Our Carriage Turnout Mistakes
Carriage Turnout

Our Carriage Turnout Mistakes

We’ve been at this a long time, and of course, we started somewhere, just like everyone else. We went to clinics, had a couple of lessons, read magazines, and talked with people.  Yet, when I look back on old photos, I have to ask myself, “What were you thinking?”

Now some of these “turnouts” were way before we started driving in carriage shows, and the trends may have been different 25 years ago.  However, I think that in another 25 years, I will look back on my current turnouts and hopefully not cringe quite so badly.

My siblings showed in driving in 4-H when I had already “aged out”.  Remember those brightly colored western shirts of the 90’s?  Yup, we dressed my brother in one to compete at the State 4-H show.  And that red seat…(shakes head).  We couldn’t have him wear an apron because there was so little leg room in that cart, he had to sit splay legged, which would have made the (optional) apron look a little funny.  So we left it off. 


Apparently in one of the open shows we went to, I thought that the apron went under the coat, because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t wear a skirt (blech!).  And oh, that red seat again!  Well, at least I match!  


This might be a little better (below).  It is more “historic” looking with those lace cuffs and neckline (rolls eyes).  This was when I was mistakenly under the impression that carriage driving turnouts were more of an historic "costume".  That's a typical beginner impression.  At least my gloves are brown, although not leather.  They are dress gloves like women used to wear in the 50's.  Thank goodness brown leather gloves are not that hard to find anymore. My whip is too short, but it was at the time when mini carriage whips were a bit hard to find as well.  The traces are sewn in, so the adjustment is at the singletree, which leaves them flopping terribly.  We also eventually removed the Roadster stirrups from this cart.  I showed in this turnout at my first few ADS shows.  I did not do well in the Turnout classes.


What doesn’t go with gray?  Maybe a chestnut pinto put to a natural finished Meadowbrook.  I got that coat on the clearance rack.  It never really looked good on me.  This was the first time I showed this horse at an ADS show.  Oh, for the want of a nice tan coat!  That would have looked great with this turnout.  

And ironically, tan and brown does go great with this horse! This Meadowbrook is a different one that we redid.  We stained it the same "brown/red" as the horse.  The whole thing just flows.  We didn't need a lot of "color" on a horse that is loud already.  My husband actually did quite well with this turnout. 

So maybe gray goes with a pretty little chocolate mare?  Nope.  :-(

Actually, when I looked at the above coat up close, it seemed like it had more brown tones, but not when you looked at it from 20+ ft. away (like where most judges are).  Hint...put your turnout together and then stand back 20 ft or so to see if it actually goes.  (More on that later.)  Also, that big white seat!  It was actually more "off-white" which looked more "cream" or "tan" in the store...until we got it on the vehicle.  (Hey, the fabric was on the "red tag" table at the store!) This would be another one of those cases where you shouldn't match the apron to the seat.  Can we say slouching torso hovering on top of an off-white blob?

Onto the next horse...and vehicle.  I still had more of that same off-white fabric left, so why not use it on the next vehicle?  Well, it kinda goes...with that pinto mare.  I only showed this mare at one show.  I always liked to use the black vest for Reinsmanship, as it hugged my back and made me look like I was sitting up better.  Unfortunately, vests really are very informal.  This turnout is just boring and "cheap" looking.  I do have an appropriate carriage whip, though. 

Same vehicle, new darker tan seat, different horse.  We are getting better...except for the hat. I didn't practice with it, and with every slight breeze, the big loose brim would flip up like in the photo.  I spent the whole show with my chin on my chest trying to keep the breeze over the brim.  I still love the hat, but not in the show ring.  The rest of the turnout isn't all bad.  The coat is a resale shop find...an Ann Taylor for $25!  So simple, classy, and tailored. 

New vehicle.  Love the blue with the horse, as red tones with a black horse will instantly turn the horse into a dark bay.  The seat fabric is too gray.  And that great white hat I found at Macy's before Easter!  What doesn't go with white? (Except virtually any carriage driving turnout.  It's too "in your face", and can actually make the white markings on a horse look dirty.)  The apron isn't bad.  

That much white didn't really work, how about navy?  Nope, that's bad, too. :-(  It fights with the royal and the black.  I don't think I wore that hat again after this show.

The next year...found a better hat.  It's still quite big but at least it matches the cart better.  The "rule of thumb" is that the brim of your hat should not be outside your shoulders.  We changed out the box on the cart to a less ostentatiously designed box (below) with a flat dash, no brass "armrests", and tan instead of gray/tan seats.  I sold this hat to a lady who drives a draft horse.  It's in much better scale on her turnout.

Here's where I started to get smarter about my turnouts.  I found a hat that went better with the turnout, and now we just need to pull it all together.  This is where putting your clothing on your vehicle and walking away 20 ft. or so can be very helpful.  Look for that one thing that "pops" or is distracting, and get rid of it.

