Horseback Riding Pants: What’s Okay To Wear & What To Avoid

If you’re new to horseback riding then you might be wondering what pants are the best and whether or not you really need to shell out for an expensive pair of breeches or jodhpurs. After all, if you’re only starting out you don’t yet know if you’re ready to financially invest in your new hobby so what are the alternatives? In this article we’ll look at pants that have been designed specifically for horse riding as well as what your other options are (and what you should avoid).

What are the best pants for horseback riding? Pants such as breeches, jodhpurs, and riding tights have been designed specifically for horseback riding so are the best. Jeans are also a popular choice, especially amongst Western riders. Baggy, loose-fitting pants should be avoided though, as should those with a low waistband.

Not all pants are made equal (at least when it comes to horseback riding) and some are definitely better than others so let’s look at what makes pants suitable for use in the saddle.

What makes pants suitable for horseback riding?

Even if you only ride in a lesson once a week you still want to be wearing pants that are comfortable and allow you to move freely. Anything too tight will very quickly become restrictive while if they’re excessively baggy they’ll end up pinching your legs, especially if you ride English style.

Comfort isn’t the only deciding factor in determining what makes pants suitable for horseback riding, they should also be breathable and stretchy. When it comes to the material they should either be made of a grippy non-slip material or have patches (typically around the knee and thighs) that give you a certain amount of grip when you’re in the saddle.

If you want to enter a competition or show then there will almost definitely be a strict dress code prohibiting you from anything except breeches or jodhpurs.

If you want to compete you'll have to wear breeches or jodhpurs

What makes pants unsuitable for horseback riding?

As I’ve already mentioned you shouldn’t wear baggy, loose-fitting pants, ideally you should avoid ‘loud’ materials too. I know that might sound like an odd thing to say but what I mean by that is if your pants are made of something like PVC they may make a rustling sound which could scare a nervous horse.

You should also avoid pants with an inseam or at least make sure it’s flat, otherwise you’ll find your legs being rubbed a lot which can get pretty painful over time. I know this from experience, when I was first starting out I wore totally the wrong pair of pants, they rubbed so much I was in tears by the end o the less. Okay so maybe I was a bit of a baby at that age but inseams will rub more than you realize.

Do I have to wear special pants when horseback riding?

In an ideal world, you should wear pants that have been designed with horseback riding in mind, they’ll be the most comfortable as well as better suited to the job but as I say that’s in an ideal world. If you’re new to horseback riding or are on a budget then you don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of one on a pair of pants that only have one purpose in mind.

Convenience may also play a part in deciding what pants to wear. If you’re pushed for time you don’t necessarily want to have to change your pants before and after your ride. With this in mind, no you don’t have to wear special pants for horseback riding. As long as they are comfortable, allow you to move freely, give you some grip, and don’t have an inseam or cutouts you can wear most pants for riding.

Are breeches, jodhpurs, or riding tights best?

If you’ve decided to invest in a pair of ‘riding’ pants you’ll be spoilt for choice and may be wondering which ones are the best, breeches, jodhpurs, or riding tights. While there might not be a huge amount of difference between breeches and jodhpurs there are some key differences, then, of course, there’s the new kid on the block, riding tights. But which is best?

Breeches

Breeches are mid-calf length pants that have been designed especially for horseback riding and are often the preferred choice in the show ring but what makes them so good?

The pros of breeches are:

  • Comfortable and don’t have inseams so won’t pinch or chaff
  • Thinner material (compared to jeans) means you’re closer to the horse
  • Are stretchy so will allow you to have a full range of movement
  • Quick drying and will wick sweat and water away quickly
  • Have patches to give your a better grip in the saddle
  • Available in a range of materials so are suitable for summer and winter

But what are the drawbacks to breeches? The cons of breeches are:

  • Can’t wear them with short riding boots
  • Can be expensive, up to $450
  • Can’t wear them away from the barn
Breeches and jodhpurs are the best choice for horseback riding

Jodhpurs

The main difference between breeches and jodhpur is that jodhpurs aren’t mid-calf in length and actually go right down to the ankle. With prices going up to $200 they are a lot cheaper than breeches but what other benefits do they have?

The pros of jodhpurs are:

  • Comfortable design that allows for freedom of movement
  • Designed to allow you to be in closer contact with the horse
  • Don’t have an inseam and aren’t baggy or loose-fitting
  • Non-slip patches help to give you grip in the saddle
  • Can be worn with tall riding boots or jodhpur short boots
  • Breathable material allows sweat and water to be wicked away
  • Can be worn in the winter or summer (depending on the material)

What about the drawbacks though? Some of the cons of jodhpurs are:

  • $200 is a lot of money so they’re still expensive
  • Can get hot if you wear them all day or on long rides
  • Not suitable for use away from the barn

Riding tights

Sometimes referred to as yoga pants, riding tights are relatively new on the equestrian scene and have become hugely popular in a very short period of time, but are they worth the hype?

