(from the International Arabian Horse Association booklet "Arabian Mounted Native Costume Class" from The Golden Book of Arabian Horse Showing, 1972)


For the spectator, the Costume Class is the most eye-catching and spectacular class of the Arabian Division. For the exhibitor, especially those who have made their own costume, it can be the most exciting and most self-satisfying.

This booklet provides guide lines to assist the exhibitor in his endeavor to win his fair share of the ribbons in this event. The material consists of a composite of many ideas presented to the writers of The Golden Book. It has been critiqued by the International Review Committee.

Reader's Check List
* Selecting the Horse
* Class Qualifications
* Arabian Costume
* Wearing Your Number
* Class Procedures
* Line-up
* Work-out
* Ribbon Winners
* Pictures

As always, in aiming our effort at any given class in the "Arabian Division", our first consideration must be the suitability of our horse to that particular class. It is quite obvious in our "Costume" classes that very little of our horse is visible, other than his neck, the "tips of his toes" and his tail! Conformation, as such, is not to be considered in judging the "Native Costume Class"; those small portions of the horse which do remain visible certainly make a very important contribution to the overall picture. The neck and tail must be capable of conveying the 'bedouin-charging-over-the- desert-sands" effect! For this purpose, a high, arching neck and a high tail carriage are requisite. Size is not too important a consideration but "crowd-pleasing" animation is a vital necessity. In order to be considered a genuine "costume-class-prospect", your horse should possess the following qualities.

1. an overall appearance of animation and alert eagerness.
2. a well-arched neck.
3. a gay, lofty tail.
4. excellent manners, so that, with all his animation and eagerness, it is obvious that he is under perfect control at all times.

Certain qualities, which may well be advantageous in other classes, will prove most detrimental in this class:

1. a neck carried very straight and low.
2. low tail carriage.
3. an appearance of complete relaxation.
4. a definite lack of "impulsion" and "collection".


The qualifications in all "Mounted Native Costume Classes" are the same. There is no differentiation in order of preference whether the event is "open" or "maiden" or "novice" or "limit" or "stallion" or "mare" or "gelding" or "Championship Stake". The first consideration is always Performance, which is defined as the manner in which the horse performs all the prescribed gaits. He should change gaits immediately as they are called for and with complete willingness and obedience to the rider.

The second qualification in order of importance in all costume classes is" Manners" which are, as always, the behavior and attitude of the horse toward his rider and the other horses in the arena. A horse who has "good manners" is willingly obedient to his rider's wishes at all times and possesses a cheerful attitude toward his work. He devotes his efforts to his performance and does not allow himself to be distracted by the other horses in the arena. The horse accused of "bad manners" may possess one or more of many vices. Among these possible vices are listed, "sour" ears, "wringing" tail, "snapping teeth, "fighting" the bit, "playing'' with the bit, "swinging" the head, "shying" from strange sights or sounds, "veering" into the path of another horse, "lunging" into another horse, "kicking" or "threatening-to-kick" another horse or "fidgeting" in the line up.

Performance and manners count seventy-five per cent of the total in judging the class. The last and only remaining consideration counts twenty-five per cent. It is devoted to the "appointments". The rule on the subject of "appointments" for the native costume classes states that, quote, "Bridle may consist of bit, hackamore or other suitable headstall, but must enable the rider to have full control of horse. No tie-down. Fringe or tassels in keeping with colorful desert regalia shall be added to all equipment. Attire shall consist of native type costume including flowing cape or coat, pantaloons, head dress, scarf or sash. No object may be carried in either or both hands other then reins, a portion of aba and a riding crop." Numbers must be placed so as to be clearly visible.

Although not stated in the AHSA Rule Book, the U.S. National Championship Show Prize List specifies that in the Mounted Native Costume Class: "Saddle or pad with stirrups must be part of Costume."

These specifications allow us an extremely broad range of possibilities within the realm of "correct" appointments as long as they are in keeping with the feeling of "colorful-desert-regalia". It may therefore be wise to consider what authentic desert regalia consisted o['. since we hope that the costume we eventually concoct will be deemed by the majority of our Judges as "colorful-desert-regalia"!

