Consider comfort, grip, fabric quality, and your discipline, of course, when selecting breeches.
By Natalie DeFee Mendik, MA
Grip in the saddle coupled with freedom of movement are the hallmarks of a good pair of riding pants. Breeches, which conform to the body while stretching and moving, come in a variety of fabric blends and weights.
Whether to choose full-seat or knee patch depends on discipline and taste. In many cases, hunter riders must compete in knee patch breeches. Dressage riders may choose knee patch or full seat, but rarely do you see dressage riders in knee patch breeches. Pleasure riders and eventers may opt for either. Pull-on riding tights, which fit and feel like leggings, come in both knee patch and full seat styles.
“Normally, your particular discipline determines which type of breech would be best for your riding,” says Arianna Vastino, founder and president of boutique equestrian fashion brand Le Fash in New York City. “Knee patch breeches are generally for hunters and jumpers, as riders are lifted out of the tack more often. The knee patch gives you protection from chafing but also grip in the lower thigh and knee, as this is the strongest consistent point of contact. Full-seat breeches are generally for riders that are sitting most often during their ride time, like dressage riders. The upper leg and seat are covered, as this also protects from chafing in those strongest points of contact but also gives more grip in the seat–something that you don’t necessarily need when jumping.”
Full seats and knee patches, which may be matching or contrasting colors, come in leather or synthetic. In the past, the grippy section of the breech was made entirely of leather, which is still available in many brands, but the prevailing trend now is toward synthetic options. Synthetic seats come as faux suede panels or as silicone patterns on the fabric. Silicone provides superior tightness in the saddle.
“In regard to knee patch and full seat, there’s been a strong push toward rubber gripping in the past several years,” says Vastino. “This gives an extra ‘stick’ in those regions, which has become super popular. Though it is less traditional-looking than the standard ultra-suede that has been around for decades, it really depends on your fashion style and overall strength in the saddle. Some people prefer the rubber, as it gives more grip without the need for saddle tight or a stick spray, which can be annoying to remove from your saddle or boots. I personally sometimes think the rubber grip is too strong for me and also like a more traditional look, and so I personally prefer the standard knee patch.”
Breeches are constructed of special fabrics with stretch to provide maximum ease of movement while maintaining their shape, thanks to blends containing spandex, Lycra, or elastane. Fabric weight may vary for season and style.
“In regard to fabric choices, the ‘must have’ is a four-way stretch fabric with great recovery,” says Vastino. “Recovery, when speaking in terms of fabric, means the elastic in the fabric will bounce back to its normal state after being stretched. This will allow you to wear a tight-fitting pant without restriction and avoid that stretched-out look after you ride. Just like your favorite jeans, you don’t want your pants to ‘grow’ as you’re wearing them.
“Look for fabric labels with these features, as well as some technical performance like UPF, which will help you avoid the sun’s rays from absorbing into the fabric, which will make you hotter in the summer months,” she continues. “Lots of new technology has come out for additional features, like stain resistance and easy care for ironing. I try to avoid too much of those types of things, as they are often made with harmful chemicals, which could be hazardous over long exposure.”
While tan, white, and other neutral shades are standard for competition in many disciplines, the choice is yours for other events, from clinics and schooling to cross-country and trail riding: Think fun colors and patterns, bling, contrasting seat, and more.