Ok, I think we finally got it right below (other than the "grumpy" kid who is just concentrating really hard). Not too much blue, hat not too big, apron trim matches seat.  I am not a "blended blob" on the seat with a coordinating apron (not matching) color.  Kyle could use a little color, but basically the choices for kids' coats are black and navy.  So we went with black.  His tie has some blue.  Now scroll back up and look at where we started with this turnout, and what changes we made to make it better.  Love that Ann Taylor coat!

Onto another turnout...and this time, by Jove, I think we've got it!  This is one of my favorite turnouts.  The teal has a nice contrast with the dark bay mare and the stained vehicle with the orange overtones.  The scarf has teal and brown in it that go with the cart.  The hat has a peacock eye and other feathers, and I have a peacock eye pin on my coat. The coat came with a belt which I actually made into a hatband to draw the hat and the coat together.  The apron is the same one as above that is trimmed in tan to go with the seats. I wear this turnout for Turnout and Reinsmanship classes.  

For Working, I tend to wear something a little more muted so as not to draw attention from the horse.  This was actually in an obstacle class, so I am wearing a helmet.  There's that Ann Taylor coat again.  It gets lots of use at the carriage shows!

And if I show in a marathon vehicle, I can add a bit more bold color because the vehicle is virtually all black.  I don't want to look like I am going to a funeral!  Shows are supposed to be fun! :-)  I wear this for Reinsmanship, but I think it is too bold for Turnout and Working.  This is one coat for which I actually paid full price, but I wear it to places other than just shows.  It's a Pendleton in a color called Salmonberry.  Look at how the red/pink tones pull the red out of the mare's coat. This apron is trimmed in gray, as the vehicle has a silver gray stripe.  Since I tend to drive smaller horses, I have a small monogram on the apron.  I personally think it is silly to have a big monogram that calls attention to itself, especially with smaller turnouts.

For my Juniors (girls), I like to dress up their helmets just slightly so they look a little more elegant.  I might do another post sometime on how to make that "fascinator" for the helmets.  This is my coat, scarf, and apron, and has won Turnout more times than I can count.  (It's helpful to get a "Rent-a-Kid" that fits in your clothes! :-)  I think the gray works with this turnout because the horse is black.  If he was bay or some other form of brown, it would be awful.

Here is another fascinator I put together for the turnout with the Welsh mare.  We used teal again because her scarf is teal and khaki.  The only thing I can fault this turnout on is that the buckles on her shoes are silver instead of gold to match the brass on the harness.  Jordyn fits in my coats, but not my shoes!  So she had to find "old lady" (her words) dress up shoes to compete, and these were the only black ones they could find in her size.  Another note, your leather shoes should match the leather of your harness, i.e. black with black harness, brown with russet.  Also, don't forget about your backside!  This apron wraps all the way around so you are not left with "duck tails", which is when the coat peeks through your apron in the back.

And probably my favorite Turnout with our Welsh mare is when my husband drives her.  For some reason, guys are much easier to outfit and look great!  (Of course, I might be a little biased...I do have a great looking husband! :-)  He has received numerous 10's in Presentation with this turnout.

I have many more examples of our carriage turnout faux pas over the years, but hopefully, this little post can help you from making the same mistakes we did!  Lest I be misunderstood, the Turnout class is not just about what you wear.  The majority of the judging is the fit and cleanliness of your harness and vehicle with some also on the performance of your horse.  I have seen some very nice turnouts get the gate for not being clean and well-fitted.  Don't give away the easy points and always be absolutely clean!  For more Turnout suggestions, see our Educational Articles.





Jan 26, 2024
Linda Kaye

Really helpful! Thank you!

Apr 12, 2022

Hi Rosalind,

I would tend to use a black harness with a black horse. A russet harness might pull the red out of him, making him look more bay than black.

Apr 12, 2022
Rosalind Lingwood

Thank you, much appreciated help as I’m only just starting out and need the help. I have a black fell pony. Any and all advice welcome. I will be fitting him out … What colour harness would you advise.
Your sincerely


Feb 16, 2022

Joanne, the “match the carriage seat” idea has been a bit contested between experienced carriage drivers. There are some traditionalists who think that should definitely be the case that you should use a color to match. You won’t be wrong to do so. However, there are some of us who feel that by completely matching the seat, the driver ends up being a “blob” that blends into the seat, especially in small pony and mini carts. The apron cuts the driver in half at the waist. So drivers just need to remember that the apron is an accoutrement of the vehicle, not an article of your clothing, and therefore should coordinate with the vehicle like a seat belt in a car.

Feb 16, 2022
Joanne Pue

I attended a recent webinar on Pleasure Driving. The presenter said the apron should “match” the carriage seat. So if she is correct then a black seat would require a black apron to match. Should she have said “coordinate” or “harmonize”? What is correct? Thank you!

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