Tapaderos (also known as taps) are covers or hoods for the front of the stirrups. Taps developed out of the mexican tradition and had very utilitarian purposes. They would:
While tapadaros started out with a very real function, they soon developed into highly decorated and ornamental pieces. Elaborate tooling, silverwork, lacing and strings were all very common. Standard taps would extend around eight inches below the stirrup, but some extended as long as 28 inches to provide a dramatic and eye-catching look. At that length, the weight and balance of the saddle was actually impacted.
A number of different styles of tapadaros developed over time with creative names given to match their appearance - bulldog, monkey-nose, shield, eagle beak, monkey face.
Tapaderos are traditionally made of heavy skirting leather, but today you'll also find nylon models available, most often marketed as hooded stirrups. Tapaderos are usually sold with the stirrups included and attached.
Today tapadaros can still be found on many old style saddles. While they continue to have a role to play, riders choose them as often for style as for function.