Dear Jessica, This question might be too trivial for HORSE-SENSE, but I hope not because I really need some of your wisdom here. My husband and I and my sister and brother-in-law are all planning to take a dude ranch vacation in August. We are really excited about it, even more so because we just found out that my brother and his wife will be coming with us. They live in England. He was in the Army and got posted there and met her and got married and hasn't been back to the USA in almost five years now. Anyway Mary (my brother's wife) has done some English riding, and I have too, but nobody else in the group has done any riding at all. So here we are planning to spend ten days on a ranch in Colorado riding Western! I found some of your advice about getting ready for a vacation like this by taking lessons, and we are already doing that, so I think we'll be okay for our riding skills. The ranch owner says that he has a whole corral full of "babysitter" horses and we shouldn't worry as long as we don't get sore. So that brings me finally to my question, about riding jeans. I know better than to go out West with English britches and boots. We are all going to get some jeans so that we can feel Western (don't worry we will take our helmets, we're not stupid) and I want to know what you can tell us about different kinds of jeans and what kinds are best for riding. Are the ones in the tack catalogs worth the money or are they just regular jeans with little horse tags on them? We want to be comfortable on our special vacation, please help us have a good time! Kate
Now, about the jeans. First, you could show up in breeches and boots if you wanted to - I'm sure that nobody would turn a hair. Most dude ranches have seen much stranger outfits. And there is a good bit of English riding - and polo - in Colorado, so nobody is likely to point and giggle. If you have comfy boots and breeches, by all means take them along.
Jeans designed for riding ARE different. Ordinary jeans usually have their heavy seams along the inside of the legs, and their smooth seams on the outside. That's fine for streetwear, but not very practical for riding. The currently-fashionable wide-legged jeans, and those with low rises, are also fine for streetwear and totally impractical, not to mention UNCOMFORTABLE, in the saddle. You don't want your jeans to have seams on the inside of the thigh - you also don't want them to make big baggy wrinkles in the upper calf and knee area. Wrinkles there can rub enough to cause nasty sores by the end of a long ride. Look for "cowboy cut" or "boot leg" jeans - "relaxed fit" is fine, but no baggies or bell-bottoms, please.
If you have any doubts about the fit of your jeans, or if you have sensitive skin, jeans that you know to have unsuitable seams, or jeans that are too loose in the leg, consider wearing pantyhose or tights or leggings underneath. This goes for you, your sister, your sister-in-law.... AND all the men in the group. Reassure them that nobody will SEE the pantyhose or tights under their jeans - men are funny about that - but really, this can make all the difference between a comfortable and an uncomfortable ride. Ask the men who ride in endurance competitions - they wear tights.
Wrangler jeans are ideally suited for riding - they have high pockets, and the heavy seam is on the outside of the leg where it's much less likely to cause painful chafing. Try them on, and if you're shopping in a tack store, there may be a saddle or saddle stand you can sit on to check the jeans for fit. ASK FIRST before you sit on ANYTHING, though - only a few specialty saddle stands can take the weight of a human. Most are built to hold a saddle - just a saddle -not a saddle with anyone SITTING on it. Failing to ask can land you - literally - on the floor in a hurry - and it tends to upset the store staff.
A little extra length can be useful - you may want to buy jeans with an inseam slightly longer than you would usually select. Jeans that are just a little bit too long when you're standing on the ground, and sag a little under the calf, will be just the right length when you're in the saddle. Put a chair near the mirror, put one foot up onto the chair, bend your knee and let your heel drop as though your foot was in the stirrup, and you'll see that those too-long jeans are suddenly just right.
There are all sorts of riding jeans, including tighter ones made from stretch denim. The stretch can be helpful, but if you buy stretch jeans, do NOT take the opportunity to squeeze into the smallest possible size. For one thing, you'll use up all the stretch just getting INTO the jeans. For another, you'll turn your legs into tight round sausages that can't relax comfortably and go flat against the saddle or the horse's sides, and you'll be uncomfortable the entire time you're in the saddle. Instead, buy your usual size, and let the stretch make mounting and dismounting easier. ;-) This goes for the men, too - if you catch your husband trying to pack the too-small, too-tight jeans that fit him ten years ago, march him down to the nearest tack shop and find him some Wranglers that fit. NO riding vacation can be fun if your clothes cause you pain.
Choose your underwear carefully, too. You'll find some information about that in the HORSE-SENSE archives; it's an important topic.
Speaking of underwear, I advise against thongs. One of my students tried riding in a thong once - what price vanity? she wanted to eliminate the dreaded Panty Line under her breeches. She came back the next day and said (among other things that I cannot repeat here) NEVER AGAIN, and also mentioned, with utter loathing, a term I hadn't heard before: BUTT-FLOSS. Enough said.
Have a great holiday - how nice to have a family outing on horseback, in beautiful Colorado. Send me a postcard!
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