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Many cowboys and western riders wear leather overtrousers when riding on the range or on a horse show. These are known as “chaps” and there’re several reasons why horse riders use chaps.
Chaps are a type of protective gear that consists of leggings and a belt. They are worn over regular riding trousers to protect the rider’s legs from thorny vegetation, extreme temperatures, and the animals they work with.
The word “chaps” (pronounced “schaps”) comes from the attire’s Spanish name “chaparreras”. This name implies the gear protects against a thorny plant called chaparral. Like other aspects of Spanish horse culture, the term was adapted by settlers of the American West.
Below, we review the different types of chaps and whether you need them while riding!
Do I Need Chaps for Horseback Riding?
You do not need chaps for horseback riding. However, if you are riding in jodhpur or paddock boots, consider wearing half chap to stop chaffing and for added protection against the elements.
Also, if you work with cattle, in harsh conditions, or plan to compete in western riding, you might want to consider wearing chaps.
Unlike helmets, breeches, and boots, chaps are not essential horseback riding wear. However, they do offer a number of advantages in both western and English riding, as you have learned in this article. It is now up to you to decide whether chaps are a worthy investment for you.
What Boots Do You Wear With Half Chaps?
Horse riders typically wear jodhpur or paddock boots with half chaps. Since they are designed for English riding, half chaps won’t work with cowboy boots.
Technically, you can wear half chaps over any shoes or short boots you use for horse riding. Remember that your riding footwear must always have heels to prevent your feet from sliding through the stirrups.
What Are Chaps Made Of?
Chaps are traditionally made of leather derived from cowhide or sometimes wool. However, modern chaps often incorporate materials such as faux leather or nylon that are machine-washable.
While synthetic materials are cheaper and more environmentally friendly, leather chaps have many advantages when it comes to practical use. They are not only durable and water repellent but also snap when caught on something. Hence why leather chaps are safer and more practical than synthetic versions.
Chaps also have a unique cut that allows riders to sit comfortably in the saddle. To avoid friction, chaps lack a seat and attach with a strap around the waist. Some types of chaps have additional fasteners along the leg to stop the panels from flapping in the wind.
Why Do Cowboys Wear Chaps?
When watching a western movie, you’ll notice that cowboys often wear chaps bordered by long fringes when working with animals. While chaps do look cool on a cowboy, they are also very practical on a ranch.
Cowboys wear chaps to protect their legs from thorny plants and dense shrubbery while riding. Chaps also offer protection from rope burns, injuries caused by livestock and generally make the ride more comfortable.
Even the fringes on the edges of chaps serve a purpose. Similar to a horse’s feathers, these narrow pieces of leather help conduct the water off the chaps in rainy weather.
However, chaps are not exclusively worn by cowboys and cowgirls working with cattle. They have also been popular with soldiers on horseback, stagecoach drivers, postal workers, rodeo contestants, and even motorcycle riders.
Benefits Of Wearing Chaps
The main benefits of wearing chaps of any type are leg protection and support. However, there are several other advantages that make chaps so useful to horse riders.
All chaps provide some degree of protection against nature and the elements. However, certain designs like the shotgun or batwing are made with thicker leather that’s particularly well suited to working in the wilderness.
While chaps are an effective barrier against the wind and cold, they also hold the rain off to some extent. While all leather will soak through in heavy rain, it’s still better to ride with chaps on a rainy day than without.
Leather chaps provide better grip when riding in a saddle or bareback than any fabric breeches ever will. Hence why they are a must-have for bronc and bull riders.
As mentioned above, chaps act as great insulators, trapping warm air against the rider’s body. A good pair of woolen chaps or woollies will keep you warm on horseback during the harshest winters.
Riding for long periods of time can cause stiffness and discomfort, especially if the horse has bony withers. Wearing chaps is a great way to avoid saddle sores and stay comfortable on horseback for longer.
The stiff leather of most cowboy chaps acts as a cushion between the rider’s legs and the horse’s back. This feature makes a big difference to riders that spend long hours in the saddle day after day.
