With the first brisk breeze, cowboys and horsemen reach for their favorite pair of ranch pants, also known as leggins or chaps.
I’ve sung the praises of autumn in the past—crisp mornings, pumpkin-spice mania and the temporary death of all flies. However, I’ve forgotten a very important and fabulous detail that my household looks forward to all summer long: the return of the leggins.
By leggins, I don’t mean the yoga-pant type. I’m talking about shotguns. Batwings. Chinks. Armitas. Woolies. Ranch Pants. Most commonly known as chaps. I understand some folks in some places can wear them year ‘round, but for those of us in Texas (and other sweltering summer climates), we temporarily hang them up in the hot months unless absolutely necessary, as even the heaviest amount of starch on our jeans won’t keep us from sweating profusely through our denim if we sport chaps while we ride.
When first married, I used to internally scowl a little bit when the leggins came back out for the season. Sure, I appreciated the functionality and usefulness of them. But by spring, I was quite tired of having them hung inside my house on the coat rack, with their unique odor and small piles of dirt and hair that they would often leave below. I asked my husband on several occasions if he could please hang them outside instead. The argument was made that if he did that, they would be stiff and cold when he pulls them on in the morning. So, I would shrug, keep the handheld vacuum charged and stubbornly keep my pair outside while his shotguns (more often than not) worked their way into the living room.
In California, I didn’t really get it. Our climate was fairly mild, the mesquite, cactus and other prickly vegetation was at an all-time zero, and wearing them all day just seemed to drag me down as I saddled and caught colts all day. I used them when I showed, or branded calves, or when it was unusually damp weather.
But our move five years ago certainly converted me. The move to Texas brought with it chilly winds in the fall and winter, unpredictable terrain, longer days in the saddle, and a need for another functional layer. We started accumulating pairs of chaps, trading and ordering, until we both gathered a nice range of leggin’s to choose from.
Because yes, that first cool morning, when maybe a leaf or two has fallen and our horses are all looking for the slightest excuse to kick up their heels, we dig around a bit in our tack room and step right on into our favorite pair of leggins. And I’m confident that riders, cowboys and trainers all across the states do the same. Some are fancy, and some are very basic. The style, length and shape can vary greatly due to region, needs and personal preference. However, each and every pair boasts the same benefits: basic warmth, leg protection, durability and sometimes a little much-needed extra stickiness when sitting in the middle of a saddle on a fresh colt.
One of the best parts about chaps is that they don’t have to be purely functional. Leather comes in all different colors, fringe is a great accessory, and they offer a great canvas to adorn brands, tooled tops and silver conchos. They are usually custom made for the wearer and come with all sorts of options, from the basic, knee length chinks for warmer temps and more mobility to the ornate and flashy buck-stitched batwings a lot of working cowboys wear.
They make our pants last longer, our chilly days more pleasant, and tricky terrain or situations horseback a little easier to navigate. They’ve got different names, lengths, options and styles, but no matter the type, they are an essential and wonderful part of a cowboy’s or horseman’s gear.
And as Luke and I close in on eight winters of marital co-working, the battle that has been fought since our first winter together has finally come to a close. I’m proud to say that there’s no longer a single pair of dirty, odiferous leggins hanging on the coat rack in my home.