Horse-Showing Style: Chaps

Identify the dos and don’ts of picking and caring for your next set of chaps.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In the overall picture you present to the judge, there’s one major part of your outfit that can make or break your image. Your chaps are a throwback to the cowboy days of protecting your legs from brambles, and they’ve come a long way since the era of the buckaroo. Today, your legwear helps present a smooth and polished position in the saddle.

But without proper fit or style, you’ll be putting yourself at a disadvantage before you ever get to your pattern. Read on to learn how to choose the right chaps, make sure they fit and care for your investment in the cowhide.

Enhance Your Overall Look

Our experts say that chaps don’t improve your actual performance in the saddle much, other than giving a feeling of security. But all of them said chaps contribute to your overall look, which is crucial in a judged event like horsemanship.

Although an important aspect, chaps selection is only part of the horse-showing preparation process. Download AQHA’s Beginner’s Guide to Showing report to examine all the other aspects of horse showing, such as choosing a horse trainer, horse-show etiquette and estimated expenses.

“The first things a judge looks for are cleanliness, presentation and professionalism,” AQHA Professional Horsewoman and judge Sharon Wellman says. “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.”

Judge and AQHA Professional Horsewoman Holly Hover says judges won’t place you based on your chaps, but well-fitted chaps accentuate your leg properly.

“And as far as appearance goes, chaps make a huge difference,” Holly says. “For the overall aesthetic view you present to the judge, it’s extremely enhanced by a chap in the right style and color.”

Holly and Sharon make the following recommendations for chap selection:

    • Consider the length of the chap carefully. Too short is never a good look, but too long can cause puckering at the bottom.
    • The chap 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.
    • Purchase chaps with elastic panels built into the leg of the chaps. This helps ensure a snug fit, despite a rider’s weight fluctuations.
    • One buckle or concho in the back. This creates a more symmetrical and flattering look, Holly says.
    • Pick a dark color. Darker colors - such as brown, dark chocolate, chocolate, black and dark navy – won’t show extra movement.
    • 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.

Caring for Your Chaps

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.

You’ve got the chaps, but are you ready to step into the show ring? Do you know how to cultivate long manes and tails? Or the rules about horse medication administration? If not, that’s OK! Download AQHA’s Beginner’s Guide to Showing report for the answers to all of those questions and more.

“We’re careful to keep our chaps indoors as much as possible,” Holly says. “Once chaps begin to fade, you can really notice it under indoor lights. So we take really good care of our chaps.”

Holly’s clients hang their chaps inside out and fold them carefully to avoid crease marks and color distortion.

Babe Woods, of Woods’ Western, says to store chaps with the concho undone over a large padded hanger without folds in the legs, and to keep chaps away from the aluminum in your trailer to prevent dark marks.

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. And you don’t want to completely zip your garment bag so as to allow breathing room for your chaps, Suzi says.

Both Ultrasuede and leather chaps can be washed, but Suzi says to do so only when dirt is visible on the outer part of the legs.

“The more you wash your chaps, the more you’ll shorten their life,” Suzi says. “Each washing softens the fibers and invites more staining and fading.”

After washing leather chaps, you’ll probably need to re-dye them. Sharon 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.

“Re-dying can spruce up the look of your chaps if they’re in good condition and fit well,” Sharon says.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

The list of apparel and other items you need for a horse show is endless. That's why Quarter Horse Outfitters offers a special discount to AQHA members! Show your horse without breaking the bank: shop and save today!