Naturally, working with horses and cattle is not easy on your clothes. Other than protecting your legs while riding, chaps also keep your breeches clean and free of obnoxious stains.
Last but not least, chaps look pretty cool on cowboys and western riders. Many equestrians will put them on for no other reason than to feel like a cowboy riding their Mustang through the Wild West.
Chaps are also part of the dress code on certain horse shows and are often seen on competitors of reining and western pleasure.
Common Types Of Chaps
There are many different types of chaps to suit various purposes and weather conditions. In the following section, we reveal the most common types of chaps used by horse riders.
Most people associate chaps with cowboys and western riding, however, they are worn by English riders too. Half chaps are essentially the shaft of an English riding boot with the bottom part missing. They are worn over short riding boots to give extra support and protection to the rider’s leg.
Also known as chapettes, they extend from the rider’s ankle to just below the knee. This type of riding gear is most popular with trail riders and children on horse shows.
Other than protecting against discomfort caused by the stirrup leather, half chaps also keep sweat off the rider’s breeches and provide extra grip in the saddle.
Like half chaps, full chaps are typically used in English riding. They function similarly to cowboy chaps, providing an extra layer of protection along the full length of the rider’s leg.
Full chaps offer a number of advantages to riders of various disciplines. As they are made from genuine leather, full chaps will give you additional grip in the saddle and keep you warm in cold weather. They will also keep your breeches clean and prevent branches and shrubs from ripping your jeans when you’re out and about.
Shotgun chaps easily trap your body heat and are mostly worn in northern states or Canada. Paradoxically, they were designed by cowboys in Texas and were widely used by the late 19th century. Shotgun chaps were actually the earliest design that became popular in America. (Source: Wikipedia)
The shotgun design is preferred by many clinicians and competitive western riders, as they do not flap around and get in the way. They are much more practical than other designs if you spend longer periods of time working from the ground.
Chinks are sometimes called “half-chaps” because they are around half the length of regular chaps. This loosely-fitting style is ideal for riders in warmer climates as it allows for plenty of air circulation around the legs.
Chinks typically reach a few inches below the knee and fasten with two straps high on the thigh. They are a more baggy-looking type of chaps and are often a light color, allowing the rider’s legs to stay cool in the hot sun. Like many other designs of chaps, chinks have long fringes along the edges.
This style is often worn all year round by cowboys in Southwestern and Pacific states or during the summertime across America.
Batwing chaps/Rodeo Chaps
Just like chinks, batwing chaps are great for warmer climates. They are a loosely-cut type of chaps featuring a wide section at the bottom that covers the boots. This style allows the rider’s legs to move more freely and actively in the saddle and also makes mounting and dismounting a horse easier.
Batwing chaps are a later design in American history that fasten with two or three straps around the thigh. They are particularly popular on ranches in Texas and other southern states.
A more eye-catching version of batwing chaps are rodeo chaps. While these have the exact same cut as batwings, rodeo chaps are more decorated and colorful with long, flowing fringes that draw attention on shows.
Shoeing chaps are a special type of chinks that protect the farrier’s legs from minor injuries when treating horses’ hooves. Also called the farrier’s apron, they are made from thick, hard-wearing leather and often have a breakaway front for safety.
Interestingly, it’s not only farriers who wear shoeing chaps while working. Ranch hands and cowboys also find them useful for keeping clothes intact when doing chores such as stacking hay.
What Are Half-Chaps Made Of?
Half chaps are made of leather, synthetic leather, or a combination of the two. Leather chaps are more durable and offer better protection than synthetic alternatives, but are also more expensive.
Synthetic half chaps are preferred by some equestrians not only because of the price, but also because they are more flexible and breathable than leather versions. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference.
Why Do Bull Riders Wear Chaps?
Similar to cowboys, bull riders wear chaps to protect their legs from injury, for example when falling off a bull. Leather chaps also provide extra grip and help the rider hold onto the animal’s back.
It’s no coincidence that chaps are popular with participants of bull riding, saddle bronc, and bareback bronc riding events. These are some of the most extreme and dangerous sports on the planet, and an extra layer of protection can make all the difference.