Best Face Forward

Like many riders, Olympian Laura Graves reaches first for sunscreen to keep her skin healthy and looking good. Tasteful, understated makeup completes her show-ring prep. (

Stylish advice for riders who want to look good—and maybe do good while they’re at it

By L.A. Sokolowski

Reprinted from May 2018 USDF Connection magazine

What do you have in common with dressage stars like Laura Graves or Lisa Wilcox? More than you might think.

Because when it comes to good grooming, we know how to devote hours before a show to assuring that our horses look their very best, from their button braids to their gleaming coats. But what these and other award-winning equestrians understands is how presenting a finished appearance isn’t just about the horse: It’s about putting her best face forward, too.

Olympian Lisa Wilcox is known for her attention to detail—and that extends to her skin-care and beauty regimen
Photo by

“We make sure our ponies are well groomed and braided. We spend hours cleaning tack and shining our boots.… Why not finish the total look with a little color and a big smile?” says Southeast Virginia Dressage Association member Cheryl Gaylord, Virginia Beach, VA, owner/rider of Isabella WVF, the 2017 US Equestrian Horse of the Year Friesian Dressage National Champion.

The right products can add a polished look coming down center line, protect skin from the sun’s damaging effects, and (bonus!) even help some good causes. We asked our fashion-forward dressage riders to share their favorites—which range from inexpensive drugstore brands to high-end specialty cosmetics—as well as a few tips and tricks.

First and Foremost: Sunscreen

Start by taking care of the skin you’re in, advises 2016 US Olympic dressage team bronze medalist and current top-ranked US dressage rider Laura Graves.

“I never used to pay attention to sunscreen,” admits Graves, 30, a former hairstylist who grew up in Vermont but now calls Geneva, FL, home, “but my number-one priority as I’ve become wiser—as well as older—is to be religious about using it daily.”

Graves chooses sunscreen with SPF 60 or, when she wants a more evenly toned, made-up look, a BB cream with an SPF of 30. “Physicians Formula is simple and foolproof,” she says of a favorite brand. “I have sensitive skin, and other products irritate my skin and make it break out. I’ve used this for years, and it’s improved my skin’s condition.

“My boyfriend laughs at me because I put makeup on for the barn, but I take pride in caring for myself,” Graves continues. The tinted BB cream helps Graves protect her skin and look pulled together without a big time investment: She can go “from the bed to out the door in half an hour.”

At night, as most skin-care pros recommend, Graves removes her makeup before retiring. (If she doesn’t, she quips, “I scare myself when I wake up!”)

Another good skin-care habit Graves recommends: “Wash the liner in your helmet regularly.” Graves simply unsnaps the liner in her Samshield and tosses it in the laundry.

Many other equestrians also swear by sun protection as the first and most important step in their skin-care and beauty regimens. The 50-something Gaylord, for one, prefers Clarins Sunscreen Spray SPF 30.

“I don’t experiment,” says 2004 US Olympic team bronze medalist and occasional equestrian-fashion model Lisa Wilcox, 51, of Wellington, FL. “Once I find something I like, I stay with it.” For a decade, that’s meant La Mer products. “As riders, we spend a lot of time outside and in the sun. We need to moisturize.” Wilcox likes La Mer moisturizers, which purport to calm redness, to ease dryness, and to energize the skin. The company’s sunscreen line, Soleil de La Mer, includes broad-spectrum lotions and protecting fluids of SPF 30 to SPF 50.

“The whole line is great stuff,” says Wilcox.

Looking Good: Best Beauty Bets for a Show-Ring Sparkle

Flawless turnout on the part of both horse (the Friesian Isabella WVF) and rider (her owner, adult amateur Cheryl Gaylord) MELINDA BROWN/ALL CREATURES PHOTOGRAPHY

Riding a dressage test leaves little room for distraction, especially from burning eyes or runny mascara, so waterproof products are a must. Wilcox trusts Chanel Le Volume Waterproof Mascara and Stylo Yeux Waterproof Long-Lasting Eyeliner. “Find what works with your skin and won’t irritate or bleed through the thin skin around the lids,” she advises. “Chanel keeps my eyes happy.”

Gaylord’s go-to mascara is Lancôme Hypnôse, which she says is smudgeproof and waterproof. After all, she says, “It has to hold up in rain, heat, wind, and blowing sand, as well as sweat!”

Must you visit a department-store beauty counter or other high-end outlet for spendy products in order to get good lash results? Not necessarily. Graves likes Maybelline (“It’s hard to find a good applicator—theirs works!”) and Revlon. Her advice: “Buy a new mascara every three months. Fresh applies better. When I’m showing, I only use eyeliner on the top lid, never the bottom, because it can settle into the corner of your eyes. On freestyle nights, I might add extra lashes to my natural ones,” she says, referring to the popular “Friday Night Lights” series at the wintertime Adequan® Global Dressage Festival—and to any other evening classes held under lights.

“I’m also big into bronzers,” adds Graves. “If I want to look tanner for an evening class, I put bronzer on my lids just under my eyebrows.”

Before she goes down center line on her Friesian, Gaylord opts for Dior eye shadows and liners and Nars blush. She finishes her look with Urban Decay Chill makeup setting spray, which helps makeup last longer.

Doing Good

Beauty for Real founder and amateur dressage rider Leslie Munsell
Photo courtesy of Leslie Munsell

Looking good can be a pas de deux with doing good. Just ask Leslie Munsell.

The 50-something Munsell is an adult-amateur rider and a USDF bronze and silver medalist. In her professional life, she’s a makeup artist whose client list includes both celebrities (Mariah Carey, Serena and Venus Williams) and fashion houses (Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavallie, Zac Posen). In 2010 she launched her own line of high-performance, cruelty-free cosmetics, Beauty for Real.