The pros of riding tights are:

  • Pull-on style makes them easy (and quick) to put on
  • Stretchy material allows you to move freely
  • Thin material means you’ll feel very close to the horse
  • Designed for horseback riding so are comfortable
  • Have a cell phone pocket (a must-have if you trail a lot)
  • Fashionable so can be worn away from the barn too

They can’t be all good, can they? The cons of riding tights are:

  • Thin material means they’ll wear out quickly
  • Material is too thin to wear in the winter
  • Not suitable for most competitions 
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Are jeans okay for horseback riding?

If you’re not going to wear pants designed for horseback riding then jeans are the most popular choice but does that mean they’re suitable? To some extent, it depends on the jeans themselves as well as the style of riding you’re doing. 

If you’re riding Western style then absolutely! Not only are they a great option (and in many cases the best) they’re the preferred choice of most (if not all) riders, even over breeches and jodhpurs. While their durability and convenience certainly play a role, it’s the protection they offer your legs (from making it harder for insects to bite to protecting your legs from branches while on a trail) that has secured their place on the top spot. 

If, on the other hand, you ride English style then jeans are suitable and do make a good alternative to breeches but they do have their drawbacks. To start with jeans tend to have inseams so will rub against you if your riding for a long time, that said though wearing tall boots can help to negate some of this. Due to the design of an English saddle (and in particular the stirrup leathers), the jeans may pinch as well.

Not sure whether Western or English style is best? What’s the difference between Western and English?

Regardless of whether you ride Western or English style, one thing you need to keep in mind is that denim isn’t known for it’s waterproofing capabilities. In fact, they’re one of the worst things to wear in the pouring rain, something that I can definitely testify to. When I was really young my brother was riding in jeans and got very wet, after the ride we had to walk a long way home and he ended up getting pneumonia. I know this is an extreme case but if you do ride in jeans I’d recommend you’ve got something to change into.

Most Western riders will wear jeans

The pro of riding in jeans are:

  • Much cheaper than breeches or jodhpurs
  • Can be worn for riding, work, casually, at home, etc
  • More fashionable that specialist riding pants

The cons of riding in jeans are:

  • Not as flexible, and won’t give as much grip
  • Can be hot in the summer
  • Hold onto water and take a long time to dry
  • Will rub and pinch if you ride English style

If you do decide to ride in jeans then make sure they’re not too tight and have a mid to high waistband. Jeans that are too tight will quickly become restrictive while low-cut jeans will move down and can lead to some very embarrassing situations.

Are leggings okay for horseback riding?

Yes of course you can ride in leggings but 9 times out of 10 you shouldn’t. They’re breathable and flexible and are tight fitting so won’t pinch your legs but their main downside is that they’re extremely thin. While this might make them a tempting choice in the hot summer months it won’t offer you any protection. Most leggings don’t give you any grip either which isn’t good, especially for new riders.

That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t ride in them though. If you’re riding on a hot day and are going to be working in an arena with no chance of being ‘attacked’ by branches and have a soft ground then leggings aren’t a bad option.

Leggings aren't suitable for horseback riding

The pros of horseback riding in leggings:

  • Allow you to move freely
  • Very cheap
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Breathable

The cons of horseback riding in leggings:

  • Too thin for winter riding
  • Offer no grip in the saddle
  • No protection if you fall

Are sweatpants okay for horseback riding?

If you don’t have any jeans and don’t want to pay a lot of money for breeches or jodhpurs I still wouldn’t recommend riding in sweatpants. While they might be comfortable they’ll offer no grip or protection at all. They’re also baggy so can pinch you if you’re riding English style but worse than that, they can get caught in the tack which could be dangerous if you were to fall.

You can use them for short rides if you don’t have anything else suitable but, to be honest, I think you’d be far better off investing in a pair of jeans instead.

Are shorts okay for horseback riding?

We’ve all been there, the weather’s hot, we’re off for a short beach ride or plan to ride bareback so decide to leave our shorts on which is okay but it’s not ideal. While shorts obviously aren’t going to pinch or rub they won’t be able to protect your legs against being pinched either. This obviously isn’t going to be such an issue if you’re riding Western style but it can be a real pain if you use an English saddle. Believe me, I’ve tried and the stirrup leathers really do pinch and rub.

Like sweatpants, shorts won’t protect your legs either, nor will they provide you with any grip at all.

Have you thought about what footwear is suitable? Can I ride in sneakers?

Summary

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on expensive breeches or jodhpurs then riding tights or jeans are a good alternative. Their cost is relatively low and they offer you a good level of protection. Baggy pants as well as those with inseams should be avoid though if you can help it.

Shorts, on the other hand, can be used but only in certain circumstances and for short periods of time.


I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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