Going Horseback Riding

So you have signed up for horseback riding lessons or perhaps you’re going on a dude ranch vacation? Your next question is, what to wear? The simple response is jeans and boots with heels. Certainly you have heard that before.

There are two basic styles of horseback riding attire. 

English dress and western dress. They both provide the same end result, riding comfort, protection and safety. However, they are very different stylistically. Your chosen style sends a big message to the rest of the world on your fundamental view of horses and culture. What you really need is riding attire that is comfortable, protective and fits within your style budget.

If you are already a rider, you will most likely have an assortment of clothes to suite your needs. If you do not regularly frequent the back of a horse, what to wear becomes a bigger question. 

The basic requirement for horseback riding at a dude ranch is jeans and boots with heels, at least a 1” heal, is required. This works most of the time. Helmets are optional but cowboy hats have been standard issue from the beginning of cowboys. I do recommend wearing a helmet. Once you find yourself spending longer days in the saddle or doing extended stretches of trotting and cantering you may find some discomfort going on with the basic jeans and boots attire.

Jeans & Boots When Horseback Riding

The problem with jeans is that, by themselves, they don’t stay in place very well. Especially if you advance from the walk, it is common to develop chafing sores. Stretch jeans are better but still have “creep” issues; this is the pant creeping up the leg exposing the calf. Pant “creep” also causes the rider to continuously reach to pull the pant leg down. Dealing with chaffing and creeping pants is not good and really takes away from the riding experience.

Improving upon jeans would be to wear full length leather chaps. Chaps are usually fitted a little snug and really help keep your jeans stationary. The leather has an adhesive quality; improving your “stick” to the saddle and feel of the horse as well. When riding through brush, the leather protects your legs from scuffs, punctures or tears. Just look at a picture of any cowboy in action. They’re wearing chaps. The main problem with chaps is that they are expensive. It’s difficult to justify purchasing chaps for just a single riding vacation. However, you can use them for other activities such as motorcycling or just working around rough material, and they look sexy. Purchasing chaps is most likely still hard to justify. Another option is to wear half chaps with your jeans. Half-chaps work like a tall snug fitting boot. Jeans are secure underneath the tight fit of half-chaps. In turn, Eliminating pant creep and improving leg “stick” and feel of the horse. Half-chaps are more affordable and cross nicely between riding disciplines; however, they don’t have much practicality outside of horseback riding. 

English Riding Apparel

Perhaps western riding is not your style and you've signed up for english riding lessons. The typical attire for English riding is wearing riding breaches, tall leather boots and a helmet. Once again you are faced with an attire investment. Unlike jeans, riding breaches are comfortable from the start and do no have “creep” or chaffing issues. All breaches have a stretch quality and have a very tailored fit all the way down the lower leg. This eliminates “creep” issues. Most breaches have protective knee patches too, helping to eliminate chaffing problems. Wearing tall leather boots with breaches not only improves rider comfort but also encourage proper leg position while riding. Well fitted tall boots do not “catch” on the saddle skirt either. Although breaches and boots are the preferred English riding attire, it’s a big gear commitment. Especially considering they have no other practical use beyond riding. You can cross over into western riding with this dress, but you will get an onslaught of comments. There really is no other use; not something that you wear to the bar or chop firewood in. 


A reasonable compromise for the beginner or intermediate rider would be to go with stretch jean, or a heavy athletic type tight accompanied with a half chap or a tall somewhat fitted boot. This combination crosses over nicely to either English or western style riding. Or, sticking with jeans is easy, something you already own. Use a boot that not only has a short heel but possibly provides some calf protection and helps to keep jeans from creeping. Having decent riding apparel will really improve your overall horseback riding experience. You may even be inspired to become more of a rider when properly dressed.