Ideas on the subject will obviously vary since it is not required that Judges achieve a degree in costume design before they adjudicate the class, but it is logical to presume that they will have acquired some knowledge as to what is deemed "colorful desert regalia".

Our rules do not specify that the costume need adhere to authenticity, but the very title of the event is "Arabian Mounted Native Costume Class". By adhering to Arabian type native costume we will increase our chances of pleasing more Judges. What, then, are the standard parts of the Arabian native costume? The answer to this question may be found in many of our larger central public libraries. Very detailed information is available on all forms of costume through the ages. An excellent book, "Arabian Costumes" by Lois Ann Kroll was published by the IAHA.

The basic outlines of the Bedouin costume as described by most authorities is as follows:


The saddle consisted of a rudimentary quilted-type heavy pad covered with heavy hand-woven woolen cloth embroidered heavily with more wool, or with oriental rug-type weaving. Wealthier individuals did possess an occasional wooden tree covered with the same type of padding. Behind the saddle were tied saddle-bags. These were also heavily embroidered or made up of oriental-rug type weaving. Raw edges on both saddle and saddle bag were finished with fringe or added tassels of the wool from the sheep they raised themselves. For this reason, most of their woolens were brown, white, or black, brighter colors being much harder come by as dyes were necessary for these. Blue beads were regarded as symbols of good fortune and as many of these were added to the cords supporting the tassels as the owner could reasonably afford. These same blue glass beads were frequently tied into the manes and tails of the horses themselves or carried in a strand around the animal's neck.

Since the saddle was merely a glorified pad, and, as a result, did not have the secure shape afforded by the standard wooden-saddle tree, the girth alone could not prevent-the saddle from shifting on the horse's back. For added support, a braided woolen collar was looped around the animal's neck and attached to a metal ring in front of the pommel of the saddle at the horse's withers. Another braided woolen rope formed a "crupper" to hold the saddle centered at the rear. The crupper was attached to a ring behind the cantle and looped under the tail just a.~ the collar looped around the, neck and shoulders in the front. Thus both ends of the saddle were reasonably well secured. These ropes were finished at all raw ends with more woolen tassels. In many cases still more tassels were added for purely decorative purposes.

Some Bedouins rode with no stirrups at all. Some used a most rudimentary form--a rope attached where our stirrup leathers are hung, with a loop tied into the end of it into which the rider (accustomed to bare feet) inserted his great toe. (Our toes have not been developed to this degree of cleverness!) Some riders enjoyed the luxury of real stirrups made of bronze. These generally had a flat "floor" sometimes even as long as the entire foot of the rider. The sides were quite ornate in their metalwork. The rider needed a good solid floor in the stirrup as the Bedouins did not wear boots, instead wearing simple sandals which would not be suited to our narrow-floored stirrups.

The bridle commonly consisted of a braided halter-like arrangement. The nose band was made up of several brass chains. Underneath the jaw was a four-cornered (actually pointed) metal square, built with a swivel ring coming out of the center bottom. Here the rein was attached. By flipping the rein one way and another the pointed metal base would bang into the jaw bones of the horse. The chains over the nose would at the same time bang into the tender cartilage.

Together these gave the "simple halter" a high degree of persuasiveness from the horse's point of view, even using only one rein. The halter was not adjustable and fitted quite loosely. A braided wool throat latch kept it from falling off. Again all raw edges and ends were finished with more woolen tassels and fringes.

If the rider were wealthy enough to own a bit, it was a "ring" type, shaped like our western curb except that in the center of the port a ring was attached which was large enough to fit around the lower jaw. Thus, when the reins were pulled the ring passed into the lower jaw since the port was automatically turned up, lifting *,he ring. This is an extremely severe arrangement and can very easily break the animal's jaw. It had to be handled with great delicacy.

The bridle which supported this bit was worn under the halter and consisted merely of a rope which was adjusted to fit by simply re-tying it at the cheek. This--bit used two reins in the standard manner. These reins were also finished with tassels and fringe.


