Wearing half chaps or tall boots is usually a personal choice, though they do serve very particular functions in addition to being traditional for certain riding activities. With the huge variety available, if you do choose to wear them, the tall boots or half chaps you pick will be largely based on personal preference.
Half chaps are a leg piece worn over a pair of paddock boots that go up to the knee. They can be worn as an alternative to tall boots, and are easier to fit than full chaps, making them an attractive option for many riders. They can be made of suede (check out the Tredstep Extreme Suede Half Chaps), leather, synthetic material (like the machine washable Dublin Easy Care Half Chaps) or a combination. Solid leather half chaps are the most expensive option, but many are now made to be worn with matching paddock boots to give the appearance of tall boots while being easier to fit for riders who have trouble fitting into a standard size (for a tall boot look, check out the Ariat Close Contact Half Chap).
Many riders use half chaps for everyday schooling, finding that they prevent rubs and chaffing from the stirrup leathers and help provide extra grip on the saddle. While most riders should be able to find half chaps off the rack to fit, custom half chaps can also be ordered. Off the rack half chaps are a much cheaper option than most tall boots, and are typically worn with paddock boots of the same color.
Tall boots are worn largely for tradition, but have the added benefit of creating a polished look and providing extra grip on the saddle. There are tall boots available in all price ranges, from all-weather synthetic boots (like the Equistar All Weather Field Boot) to fully custom luxurious leather, and all qualities of leather and craftsmanship in between. Some brands provide more options for fit than others, such as slim and wide calves and short and tall heights (like the Mountain Horse Firenze Dress Boot).
A recent addition to tall boots has been the development of a zipper, usually located on the back of the boot. Boots without a zipper have pull tabs on the inside, and you must usually use hooks called boot pulls to pull them on (like the Devon Aire Ladies Dress Boot). Zip up boots are typically much easier and quicker to get on and off, but the zippers usually wear out eventually and need to be replaced. Special extra-thin socks were developed to helps boots slide on and off easier, the most popular brand being Zocks by Ovation, although many brands have their own version.
There are two types of tall boots: dress boots and field boots. Field boots have the added adjustment of laces on the front of the boot, while dress boots are plain and generally have a more square toe. At the lower levels of any discipline, whether you wear dress or field boots is not terribly important. Traditionally, however (in the most general sense), dress boots are worn for flatwork and dressage (like the Ariat Tempo Dressage Boot), while field boots are worn for jumping.
The newest feature to come to the tall boot market is that of adjustable laces up the side of the boot, allowing for a completely custom feel on your calf, like the Ariat Volant (and they are waterproof!). Another recent addition to the tall boot family is the insulated winter tall boot, like the Ariat Bromont (they are waterproof too!), so you can look good without sacrificing comfort.
When purchasing tall boots, most will start out very stiff and even uncomfortable, being too tall and pressing into the back of your knees. Most will break in around the ankle, causing the height of the boot to “drop” (also known as “breaking down”) about two inches. It may help to wear heel risers to keep the boots out of the back of your knees until the boots break down a little, although everyone has their own tips, tricks, and suggestions for the best way to break in tall boots.