“Beauty for Real is a curated collection of products that women can use every day to effortlessly look their best,” says Munsell, whose love of horses and riding are behind her latest two endeavors: Mr. Big, her new four year-old KWPN dressage prospect by Don Schufro; and BFR’s Lip Revival Tinted Lip Balms, which she calls a “bridge between beauty and philanthropy.” Munsell has pledged to donate 20 percent of sales proceeds to Brooke USA.

Each of Beauty for Real’s nine Lip Revival Tinted Lip Balms is named for a prominent equestrian and Brooke USA ambassador (like US dressage Olympian Allison “Ali” Brock, pictured with her signature shade). A portion of sales proceeds benefits the global equine charity.
Photo courtesy of Beauty For Real

The charitable organization’s mission is to “significantly improve the welfare of working horses, donkeys, and mules and the people they serve throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.” Its ambassadors, many of whom are well-known riders, strive to raise awareness and funds for that mission. The creation of each of the nine plant-oil-based Lip Revival lip balms was a collaborative effort between Munsell and their namesake Brooke USA ambassadors: dressage Olympians Allison “Ali” Brock (warm beige nude), Kasey Perry-Glass (clear rose), and Debbie McDonald (soft pink nude); international eventing competitors Sinead Halpin (sheer red) and Allison Springer (coral pink); Olympic jumping team gold medalist Laura Kraut (tawny rose shimmer); Dutch dressage trainer Kerensa Muller (bronze shimmer); jumper rider and model Hannah Selleck (sheer terra cotta); and FEI-level dressage trainer and competitor Jessica Jo “JJ” Tate (pink shimmer).
These women, Munsell says, were chosen because “They exude confidence, athleticism, and an unwavering commitment to that global mission.”

Don’t Sweat It: Cosmetics That Can Take the Heat

Philanthropic intentions are admirable but not of much use if the products don’t perform. Munsell says she created her Beauty for Real products to stand up to the heat and humidity of her home city, Miami—and so they’ll stay put during a dressage test, as well. Products such as blush and eye shadows come in easy-to-transport, easy-to-apply cream-to-powder sticks for simple, no-fuss application, she says.
Munsell isn’t the only one in the beauty biz to recognize the previously unfulfilled need for quality, thoughtfully sourced cosmetics that can stand up to the lifestyles of active women. Aptly named Sweat Cosmetics are milk-thistle-based, sweat-resistant, hypoallergenic, and cruelty-free, with SPF protection, according to chief strategy officer Lindsay Tarpley, of Madison, WI.

“We understand the need for SPF protection while riders are training and competing. We’ve created high-performance makeup designed to protect and enhance beauty while enduring a woman’s on-the-go life,” says Tarpley, a two-time US Olympic soccer gold medalist who grew up around American Saddlebreds.

“While we were playing, we wanted a product like Sweat,” Tarpley says, referring to the four fellow female soccer players-turned-entrepreneurs who round out the Sweat founding team. “We saw this gap in the market and realized we could create exactly what we wanted. We have a Mineral Foundation Twist-Brush in five shades that has an SPF 30 for 80 minutes, and a completely sheer Translucent Twist-Brush with an SPF 30 for 60 minutes that we recommend for coverage, SPF protection, and convenience before entering the ring.”

All the Pretty Horses (and Riders)

The quality of a dressage test still rests in the hands, seat, and legs of a rider. But it can’t hurt to put one’s best face forward, too. Fortunately, the stylish needs of today’s female athletes—equestrian and otherwise—are not going unnoticed.
“This sport is rough and messy enough, so there’s no point in overdoing makeup,” says Gaylord. The look, like the discipline itself, is supposed to appear effortless. “And to get that, the products have to be proven winners.”

Hold It: Cosmetics Totes That Do Good

Frankie Cameron bags (like this Hide Clutch and leather Cognac Braid Bag) are unique pieces for toting cosmetics and gear. A portion of sales proceeds benefits disadvantaged children.
Photos courtesy of Frankie Cameron

A portion of the proceeds from every Frankie Cameron bag sold goes to Project Night Night, an award-winning nonprofit in California meeting the needs of homeless or low-income Bay Area children. Each year, 35,000 Night Night Packages, containing a blanket, book, and stuffed animal in a tote bag, are donated to children in need.

If horses get tack boxes and grooming kits, shouldn’t riders get a convenient way to organize their show cosmetics? California-based Frankie Thieriot Stutes, creator of Frankie Cameron (handbags, diaper and makeup bags, clutches and accessories with zip-out washable liners) sees it that way. The bags are handcrafted from cowhide and leather, and Stutes believes in limiting waste by using the entire hide for her line; as a result, each bag and tote is unique in color and texture, she says.

“Riders shouldn’t have to choose between fashion and function,” says Stutes, who’s an accomplished eventing and dressage competitor and a US Equestrian/NBC Sports broadcaster. (Stutes was also featured in “Baby on Board,” USDF Connection’s December 2017/January 2018 look at dressage-riding moms.) When she saddles up, she says, she loves Sweat Cosmetics products with their brush-only ease, Coola lip balms, and Marc Jacobs mascara.

Product Finder

Here’s how to find the riders’ recommendations mentioned in this article.

Beauty for Real (
Chanel (
Clarins (
Coola (
Dior (
Frankie Cameron (
La Mer (
Lancôme (
Marc Jacobs (
Maybelline (
Nars (
Physicians Formula (
Sweat Cosmetics (
Revlon (
Urban Decay (

L.A. Sokolowski, Albany, NY, is the recipient of the 2017 American Horse Publications Chris Brune Spirit Award and the 2016 Syracuse Press Club sportswriting award. She is a four-time AHP Media Awards winner for excellence in equestrian sports journalism and the original equinista (fashionista + equestrienne).

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