On his head the Bedouin wore a woolen "skull-cap" which fitted snugly. Over this he threw a wool or cotton square (about forty inches). He folded this square diagonally, with the folded side crossing above his eyebrows, the pointed ends hanging at his shoulders. The ends were long enough to cross in front of the chin and throw back over the opposite shoulders in order to better protect the face and neck from blowing sand as well as burning sun, while riding. The woolen skull cap underneath kept the whole thing from sliding off as the skull cap, the woolen scarf and the rope all had a tendency to stick together. The Bedouins used only a light rope to finish their headgear. Royalty used the rope with four knobs added. These knobs were worn one at each side of the forehead. The scarf was white or red with white checks.

The Bedouin robe was composed of two large squares of wool or cotton fabric. If wool, it was generally black, but sometimes a dark brown and occasionally, in a display of elegance, white. The cotton, rarely used, was white. The two squares of fabric were about fifty-four inches each way. They were sewn together across the top leaving a hole in the center for the neck. A slit extended down the front from this neck hole. The sides were sewn up, leaving just enough opening at the top for the hand and arm to fit through. All raw edges were finished with narrow braid. The robe was tied together in the front with two braided wool ties.

Underneath the robe was worn a garment that most closely resembles a full-length, old-fashioned men's night-shirt with a stand-up, or mandarin-type, collar. This garment was white cotton. As mentioned earlier, the feet were either bare or protected by a simple leather sandal.

Using the preceding outline as a basis we can produce an infinite variety of colorful combinations. It has become the custom to make our costumes for both rider and horse far more ornate than any Bedouin could have afforded. We use quantities of rhinestones and yards of fancy gold and silver braid for decoration. We use colors which were not available to the Bedouins in the desert, but which d add to the gala appearance of our shows. The basic outlines of our costumes are the same as those of the Bedouins.

It is possible to spend as little as a hundred dollars and as much as several thousand on an equally effective costume. The most important factors are color and design. Before commencing work on any costume we should decide exactly what amount of money we wish to ultimately spend on the costume. It is foolish to make several costumes, each a little more ornate than the last. If we decide exactly what we wish to put into the final costume we can plan it in stages so that it can be used to advantage even when not completely finished. If we use color with sufficient skill, it is not necessary to expend huge amounts of money on an effective costume. Color will carry further than rhinestone sparkle and actually has a great deal more authenticity since the Bedouins certainly did not "clutter" their attire with pounds of stones. On the other hand, the stones are lovely if we wish to plan our costume along those lines.

At all times remember, performance is paramount! It-counts seventy-five per cent of the total--the costume only twenty-five. It is therefore far more important to turn in a perfect performance than it is to have a fabulously expensive costume. With color alone we can make up most of the twenty-five per cent.

Plan your color arrangements so that they do not "blend" at a distance, since the costume will be viewed more at a distance than it will close up. Too much detail blurs the outlines. Brilliant and sharply contrasting colors which are complimentary with each other will carry best at distance. Rhinestones have another disadvantage in that they dull with time and are difficult to dry clean. A costume which is not too loaded with stones can easily be dry cleaned and retain its freshness for a longer period of time. Spangles or sequins create a real problem since they are extremely fragile and take even more effort to attach. Their life span is necessarily short and all that work will have to be done over again when they fade. They are most effective when brand new but are a time consuming project to put together and do not last long before they must be replaced.

If you study the costumes being shown in the arena you can choose color combinations which will prove even more effective than those already showing. Take advantage of the work others have done before you and advance beyond them in the striking qualities of your costume.

It is well to remember that in this class particularly, numbers must be placed so as to be clearly visible. If you design your costume so that your most ornate decoration comes right in the center of your back, you will not want to hang your number Over all your hard work. That is where the Judge would prefer that your number be placed so plan your costume accordingly and do not put your favorite decoration where the number should be. Don't make the Judge go through a "hide-and-seek" act trying to discover your number. You are being inconsiderate of him if you do and you are certainly not going to make the best possible impression.


