What Are Riding Chaps for? Do You Really Need Them?

Wondering, “What is the purpose of chaps?” “What are chaps used for in horse riding?”

It’s actually a pretty common question and one that we’re going to explore in-depth today.

Here’s a hint, though: they’re more than just stylish attire worn by cowboys.

Keep reading to find out why, exactly, they exist and what they’re used for in riding.

Don’t forget to check our review of the best Western riding chaps!

What Are Chaps?

Besides looking cool on cowboys, a pair of chaps go a long way in ensuring a cowboy’s safety.

Chaps are a type of protective garment typically worn by people who work around horses. They are often worn over regular jeans or any other horse-riding attire.

Fun fact, their pronunciation should actually be “shaps.”

The word “chaps” is derived from the Spanish word chaparreras, pronounced with a “sh” sound.

The Spanish named this attire “chaparreras” since it protected their legs from a thorny plant known as chaparral. But the name was later adopted in the American West.

different styles of chaps

They are similar to breeches, but they usually extend past the knee and sometimes cover most of the leg.

Chaps were traditionally made from high-quality leather, pieces of cowhide, or even wool. Modern versions often incorporate synthetic materials such as nylon, faux leather, and other durable materials that are washing machine-friendly.

Unlike leather pants that are fully concealed, chaps are open in the crotch area and the butt area (which explains the assless chaps nickname). Therefore, you fasten them to your waist using an integrated belt.

There are several chap styles with varying leg shapes, making them suitable for different contexts. The most common include;

  • Shotgun chaps – Considered the warmest chaps, these are full-length chaps that originated from the northern plains. However, they’re unsuitable for humid weather.
  • Woollies – These are made from wool and are perfect for cold regions.
  • Chinks – These are half-length chaps that are perfect for warm climates. They also make good protective aprons. A more specialized style of chinks is used as a horse-shoeing chap.
  • Ranch Batwing chaps/Rodeo chaps – These are more flexible than shotgun chaps and the best for air circulation. They are the perfect hot-weather wear for riding.
  • Half Chaps – (Siun will add when first edits done)
  • Full Chaps – (Siun will add when first edits done)

What Are Chaps Used For?

Now, the heart of the matter. What is the purpose of chaps. Below are some benefits of wearing them (aside from just looking really cool).

Protection

The original purpose of ranch chaps was to protect the legs from branches, brush (such as prickly pear), and thorns when riding through dense areas such as forests or areas with lots of shrubs.

They have also been worn by stagecoach drivers, postal workers, military personnel on horseback, cowboys on cattle drives, rodeo competitors, livestock workers, people using chainsaws, motorcycle riders, and others.

a lady riding a brown horse while wearing chaps

When used for protection against thorns, the leather is usually relatively rigid and made with either a round or flat seam running down the inside of each leg.

This enabled the ranch chaps to be pulled on like a pair of pants so that they could be easily removed if necessary.

Besides protection from thorns, chaps also protect the cowboy’s legs from being hurt by livestock or from rope burns, a feature a regular pair of jeans can’t offer.

Comfort

Another reason for wearing chaps while riding is that it can become uncomfortable when seated in a saddle for long periods, particularly on horses with bony withers.

The leather or other material used in making the chaps is often fairly stiff and helps cushion the leg against the hard points where it comes into contact with the horse’s back.

close-up shot of leather chaps: what is chaps used for?

Warmth

As mentioned earlier, sometimes cowboys work all day, and in some seasons, such as in winter, it might be too cold to spend all day on a horse.

Regular leather chaps provide warmth by trapping air within the cowboy’s body. This air, in turn, insulates, preventing heat loss. Others may also be padded with wool or made entirely of wool.

close-up shot of leather chaps: what is chaps used for?

Keeping Your Clothes Clean

Working with animals all day exposes you to different types of filth and stains. These stains may be challenging to remove from clothes.

And even though you could get rid of them, the stains and the thorny vegetation will still cause damage to clothing.

The chaps make sure most filth doesn’t get to the clothes and prevents them from damage.

a cowboy in chaps is riding a horse but what is the purpose of chaps?

Find out why cowboys wear chaps in this video:

What Are Half-Chaps Made Of?

If you’ve observed English riders, you may have realized fittings used over the tall riding boots.

These are known as half-chaps and protect the boots from damage and prevent the rider from sweat, especially when it’s too hot.

That’s why they are also common in trail riding, where you have to ride for long distances in hot temperatures.

While some western riders may use them, they are not part of the cowboy culture.

close-up shot half chaps but what is purpose of chaps?

So, what are they made of? Chaps are made of soft leather, but you’ll find some made of synthetic leather-like material, or both.

Some people use them with paddock boots for daily usage and preserve tall boots for competitions. If you’re wondering how to wear half chaps, it’s not that complicated.

All you need to do is get the appropriate half chaps sizing for your legs. Once you find those that fit, you can rest assured they’ll serve their purpose.

Get the answers you’ve been searching for and learn why horses have their eyes covered with our in-depth article on ‘Why Do Horses Have Their Eyes Covered.’

FAQs

Why Do Bull Riders Wear Chaps?

Chaps, especially leather chaps, helps keep them comfortable and minimize sliding as they ride on the bull. They can also alleviate injuries in case the rider falls off. Bull riding is one of the most dangerous sport, so it helps to have an extra layer of protection.

Do I Need Chaps for Horseback Riding?

a lady wearing half chaps

Yes, you do, especially if you work with cattle often, work in harsh conditions, or want to participate in western riding. They offer leg protection from the hazards you may encounter.

Why Do Cowboys Wear Chaps?

Chaps make riding more comfortable and protect horse riders from thorns, shrubs, and any other hazards they might encounter when riding. Depending on the style of chap you’re using, they also provide warmth for those in cold regions and prevent sweating for those in hot climates.

What Boots Do You Wear with Half Chaps?

riding boots

Half chaps are often worn over paddock boots, but they can’t work with cowboy boots. They are a cheaper and more flexible alternative to tall boots. So, you can use them for daily activities and use tall boots for special occasions.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it. Chaps do more than making a cowboy irresistible. They are a protective leather garment that protects them from all the hazards they may face outdoors.

Better yet, there are different types of chaps suitable for many other activities other than riding.

References

  • “Chinks vs Chaps – AQHA.” 2019. Aqha.com. 2019. https://www.aqha.com/-/chinks-vs-chaps.
  • “Cowboy Chinks and Chaps.” 2021. Cowboyway.com. 2021. http://www.cowboyway.com/What/WhatAreChinks.htm.
  • “The Cowboy at Work.” 2011. Google Books. 2011. https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=DOq4phLykqcC&pg=PA227&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false.
a man wearing chaps and riding a brown horse

Do you use chaps? For you, what is the purpose of chaps? Please share with us in the comments below!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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