As an aspiring horsewoman and professional horseback vacation provider, little things come to my attention every so often that manifest into rather monumental revelations. Take boots for instance and what the definition of that word encompasses. For the purposes of horseback riding, I’m going to discuss RIDING BOOTS here.
In spite of all the technology and marketing the major boot manufacturers of the world have pummeled the consumer with in recent years, much of what is being touted as a “riding boot” in the marketplace is anything but. I think if we are sincere in our efforts to be better riders, and sincere in our horsemanship, we owe it to the horse and our own safety to equip ourselves properly and the choice of boots for riding makes a big difference toward that end. Many of today’s so-called “riding boots” are designed more for the comfort and ease of the human while on the ground than to have a sensitive feel in the stirrups or the irons. It is our belief that a true riding boot has these characteristics:
a) A smooth, slick sole that is thin and will allow your foot to actually feel the stirrup through the bottom of your boot. Leather soles are the only sole material that affords this feel and lets your foot actually grip the bottom of the stirrup or iron. Soles that are made of composite materials or have any “stickiness” to them, or any kind of traction-type pattern not only elevate the foot away from the stirrup, but they are too “tacky” and can prevent you from sliding a foot out of the stirrup in a hurry if necessary. HOWEVER, it is really hard to find leather sole boots off the rack, so if you have to get a composite sole, make sure they are smooth, with no traction lugs at all.
b) A definitive heel that is separated from the forward sole of the boot. This is especially important to reduce the chance of the foot going too far into the stirrup and getting wedged or even worse, going completely through. If your heel isn’t slightly elevated from the ground and there is no daylight showing between the boot heel and the ball of your foot when you look at the boot from the side, then the boot is not designed for riding. Of course, proper stirrup size enters into this equation as well.
c) The boots fit properly on your feet and are “broken in”. Some of us have feet that do not comply with to the standard shoe/boot sizes that are available “off the shelf.” Many things affect the shape of our feet, i.e. bunions, low or high arches, width, etc. If you have feet with unusual characteristics, you may need to have good riding boots custom-made to accommodate those issues. Of course they will cost more, however a quality pair of custom-made riding boots should fit your feet comfortably and properly, and they will last many years if taken care of. Once you have a pair of boots that fit properly, you will have to go through a little suffering to break them in, probably having to walk and ride in them to get them conformed and softened to your feet, but this is true with any boot and getting them broken in gradually is better than jumping right into a 25 mile ride in brand-new, stiff boots and ending up with blisters.
d) Proper riding boots probably won’t be the most comfortable boots to walk in for any distance. And if that’s the case, your riding boots are probably just right for riding. Riding and walking are two totally separate endeavors for us as humans and footwear that is correct for one is not correct for the other. We have to choose what is right for our horse and our safety while mounted, above what we may have to do on the ground on our own feet, so walking comfort for the human takes a backseat to what’s required when we are riding. If you’re going to walk, get a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots; if you are going to ride, you gotta have riding boots and the two are mutually exclusive. We keep our riding boots in the tack trailer and put them on just before we catch our horses and saddle, so we don’t have to do much walking in them. When we get in from a ride, we put our “walkin’ shoes” on after we’ve turned the horses out.
The other question to be answered here is lace-ups vs. regular boot tops. There are advantages, in my opinion, to the lace-up option in that they offer more ankle support which some of us need, and they are more accommodating to those of us whose calves are larger than what many regular boot tops are sized for. Only you can decide what your needs may be on this one.
That’s our take on riding boots. How much money you spend and the brand name you choose are not as important as the features we recommend here, whether you are riding in English or Western boots. Don’t get caught up in the hype or the techno-jive; choose what helps you to be safe in the saddle and be more attuned to your horse.