We enter the ring at a canter in the Costume class circling the ring counter-clockwise. Extreme or reckless speed is penalized. By entering at the canter, the arched neck and high tail add immensely to the overall beauty of the entrance of this class.

The entries continue to canter after entering the arena until all entries are in and have circled the ring once or twice. At this point the Judge will call for a "walk". In the costume class a brisk but collected walk gives the more animated appearance we expect in this spectacular setting. If the animal walks with head low and in an extreme state of relaxation with slow, dragging feet, he does not project the picture of a "desert charger".

On the other hand, any tendencies toward prancing will surely be penalized. The objective is to demonstrate that even after the exciting gallop, the Arabian horses are perfectly willing to go directly into a calm walk in complete obedience to their riders. If the horse fights the bit or moves sidewise or "jigs", his score will be reduced. In the costume event he should look animated as we expect to see the "horse-of-the-desert", ready and eager to be off into the canter or gallop!

After the horses have walked at least once around the arena, or long enough to allow the Judge time to study each of them, the canter will be called. The canter looks best in the costume event if it is collected and animated but definitely straight on both leads. We are not looking for the "western lope" here. Again, to project the feeling of the "Drinkers-of-the-Wind", the horse makes a more suitable appearance if he is "up-on-the-bit" and, even though he is obviously under perfect control, he gives the onlooker the feeling that he would certainly enjoy a dash-over-the-sands!

This canter will be maintained long enough for the Judge to check each horse and see that he is moving smoothly under flawless control. Here the arched neck and high tail add immensely to the overall beauty of the spectacle. After about two turns of the ring at the canter, the hand gallop will be called for.

The horse should move out smoothly and immediately into a distinct gallop with a degree more drive and collection than he would use in the easy going gallop of the pleasure classes.

This gallop should be a definite gallop, not a canter, but it should be a gallop "in hand". It is not a racing gait or a "faster-and-faster" gait. It is definitely a cadenced gallop of about fourteen to sixteen miles per hour. It must not start out at twelve miles per hour and work its way up to twenty when the announcer finally calls a halt. The horse should maintain a steady and consistent speed and it should be apparent to the onlooker that he is not trying to "speed-up' constantly, (nor is he trying to slow down). The gait must be steady. The horse again should be more "up-on-the-bit" and animated while displaying perfect obedience and obviously enjoying the gallop.

The Arabian horse is particularly talented at moving at a good gallop, "in hand", without growing excited and wanting to "run off". The purpose of this gait in our classes is to exhibit this talent. We have very stringent rules to penalize "racing". Tendencies toward racing certainly will not bring home the quantity of blues that a correctly cadenced gallop will.

The overall picture should be one of gay enthusiasm on the part of both horse and rider. This is our color-spectacular . It is our greatest "audience appeal" class. You are helping your show and promoting the Arabian Breed in this attention-drawing spectacle if you bend every effort to put on a good show-not just for yourself, but for the benefit of the show and the whole breed. Putting on a "good show" does not mean "cutting-up' or behaving in a foolish manner.

It means seriously trying to add to the spectacle of the event both through your costume and your performance by carefully spacing yourself so that the audience gets a good view of all costumes. Avoid bunching up and be extremely careful to avoid giving in to the gaiety of the event and the encouraging shouts from the audience and friends by unthinkingly charging off at a mad run. It will spoil the show, cause embarrassing accidents, and lose for you the ribbon you have worked so hard to win.

After the first hand gallop the Judge may call for one of two things. Usually the "walk" will again be requested. It is not sensible to do a sliding stop when a walk is called for since it can cause a serious pile-up behind you. Move smoothly into the walk without breaking down through a trot first. Again the horse should show willingness to do a completely "flat" walk while at the same time looking animated and ready to be "off" again.

Instead of asking for the walk after the gallop the Judge may ask for a return to the canter as a demonstration of further control. The horses should appear to be enjoying the gallop, yet be perfectly willing to check themselves back into the slower canter at the command of the rider. The Judge will keep the horses in the canter at least a full turn of the arena so that he can study each of them, and he will then call for the walk.

