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  • Writer's pictureCatie Staszak

At Request of Riders, Essex Classics Launches Jumper Performance Collection of Show Shirts

Erynn Ballard debuts Essex Classics' Jumper Performance Collection at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by Elegant Equus, LLC

At the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL, Cathy Sacher received two identical phone calls, a single day apart.

Both international show jumper Erynn Ballard and "R" rated judge, rider and trainer Rachel Kennedy had an idea for Sacher, the founder and owner of the equestrian apparel brand Essex Classics. And Sacher was prepared to do more than simply listen.

"I was contacted separately by Erynn and the very next day, Rachel," Sacher explained. "Both asked me if I could make a technical fabric black shirt for them to wear underneath their safety vests." For the 2021 season, WEF introduced a new rule in response to the recent increase in safety vest usage in the show ring. Taking into the account the often warm temperatures in South Florida and the impact an additional layer could have on performance, the show circuit specified, "Safety vests are permitted without a show coat, only if being worn with a color-matched long-sleeved, collared shirt." Other shows are beginning to follow suit. "One day, I had [a student] come out of the ring [in a jumper classic] and heard the judge radio down to the ingate and say, 'If she comes back for the jump-off, she has to put her [show] coat on. You can't wear a short-sleeve shirt under a vest in a formal attire class,'" Kennedy recalled. "Right then, I knew we needed a nice, Essex Classics black shirt."

Rachel Kennedy (right) shows off a new Essex Classics "Dusk" Jumper Performance shirt, while wearing her Essex Classics Talent Yarn show shirt and Essex Classics mask.

Over the course of the last three decades, Essex Classics has become known for its trademark white show shirts, featuring performance fabrics and creative trim patterns on the collar, cuffs and placket. But just as Sacher did when she introduced the revolutionary wrap collar to the market—eliminating the hassle of separate chokers that were often lost or forgotten—she adapted her design to meet riders' needs.

"Essex has always had a way of staying current in the industry. It puts them a step ahead," Ballard said. "I've been wearing Essex since I was 10 years old, and they haven’t missed the mark to stay current."

The Essex Classics Jumper Performance Collection is set to launch in June, featuring long-sleeve all-black and all-navy show shirts made of performance moisture-wicking fabric, similar to that of Essex's popular Talent Yarn collection. The shirts will still be designed with some of Essex's popular trim patterns, and the first additions to the collection are available for pre-order now.

“We immediately sourced the high-tech knit fabric for the body of the shirt and found a close match in woven cotton for the collar and cuffs. Next we put together a fabulous collection of our signature trim designs for the interior,” Sacher said. “I wanted to get these shirts into production as quickly as possible. As a rider myself, I know the demands of the sport, and I felt a sense of urgency to produce these shirts before the heat of the summer arrived.”

A prototype was in production within a week, and Ballard debuted the first working model of the black "Dusk" shirt before WEF's conclusion. She posted a photo on her social media account with a poll: "Black [shirt] or white?" The final responses showed an 80% preference toward the darker look.

"It was a huge hit right away," Ballard said. "A lot of people talked about it. And where is there a better place than WEF to showcase that?"

"It’s kind of exciting to me that I had an idea and brought it to the sponsor, and she actually caught the ball and is running with it. I think it will do well," Kennedy added. "I would even wear it as a schooling shirt on [off-days] with black pants. That will be much nicer than my schooling shirts." Ballard echoed the sentiment that beyond the shirt's practical application, there is also an exciting fashion trend on the horizon. "I like riding in Essex shirts as an every-day riding shirt," Ballard said. "The idea of riding in a shirt every day with a high collar is nice, but white gets harder to keep clean. I like the idea of a black shirt with black riding pants on off-days. "An all-black shirt is something new and different. Even for national classes that don’t require a hunt coat, it still gives you a dark look," she added, "vests or not." For Sacher, there is great pride in the functionality of the new shirts as well the collaboration that led to their creation. “As much as I enjoy innovating styles, I don’t do it just to innovate. The design has to be functional first to meet riders’ needs, and then I can add stylish elements. I’m not going to introduce a new style just for the sake of it. It has to serve a purpose,” Sacher said. “I love the rapport that I have with Essex’s sponsored riders, and I really appreciate when they come to me with feedback, a suggestion or idea. Working together and bringing an idea to fruition is a really fun part of the business.”


From the start 35 years ago, Essex Classics has led the way in show shirts, setting a standard that all others would follow. Always on the cutting edge, Essex invented the wrap collar and introduced state-of-the-art innovative performance fabrics. Today, Essex continues to raise the bar, tailoring the smartest show shirts for a competitive edge in the ring. Learn more about Essex Classics.


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