Half Chaps: Find Your Perfect Size

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Half-chap designs have exploded over the last decade, so you can now pretty much choose whatever materials you want in the cut that you want. Many designs mimic smooth full-grain boots ? the only difference is that the leg and boot come in two pieces, and these full-grain choices are even considered acceptable for showing in some situations. Depending on what you're willing to pay, you can get almost anything you want, and some half chaps rival tall boots in price.

Half chaps are a popular choice for schooling. Worn with paddock boots, they are comfortable enough to leave on all day.

Half chaps are a popular choice for schooling. Worn with paddock boots, they are comfortable enough to leave on all day.

The style most often seen in the low-to-middle price ranges is suede with a pleated elasticized panel over the calf that allows a slim, firm outline. The predominance of this elastic panel, even in economy chaps, means you don't have to choose hook-and-loop (aka Velcro) tabs over zippers in order to make sure they?ll fit.

Horse Journal

has long touted half chaps as a healthier alternative to tightly fitting tall boots, which can inhibit circulation in the legs and strain the back when pulled on. Riders who need leg protection all day are doing their bodies a favor to opt for half chaps over tall boots and, for those who don't, half chaps are simply more convenient than tall boots. If you need to wear boots for showing, you can switch back a few days before each event to adjust your stirrup length and spurs if necessary.

If It Fits.

The Dublin, left, and Ariat, right, show the contrasting fine-toothed zipper and a wide-toothed zipper. Dublin has a snap tab and Ariat has a Velcro tab.

The Dublin, left, and Ariat, right, show the contrasting fine-toothed zipper and a wide-toothed zipper. Dublin has a snap tab and Ariat has a Velcro tab.

Fit remains the biggest concern we see in buying half chaps. We gave specific calf width and height measurements when we ordered these chaps, and seven of the 10 chaps we received fit fine, which isn?t a bad average. But three pairs didn't come close. it's important that half chaps fit smoothly over the calf because otherwise there's not much to hold them up, and they?ll sag and wrinkle. This not only looks bad but can also cause rubs on both the rider?s leg and the horse's side.

You also need to factor in a bit of leather stretch over time, another reason to look for a firm fit at the start. Stitching at the top of the chaps will inhibit stretching there so make sure that area is comfortable immediately, while looking for a sleeker, tighter line lower on the leg, assuming future stretch.

You'll be safer to try these on in a tack shop. When ordering from a website or catalog, take a very close look at the size chart ? if there is one. When chaps come in only a few non-specific sizes, You'll be lucky if they fit.

The assorted chaps we received were labeled from medium to extra large for the same set of legs. The size charts for the same models even varied between catalogs/websites, so take it a step further and call them for more information.

Follow the specific directions for each model/manufacturer and measure while sitting in a chair in the pants You'll use for riding ? the fit will be very different over jeans than breeches. In fact, if you mostly ride in jeans you may want to stick with Velcro tabs, rather than zippers.

The JT Equestrian half chaps, earned Best Buy

The JT Equestrian half chaps, earned Best Buy

While suede leather chaps are seen most often, you can find models in smooth, milled and calf leathers and even combinations. There are also synthetic stretch and suede ?leathers? and a variety of fabrics (mesh, closed weave, gripper, canvas).

The elasticized panel may be fabric, pleated leather bonded to fabric, or stretch leather. The panel over the foot arch may be elasticized as well. The cut at the top may be straight or arched (Spanish cut).

In zippers, you?ve basically got two choices, fine- or wide-toothed plastic, and we found both types of zippers at every price point in this field trial.

One concern our testers had was the best way to wear their spurs. We used to see half chaps cut high enough in back so spurs could go on the boot first and the chaps over the spurs, but that's now rarely the case since the fit is usually so close. You may have to pull the arms of your spurs out a bit wider to get them on over your chaps. Also, we rarely now see any spur rests on half chaps, which anyway don't work as well on chaps as they do on firm leather boots because they can't be as stiff.

Care Issues.

Unless a half chap is fabric or lined with fabric, there will be a tendency for some dye bleed. Leather, especially suede, doesn't hold dye well. All the chaps we tried where the leather lay directly over our lighter-colored breeches showed some slight bleeding when there was a lot of sweat or rain, but it also washed out of the breeches and didn't leave a permanent mark. If you usually wear your chaps over dark-colored breeches for schooling, this won?t be any concern at all.

Ariat?s Breeze, topped the trial as our overall favorite half chap.

Ariat?s Breeze, topped the trial as our overall favorite half chap.

Care for smooth-leather chaps as you would boots (don't get leather soap on the zippers, though). Most suede chaps can go right in the washing machine in cold water, but don't include anything made from fabric in the load because the dye will bleed. The dye bleed can be reduced and even eliminated by washing them with a leather-wash product before wearing them the first time and over time will go away completely. You can also spiff up your suede chaps with your horse's stiff body brush.

We particularly like fabric chaps for their ease of care ? just toss them in the machine ? and because they?re much cooler in warm weather. With fabric chaps, take extra care to get a firm fit because they are so much lighter than leather to begin with. Fabric half chaps are also wonderfully easy to store and can even be stuffed into a pocket. Since fabric isn?t as stiff as leather, however, you may find the zipper harder to ?seat.?

Bottom Line.

While we loved the appearance and quality construction of the Riding Sport smooth leather chaps, we balked at the price. Therefore, our Editor?s Choice goes to the Ariat Breeze chaps because of the moisture-wicking lining and because the wide variety in height/calf combos ensures a good fit. They are sleek, firm and comfortable.

Best Buy for leather goes to Dublin?s Originals, a bargain at $35 and, if you're happy with fabric, the JT International Tough-1 mesh chaps, a steal at $28.