischka
Same horse, vehicle as previous photo. Imagine if the aprons were also black: can you hear Elgar's Nimrod? LuEllyn's bold floral print jacket in white, red, pink & black was chosen for this class on a dreary grey day. Jerry is rocking a red and rose plaid waistcoat that I sewed as a sample for him before I cut into the Italian merino gaberdine to sew his formal waistcoat. It is NOT traditional and this was WALNUT HILL, but Jerry is a colorful gent and whenever he puts on this waistcoat, I smile and say NOTHING. Plus it actually suits him beautifully. Division Champion, Gentlemen's Champion, Amateur Reserve Champion — with Jerry Rozeboom at Walnut Hill Carriage Show.
One of my all time favorite turnouts, suspended in time by the lens of photographer Peter Gilles. Here Be Dragons' Tynqwndwn Lovespoon: Lisa and I at the Metamora pleasure show in 2009 on the cross country course with Martha Stover's exquisite Studebaker road cart. A country turnout can be stunning and this one truly adorns the pony. — with Martha Stover and Cynthia Lawrence in Metamora, Michigan.
Charcoal Grey Apron with marathon vehicle. This blends better than black. The actual seat is a light grey, but with the black back and sides, the light grey was distracting. This apron is reversible with the light grey on the other side. The ivory hat is a FAIL; in my haste, I grabbed the wrong hat box while packing. Still. The show goes on and it was a CDE, so I didn't get hysterical. Generally in CDE’s the Rules are more like Guides.
Charcoal Grey with black upholstery: blends nicely, looks smart. Do not buy cheap fabric when sewing your aprons. A fine wool gabardine is light and drapes beautifully making a flattering silhouette. I like this turnout for many reasons: simple, sleek lines lend elegance to presentation at a CDE. Biggest Mistakes? Dash is on backwards and I should have insisted on using my good harness rather than the client’s synthetic. Photo Bob Mischka
Turnout is a vast and fascinating subject; many hours can be spent in the perusal of historical books on the subject. Form & Function vs. Fashion means we will always have guides for Good Taste, always open for Interpretation with plenty of opinions to their value.
~Michelle Blackler, 2021
FEI 2* Competitor,Trainer, Breeder