Half chaps are a staple in most English riders’ wardrobes, especially if riding in paddock boots. Half chaps are fabric or leather lower-leg protectors designed to be worn over a paddock riding boot, but what is the purpose of chaps? The main purpose of a half chap is to give rider protection from chafing or rubbing and provide extra grip. However, many riders use half chaps for protection against brush when trail riding, leg stability for young riders, or as an economical solution to tall boots for smaller horse shows.
What is the Purpose of Half Chaps?
The term chaps, originally “armitas”, is thought to have been derived from the Chapparal Bush found across brush country. “Apron chaps” appeared in the early 1800s specifically designed for lower leg protection and warmth. However, half chaps are typically worn by English riders. They are an extremely popular riding accessory among younger junior exhibitors. Although most federations allow the use of paddock boots and garter straps up to a certain age, some disciplines do not traditionally use garter straps. Tall boots are typically an expensive piece of riding gear, and difficult to size appropriately on growing children. Half chaps provide an inexpensive option for both youth and adult riders that do not own or wish to mess with tall boots on a daily basis. Typically, half chaps will not be worn at major or rated shows. However, they are a great option for local or schooling show circuits.
Half chaps aren’t just for the show ring. In fact, many western-dominant brands are coming out with western-style half chaps, some even have a fringe! These are great options for trailblazers and day workers wanting a little extra grip and protection without a full chap. However, half chaps are not typically designed to fit over cowboy boots. You will see them more commonly paired with English or western style paddock boots, with a snug lower-leg fit to prevent any snagging or sagging.
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Half Chaps Materials
Half chaps are typically smooth leather, suede, faux leather/suede, and now breathable neoprene materials. Although the higher quality half chaps are leather, many people love the durability and machine-washable properties of the newer synthetic materials. For those wearing half chaps through water obstacles or inclement weather, the quick-drying neoprene half chaps are a fantastic option. Leather or suede still offers the most protection from rubbing against stirrup leathers or the saddle.
Many companies have elected to manufacture season-specific half chaps. Some are moisture-wicking materials with extra ventilation holes for warm weather riding. There are also many fleece-lined options to help provide a little bit of warmth during the cold months. In either case, it is important the materials remain thin enough so there will be no interference in leg/horse contact or cues. Although a great stability and grip tool, half chaps should not be worn if they inhibit a rider’s ability to “feel” their horse.
Wearing Chaps – What is the Purpose of Chaps
Most half chaps are a very snug fit with a side or rear zipper and a strip of elastic. This tight fit is essential due to slight stretching over time. Loose garments with gapping can pose a safety risk on top of being unsightly. Half chaps will fit just below the knee. Unlike tall boots, they will not “break” over time and eventually drop in total height. This is because there is no excessive material at the ankle to loosen and wrinkle. The half chap should not interfere with any bending at the knee but have enough height to provide coverage. Most half chaps will have a slightly taller outside inseam for the sleek tall look of formal boots.
Some western brands offer a looser “bell” fit, with snug attachment just below the knee. This is to accommodate a standard cowboy boot shaft, which will add leg circumference, unlike thin breeches. We have seen some of these options utilize elastic tops, buttons, zippers, and even some leather ties!
Most suede half chaps will MSRP between $50-$60 USD. However, premium grain leather half chaps custom-fitted have run several hundred dollars, while custom fringe western half chaps with tooling can climb up in price. Some synthetic half chap designs are available for as little as $25!
When comparing to the cost of boots, a full-grain leather riding boot of decent quality typically starts in the $225 range, with many brands running $1,000+. Many high-end tall boots are custom fitted for a streamlined calf-fit, spiking the already-high price tag. Therefore, half chaps are a great economical option for an English rider not yet ready to take the price plunge with tall boots.
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