We are going to a show this coming weekend and while I was gathering up the “show clothes” I got to thinking about all the different kinds of chaps there are – shotgun, batwing, angora or “woolies”, equitation, shoeing, chinks, and half-chaps or leggings. It’s confusing!
The name chaps, which is pronounced “shaps,” is derived from the Spanish las chaparreras or chaparejas. They were developed to protect a rider’s legs while riding through rough terrain and brush. Originally they were a large piece of leather that attached onto the saddle, covering the chest of the horse as well as the legs of the rider. Eventually they became less cumbersome and were just for the rider. Chaps are made most commonly out of leather and encase the rider’s legs, attaching with a belt and leaving the seat open.
Shotgun chaps are fastened on the rider from the hips down to the ankle and got their name because they are straight as a shotgun barrel.
Equitation chaps, on the other hand, resemble shotgun chaps but have a longer drop at the ankle and are used for showing. By having the drop at the ankle it increases the perception of “heels down.” Typically "show chaps" aren't made for working; rather for looks only.
Batwing chaps encircle the leg from the hip to the knee and are then open from there, with a much fuller cut than shotgun chaps. Batwings are a functional, tough chap which are still in use today in rodeos.
Shoeing chaps -also called a a farrier’s apron - are short, falling just past the knee, attach with one strap on each leg, and have wear patches and hoof knife pockets.
Angora chaps, also known as “woolies,” were developed for extreme cold weather for warmth and were originally covered with long Angora goat hair.
Chinks are very similar to chaps, past the knees but above the ankles. Chinks are also commonly seen at rodeos.
Half-chaps, also called leggings, cover the legs from the knees to the ankles. They're typically used by English riders who wish to protect their lower legs from the stirrup leathers. They can also be used on trail rides to protect against brush.
Fringes along the edges of the chaps and chinks, and also on jackets, had a definite use back in the days when cowboys were out on the range for days on end in all kinds of weather. The fringe was a type of “dryer” for their clothes. The moisture would gravitate downwards onto the fringe and would evaporate quickly with the fringe blowing in the breezes.
Nowadays the fringe is mainly for decoration, especially on equitation chaps. However, beware: the more bouncy the gait of your horse, the more your fringe will swing and move. Some riders instead wear chaps with scallops or other blunt edges so as to give the illusion of a smooth gait in a pleasure class.