The Judge may at this point call for a repeat of any of the above but will usually call for the reverse while the horses are walking and will then repeat all of the aforementioned in the opposite direction of the arena.

After the horses have repeated the performance moving clockwise in the arena, the Judge may again ask for a repeat of any or all of the gaits but will probably and almost always ask for the "line-up".

In the majority of costume classes the horses will be asked to line-up "head-and-tail" for the benefit of the audience and, in addition, so that the Judge may better compare the quality and beauty of the costumes (since he is not to be comparing conformation). Occasionally the Judge will not remember to consider the audience and will call for the normal line-up. If he does so, be sure to leave at least fifteen feet between your horse and the next one. This is for the benefit of the audience, since they can see you better if you are a little further apart. If there are too many horses in the arena, at least leave as much room between entries as is feasible. Since you want the Judge to be able to get a good over-all and close-up look at your costume, allow plenty of room for him to pass between your horse and the adjacent one.

On the other hand, do not park yourself "way-off" at one end of the arena where the Judge will have to go on a hike to get a special look at you. Try to save your Judge as many steps as possible. Every step you save him will help him from being too tired to arrive at his most astute decision. Always consider the Judge! Remember, he is taken twice as many steps as you are and standing on his feet five times longer than you are. If you think you are tired, imagine how he feels! If you try to save him from unnecessary work, you will keep him in a more efficient mental condition.

After the Judge has contemplated each costume in the line-up and asked each horse to back (for backing is a rule-book requisite m the Costume class), he may hand in his card or he may ask one or more horses to return to the rail. He has these horses rated similarly up to this point and feels that another look at them in action will help him to separate them. These horses may be "running off" for first and second, or they may very well be in competition for third or even last place. The Judge may be sure of the horses who deserve first and fifth place) but may have the middle three placed almost equally. For these reasons he may run off any number of horses for any of the placings.

If you have been selected for a "work-out" remember that the Judge must have seen some merit in what you did in the original rail work, so do not give an entirely different performance now. Do not get carried away and start racing at this point! Try to do a repeat of what you 'did in the original performance with increased efficiency,' now that there are fewer horses on the rail. Whichever gaits he requires going one way of the ring, he will repeat in the opposite direction, so 1)e prepared mentally.

After the possible second work out, the Judge is privileged to call for more work-outs but will almost always hand in his card at this time. Pay attention to all instructions to ribbon winners and remember your number at all times. If your number is called for first or for another of the placings, move out briskly to the ribbon girl. If you "gig" your horse and charge out wildly, your horse will remember it in the next performance and be inclined to nervousness in the line-up, dreading the "gig". It is therefore wise to move out briskly, but don't shock your horse with a sudden demand for a "dead-run".

It is always sensible to do a careful job of deliberately "posing" yourself and your horse for any photos which may be taken, either for newspapers, or for personal souvenirs, or which you may use in your advertising m the future. If they are poorly posed, they are useless for any of these. Take care, sit up, arrange your costume and horse and look pleased and proud--you entered the class in hopes of achieving this very award, you must be pleased!

It is also sensible to leave the arena at a dignified pace, looking properly pleased and gracefully accepting any applause the audience may choose to award. You came because you enjoy the shows and you want to achieve honor for your horses and the Arabian breed now that you have achieved the objective, let's look the part, you help your show and your breed if you do.

If you are entered in other events, start thinking about your preparations for your next class as you leave the arena. If it is coming up shortly, don't dawdle. The class coming up next is the all-important one now. Profit fr6m what you have learned in this one. Discuss it with your friends later--but right now, get "on the ball", get into the next class and give a more efficient performance than you gave in this one. Keep thinking and keep learning. That is the fun of showing, learning to be a better competitor and enjoying the fun of the competition and the exhibition. A horse-show competition is always an exhibition as well! We must have a 'bit-of-the-ham" in us or we wouldn't enjoy it to the extent that, win or lose, we keep coming back for morel

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