Chaps (and chinks, too) are designed to provide leg protection for riders on horseback. Chaps (pronounced “shaps”) is a shortened form of the Spanish word chaparreras, which is derived from the chaparral. Chaparral is a thick, prickly brush that chaps were originally designed to protect cowboys from. Over the years, the design has changed and been updated to reflect today’s use for show, rodeo, and trail riding.
When it comes to buying chaps, either off the rack or custom made, there are SO many things to consider. Hopefully this blog can help you get to know the different styles and options so you can be comfortable making a decision on the right chap for you. Things to consider are:
1) What are you using your chaps for?
- Western Pleasure/ Show
- Ranch Horse Show
2) What material do you want your chaps made from?
- Smooth leather
- Roughout leather
3) Any decorative factors?
- Tooled leather top
STYLES OF CHAPS
You need to think about the functional need for your chaps to decide on the correct style for your needs. Comfort is also important. You’ll want to check the rules for any breed or show association where you plan to exhibit to make sure your chaps meet any requirements.
WESTERN PLEASURE SHOW CHAPS
If you are showing your horse in Western Pleasure and Equitation classes, you will want full length chaps that fit snugly with a zipper. The snugness help keep the chaps from flopping loosely which would ruin the illusion of smoothness that is so important in a pleasure class, but they should also be comfortable. Western Pleasure chaps also have a dropped heel which helps cover the boot heels and spurs. There are endless color options but you should choose the color that matches/compliments the rest of your attire. Depending on the breed you show and the current trends, you may want to have some embellishments, which are discussed later.
RANCH HORSE CHAPS
Ranch Horse classes have exploded in recent years and become very popular. These classes showcase the versatility of stock horses in disciplines like reining, trail, cow work, cutting, and more. Tack and apparel are casual that other classes but chaps and chinks are part of the attire. [SM1] Chaps worn in these classes are similar in fit to Western Pleasure chaps, but may be not quite as snug. The fringe may be cut longer and personalization of design is more varied.
Chinks are also a popular option for ranch horse classes. Chinks are similar to chaps in that they are protective leg covering, but chinks are not as form fitting and are shorter. Chinks’ length hits the rider midway between the knee and ankle. They usually don’t have zippers but use straps with buckles or snaps to fasten them. Fringe on chinks is usually longer than the fringe on chaps. The colors are usually neutrals; black, brown, tan, rust.
Rodeo chaps are designed to not only to protect the rider from injury, but also show their unique personality with extra embellishments. They are not as form fitting as show chaps and are more open in the back which provides more air circulation and a cooler feel. Rodeo chaps are usually more form fitting at the top, then more open beyond the knee. They are fastened with straps and snaps, buckles or hooks. Rodeo chaps are a form of “bat wing” chaps with extra material which allows them to flap with the rider’s movements. This extra movement adds more excitement for the spectators. Riders can have rodeo chaps custom made to add a wide variety of colors, materials and designs to make them unique.
If you want chaps for trail riding or ranch work, you want a full length chap that fits well. Chaps that are too loose can bag up and become uncomfortable when you spend hours in the saddle. On the flip side, chaps that are too tight also become uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time. Work/trail chaps can be fastened with zippers, buckles, hooks, snaps, etc. Whichever fastening you choose, it needs to be something you can easily negotiate. Since these chaps are meant to offer protection, they should be made from a sturdy, durable material. Also, any fancy embellishments are unnecessary as these are chaps for working.
Chaps and chinks are mainly constructed from cowhide leather which is durable and can be tanned to make it more supple and dyed for enhanced coloring. The hide is then often split; this results in a smooth side and a roughout (or suede) side. Both of these are durable and choosing one over the other is mostly a matter of personal preference.
Most rodeo chaps and chinks are made from smooth out because it is easier to clean and doesn’t hold dust and dirt particles like roughout. Show chaps can be made from either smooth or roughout and depends on the look you want to project. Both are durable and will last a long time if you care for them properly.
Another option for show chaps is the popular Ultrasuede. This material looks like roughout leather, but is softer and can be dyed in a rainbow of colors. Another advantage to Ultrasuede is that it’s lightweight and cooler for the rider, as well as machine washable! One disadvantage to Ultrasuede is that it is not as durable as leather, so extra care needs to be taken to prevent rips or tears.
MAKING YOUR CHAPS UNIQUE
There is an infinite number of ways to personalize your chaps and chinks. Depending on their intended use here are some options to jazz up or complete your look:
- Leather Tooled Tops
- Stitching in Contrasting Colors
- Metallic or Colored Inlays
- Straight Edges – A Clean Look for the Show Pen
- Fringe – Shorter for Pleasure/Equitation/Reining; Longer for Rodeo/Ranch Horse
- Scalloped Edges – An Option vs. Fringe or Straight Edge
- Hand Painted Design
CUSTOM VS. OFF THE RACK CHAPS
One final decision is whether to buy readymade chaps or have them custom made. There are advantages to both so consider your options.
- Readymade chaps are less expensive. If you are on a budget, this may be a great option for you. There are several companies that offer chaps that come in sizes from XS- XL. These chaps are usually available in basic colors like black and sand, but sometimes you can find them in other neutrals like brown or rust. Sometimes more colorful choices are available from companies like Hobby Horse that make chaps to match show shirts and jackets in their show clothing line. The biggest disadvantage with this type of chaps is that they are designed to fit the “average” person so they may not have the fit you are looking for.
- Custom made chaps, although more expensive, are an investment that you will have for many years. Your chaps will be made to your exact measurements, but things can be done to allow for growth (in the case of youth riders). In addition, you can work with the person making your chaps to get exactly what you want in regard to color, type of leather or Ultrasuede and embellishments. If you decide on custom chaps, make sure you buy them from a reputable dealer or individual. It is best to be measured by the person making your chaps as people do not always measure the same way. Having your seamstress or her staff do the measuring ensures your chaps will have the best fit possible. If traveling to the person making your chaps is difficult, make sure you discuss how measurements should be taken if you are doing it yourself.
One final thought: Your tack store should be able to help you with the process. If they don’t sell chaps or do not sew custom chaps, they may be able to recommend someone reputable. We at The Wire Horse love to help our customers navigate the Western Wear waters. From readymade to custom chaps, we have over 30 years of experience in fitting and designing chaps. If we can help, stop by or give us a call!