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What are Chaps?

Cowboys have always been glorified in western movies. They are romantic symbols of a time when a man is free to roam and seek his destiny even if he has to take it from somebody else. However, the gun-slinging cowboys you may have seen in spaghetti western movies do not represent what a cowboy is all about. Cowboys of the past typically work on ranches where part of their job is to round up livestock after being left to graze during the day. Because of the rugged terrain and harsh environments that these cowboys are exposed to, cowboys developed chaps to protect them during their work.

What are Chaps?

Chaps are garments worn by cowboys to add protection to their legs while working on the ranch. Chaps are specifically worn when the cowboy is expected to undergo rough horse riding. Cowboys do not usually wear chaps when they are not on horseback.

The word “chaps” is Spanish in origin derived from the word “chapparo”, a low-growing brush that can damage cowboys’ pants as they ride through the thicket. Most chaps are made of split cowhide leather to make it more supple and easier to move with. Chaps are composed of a pair of leather leggings that are buckled over the cowboy’s trousers. However, chaps do not have a leather seat or couch. The absence of the crotch leather covering will allow the cowboys to easily unbutton or unzip their pants’ crotch region when they need to relieve themselves.

A Chapparo brush. Its torns can damage the jeans of cowboys as they ride through them.

What are the Functions of Chaps?

Cowboys created chaps more for functionality rather than fashion aesthetics. The leather leggings of the chaps will provide more friction so that the cowboy will not slip on his saddle during a ride. Likewise, the leather leggings will protect the rider’s leg from getting injured when riding through vegetation such as cacti, thickets, and thorny bushes. Another function of chaps is to protect the cowboys’ legs from rope burns that may occur when they are out rounding up cattle and other livestock.

When roping cattle, cowboys will usually use their whole body, especially their legs, to gain leverage. These maneuvers may cause the ropes to slide on the cowboy’s legs causing rope burns or even cuts. Leather is naturally resistant to getting cut and rope burns, so protecting the legs with leather covering became necessary for cowboys.

Today, chaps are no longer necessary since most cowboys working on a ranch use alternate modes of transportation such as the pickup truck to round up their livestock, especially for flat and wide terrains. However, rounding up cattle in rough and narrow terrains are still best undertaken by horse-riding cowboys who need leather chaps for protection.

Chaps can also be seen worn by modern cowboys that show their roundup skills through professional rodeos. These chaps will offer them protection, especially when the bulls they are riding will brush along the rodeo field’s side rails.