Whether custom or off-the-shelf, today’s chap options answer the needs of the modern-day rider.
By Natalie DeFee Mendik, MA
Practical convenience, grip in the saddle, and protection from chafing (not to mention a cool look) sum up half and full chaps for sport horse riders. Especially popular in the hunter/jumper crowd, chaps with paddock boots offer the feel you need in the saddle and the ability to take them on and off easily. An added bonus: Riders that have both can swap between half chaps and full chaps in warmer and cooler weather, respectively. Full chaps, once all the rage, are less common than half chaps these days, but they still have a faithful following.
“As the owner (and daughter of the founder) of a company called ProChaps, I have learned some of the things riders are looking for when searching for half and full chaps,” says Emelie Larivee of her family’s Quebec-based equestrian chaps specialty business. “Our client testimonials agree that riders value customlike fit, lasting quality, and a great look. As athletes, riders are looking for equipment that performs. Whether an amateur or a professional, your equipment should work for you and not against you.”
Leather options range from economic split cowhide and pigskin to high-end deer and elk leathers, in suede or smooth leather, in addition to new synthetic blends. Innovations in the world of chaps include composite blends for optimal stretch and fit, sleek designs, locking zippers, lower back support from the chap belt, microperforations for air circulation, corrosion-resistant fixtures around foot areas, break-in-free, machine washable, antimicrobial, wicking lining, contoured shape, stretch panels, and snapping zipper covers. Custom chaps offer a distinctive look with a variety of colors, fringe, and details.
“As a rider myself and having been exposed to the industry, I’ve been privileged to watch such a classic market evolve to offer hybrid products that answer the needs of our modern-day equestrian,” Larivee says. “Half chaps and full chaps are the hybrid blend of riding pant comfort and riding boot protection. The benefits of chaps over boots is this: The blend of comfort, quality, custom fit, and style from Day 1, with zero break-in period.”
When fitting chaps, ask a friend or an experienced sales assistant to take your measurements in both inches and centimeters with a cloth tape measure while wearing what you plan to ride in, such as breeches or jeans, and socks. For half chaps, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Measure around the widest part of your calf and from the back of your knee to the bottom of your heel. For full chaps, measure while standing, around the widest part of your calf, around the widest part of your thigh, and the inseam from crotch to the floor. Consult a size chart for the brand you are interested in purchasing. Larivee advises riders to follow the instructions of whatever brand they are buying. Try on with the paddock boots you will ride in.
If between sizes many riders advise selecting a smaller size, because the leather stretches; purchase snug, without straining the zipper. Avoid fitting chaps and half chaps too loose in the beginning, as they will eventually become saggy. Over time chaps conform to your body, molding into a custom fit. A quality pair lasts for years. If you compete, check your rulebook for specific divisions and classes in which chaps are permissible.