If you’ve ever ridden in a saddle with English leathers, you’ve likely developed an appreciation for half chaps. Most western riders have little cause to wear them, however; they’re a commonly required apparel item for those in close contact, dressage or endurance saddles. Some of the new treeless western/trail saddles have an unusual jointed fender design that also may pinch if the rider’s leg doesn’t have an extra layer of protection. Once again; half chaps to the rescue.
With assorted styles and different materials on the market, there are a few things to consider as you weigh your options. You’ll want to know the measurement of your calf, the height that you personally prefer for the half chap, and think about the type of closure that will work best for your use as well. Keep in mind that formal events (recognized shows) will likely require traditional tall boots for hunter jumper and dressage classes. For the practice pen or trails though, there are many benefits to this more casual and comfortable accessory.
All-leather half chaps with a full length side zipper are easy to find and they come in assorted sizes from extra small on up to extra large, accommodating adult calf widths of 13 – 18”. The average height is around 16”, though some that are made especially for taller, long-legged riders may be 18 – 19” tall. The pros of full leather: sturdy, good protection, they wear well. Zippers are quick and simple as long as they’re working. Cons: The leather can be hot, it may be damaged by weather if not treated or cared for properly. Zippers, when not working as they should, are annoying at best. Some riders also don’t like the stiffness of the zipper against their lower leg.
Some manufacturers offer all-leather zip-up styles with a stretch leather panel across the back of the calf, aiding in both comfort and fit. Some leathers are also designed to be washable or water resistant, a great feature if you do a lot of outdoor riding in damp weather.
Suede half chaps with Velcro closures are slightly less common, but still easily found. The Velcro makes them very easy to put on and take off and you have a bit more adjust-ability with these closures in comparison to a zipper, which is nice. Suede doesn’t look quite as classy as smooth leather, and it does a stellar job of picking up dust and shavings, but if that’s not a major concern, these are entirely functional. As with leather, they can get a bit hot when the weather warms up. Using a weather-proofing spray with help make them resistant to damage from rain and wet conditions.
Mesh materials are a terrific choice if you’re riding longer distances, particularly on hot, summery days. The ones we’ve found have had zipper closures, so if you’re anti-zipper that’s really the only downside. Check out the options at Distance Depot. If you can find them, Moxie made a lightweight, soft and breathable design with an attractive price tag and playful colors. For some reason they’re no longer carried by many online outlets, but with a little diligence you may unearth a pair.
As we mentioned in our last article about winter riding, some riders like to use their horses’ polo wraps on their own legs. As with learning to wrap the horses’ legs properly, you may have a bit of a learning curve. Lucky thing is; you’re quite unlikely to bow your own tendon. Start at the top, don’t overlap too closely (they’ll feel too thick) and try to end with the Velcro at the ankle, on the outside of the leg. This is not something most riders will want to sport in the show pen, but if you’re looking for practicality and comfort in the practice arena or out on the trail, they work. Plus, they are quite versatile. Should you fall or sustain a kick and need a fast, supportive wrap for a fractured appendage, they’re rather handy. If your horse runs off and you’re left in the chilly woods in the dark, you can use a polo wrap as a scarf or fashion it into a hat. They can even be used to craft a simple sweater for a small dog. The versatility of the polo wrap is quite astounding really.
Tall wool socks or woolen leg warmers are another option, providing they are not too baggy. Excess fabric could slip down around the ankle, rendering the item ineffective. A too-loose knit could also snag on the buckle of a billet strap or catch the branch of tree or bush, creating a potential hazard. With a close and proper fit though, these may be an alternative to those who decide to shun more traditional half chaps.
For easy comfort and reliable protection, half chaps are a terrific invention.