Chaps vs Chinks for Western Displines

By Abigail Boatwright with Tara Matsler for Ranch Horse Journal 

Horsemen have worn leather leggings for generations, dating back to the Spanish Moors. While shotgun and batwing chaps are popular among cowboys, chinks are a variation gaining in popularity. Today, these shorter cowboy leggings can be seen at many working ranches, in versatility classes and even in working cow horse in some regions. 

Leather experts Jack Gully of Newell, South Dakota, and Joey Jemison of Weatherford, Texas, share their thoughts on the diminutive leg protection.

“In the 1970s and ’80s, I didn’t see many pairs of chinks on cowboys in Texas,” Joey says. “On the big ranches like the Pitchfork or the Four Sixes, Waggoner or King Ranch – all the cowboys wore shotguns.” 

Joey says he’s seen a lot of cutting horse trainers in Weatherford wear chinks at home, and they show in shotgun or batwing chaps. And chinks certainly are a popular choice in the ranch riding show arena. 

“The chink has kind of found a niche here with working cowboys and with horse trainers in general,” Joey says. “And on those big ranches, I’m seeing the younger guys wearing chinks now.”

Here are six facts about chinks:

  1. It is thought that chinks descended from the Spanish vaquero leg covering known as armitas, which means “little armor.” Armitas look very similar to chinks, with the leather encasing the leg from the waist to below the knee, and fringe along the edge and beyond the knee. 
  2. However, unlike chinks, armitas are made of a softer material, and don’t have any hardware – with just a flap of soft leather around the waist to secure it in place. 
  3. The name “chinks” could be descended from chinkaderos, which originally referred to armitas.
  4. Chinks used to be mainly popular in the Southwest, California and Nevada, say Jack and Joey, where cowboys referred to themselves as “buckaroos,” but today chinks are seen quite often all over the West and in Texas. 
  5. Both chaps and chinks provide protection from brush and the elements, while offering additional grip in the saddle. But chinks have several benefits over shotgun chaps, especially in warmer climates. 
  6. Chinks are handy if you need to get down on the ground to work, our experts say, such as during brandings, working in a feedlot or doctoring calves. Their length is perfect to keep your knees protected during such tasks, yet not too long that they inhibit movement
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