Along with thinking up clever and interesting names for our racehorses, one of the privileges of ownership is designing the racing colours. Sometimes referred to as 'silks' these are the jacket and cap you’ll see worn by the jockey on your horse as it powers down the final furlong to win – fingers crossed!

But between dazzling polka dots, chequered pastels, striking chevrons and bright stripes there’s a lot to choose from. If you’re feeling confused on where to begin then we’ll tell you all you need to know about selecting these eye-catching outfits.

If you're looking for something simple and straightforward, then look no further than horse insurance from Equesure – working with a panel of leading insurers we have a range of policies available to suit your requirements and budget.

A brief history of racing colours

The tradition of riders wearing colourful regalia probably began with knights competing at tournament jousts in medieval times. But we have no record of this until the reign of King Henry VIII of England in 1515, when colours were first mentioned as an extension of the livery that noble owners’ domestic servants wore.

However, there was no formal system of racing colours until the 1700s, when the newly formed Jockey Club began to record jacket and cap colours against a list of gentlemen owners. This was done to make it easier to distinguish each horse during a race and to avoid disputes as to who was the winner.

For example, it would now be clear whether the Earl of Oxford’s horse ridden by a jockey wearing purple and white was ahead of the Lord Grosvenor’s horse with a jockey wearing orange. Although no doubt there would still have been disagreements!


Selecting racing colours

While the world of horse racing has moved on in many respects, the requirement that no two sets of colours can be exactly the same remains. To  make sure of this, colours need to be registered with the British Horseracing Association (BHA) who keep a complete record.

To help owners choose the perfect set of colours, there are three options available: standard colours, bespoke colours or vintage colours.


The most simple and straightforward option is to use the online design tool provided by the BHA. It allows you to easily choose, check for availability and register a standard set of racing colours.

While there are only 18 official colours to choose from, you can have any of these in any combination of the body, sleeve and cap designs. There are 25 designs in total for the body ranging from simple stripes or epaulets to diamonds, spots and Cross of Lorraine. For sleeves you have 12 choices from plain to diabolo. Finally, there are 10 cap designs from hooped to quartered to complete the outfit.

Once you’ve checked the availability of the colours on the website, you can register them with the BHA and suppliers will then make up the design for you.

Colours can be registered for a year, five years, 10 years, or 20 years at a cost ranging from £69.30 to £1246.60. Unlike horse’s names, colours can be taken by someone else if you cancel registration on them.


While there are an almost infinite number of combinations using the standard tools, many owners understandably want to put their own unique stamp on their colours and design them from scratch. Bespoke designs do not have to conform to all of the usual restrictions placed on owners’ colours but are required to be both describable by commentators and distinguishable from other designs.

On the BHA registration form that you submit with your design, there are some guidelines owners must follow including:

  • The front and back of the silks should be the same.
  • Avoid intricate patterns or busy designs as they can become difficult to differentiate while racing.
  • Distinguishing patterns shouldn’t be confined to the bottom of the silks. These can get lost when the jockey tucks them into their breeches.
  • Company logos or branding is only permitted if the relevant company has consented.
  • It shouldn’t be possible for anyone to perceive the colours as offensive or inflammatory.

After Weatherbys and BHA judges have approved the design, successful applicants will be offered the right to register the colours for a fee of £5,000 (+ VAT).

Terms and conditions for bespoke colours registration can be found on the BHA website.


There is a healthy market for vintage colours and some racing silks have become iconic. For example, the green and gold hoops of racing giant JP McManus or the Royal Blue of Godolphin are very distinctive and well-known throughout the racing world.

While it’s unlikely such owners will want to sell any time soon there are many other owners who are keen to sell the right to register their colours. The BHA has recently introduced a way to advertise silks for prospective owners to purchase.

All vintage silks have been registered for over five years and can be viewed at the BHA website.

Whether or not your champion racer is ridden by a jockey in a set of these famous colours, Equesure has a horse insurance policy suited to you and your equine friend.

Protection with horse insurance from Equesure

Owning a racehorse isn’t just about the fun stuff, it also demands a great deal of time and energy protecting your racer from sickness or injury. That’s where Equesure comes in.

With over 60 years’ combined experience in the insurance market, our team of specialists understand what horse owners need. Not all policies available in the market offer the same level of cover for the same price. After all, just because one premium is cheaper doesn’t mean it covers all that you need it to.

Benefits of horse insurance policies arranged through Equesure include cover for vets’ fees up to 7,500 of vet fees for life saving surgery for racehorses.

Saddlery and tack cover is also available.

Is your racehorse protected? Call Equesure for a quick quote today.


Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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