Horse-Showing Style: Chaps

Horse-Showing Style: Chaps

The dos and don’ts of fitting and caring for western chaps.

black western riding horse being shown in black chaps (Credit: Journal)

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In the overall picture you present to a horse show judge, there’s one major part of your show outfit that can make or break your image. Chaps have evolved significantly from the cowboy days of protecting a rider’s legs from brambles to today as they help present a smooth and polished position in the saddle.

But without proper chaps fit or style, you’ll be putting yourself at a disadvantage before you ever get to your pattern. Here are some tips on choosing the right show chaps.

  • Enhance your overall look: Chaps contribute to your overall look and your confidence in the saddle, two vital components to a judged event like horsemanship. 

“The first things a judge looks for are cleanliness, presentation and professionalism,” says AQHA Professional Horsewoman and judge Sharon Wellman. “You are setting yourself up to start from a positive light when you wear clean, tidy and well-fitted chaps. You want to have a good first impression.”

  • Chap length: Consider the length of the chaps carefully. Too short is never a good look, but too long can cause puckering at the bottom. Judge and AQHA Professional Horsewoman Holly Hover says judges won’t place you based on your chaps, but choosing well-fitted chaps accentuate your leg properly.
  • Chaps fit: The western chaps should fit comfortably on the arch of the foot and cover the heel. An inch and a half of material below the heel is standard. Chaps with elastic panels built into the leg can assist in ensuring the proper fit, despite a rider’s weight fluctuations. Don’t buy chaps that are too big. Gapping and sagging areas are glaringly apparent in the saddle, and present a negative picture to the judge.
  • Chap details: You know how to fit western chaps, now it’s about the details. Use high-waisted chaps to make your legs look longer and dominate your appearance in the saddle. Buckles and conchos also help create a more symmetrical and flattering look, Holly says.
  • All about color: Picking darker colors such as brown, dark chocolate, chocolate, black and dark navy won’t show extra movement. This reduces the chance of distraction for a judge so they can focus on your ride.

You have the perfect chaps, now you have to maintain them! 

Caring for Leather Chaps 

This is a necessary process to ensure years of use and to maintain the professional look you bought them for. Now, how do you clean your western chaps?

  • Minimize sunlight exposure: Holly recommends minimizing the amount of time your chaps spend in the bright sunlight or in a trailer on a hot summer day to reduce fading. Holly’s clients even have a separate pair of chaps for indoor shows to keep them looking sharp. 
  • Add your chaps to your grooming list: Suzi Vlietstra of Hobby Horse Clothing Co. recommends using a soft-bristled grooming brush or horsehair hat brush to brush dirt from chaps soon after use. Both ultra suede and leather chaps can be washed, but do so only when dirt is visible on the outer part of the legs. Washing can damage your chaps and shorten their lifespan, as it softens the fibers and fades the colors. Only wash when necessary.
  • Re-dying: Re-dying can spruce up chaps that have been worn, exposed to too much sun or washed. Don’t fret if your favorite pair look a little worse for wear. Sharon admits she re-dyes her chaps periodically instead of buying new chaps when she wants a new look or to freshen the color before a big show.

Getting expert advice on buying the perfect chaps helps you make the best decision on a vital aspect of your show outfit. Although an important aspect, chaps selection is also only part of the horse-showing preparation process. Learn how to get started showing AQHA, including a showing glossary, class descriptions, helpful resources and shows near you.