For a number of very good reasons, good quality riding boots are essential items in every equestrian wardrobe. But there are boots, and then there are boots – so which ones to buy? AMANDA MAC explores some of the many options.
Did you know that the human foot is an intricate structure comprised of around 26 bones, 33 joints and more than one hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons? And that’s before you get above the ankle. That’s right, your feet, which up to this point you might have been taking for granted, are So it quickly becomes apparent that one of the foremost, and arguably the most important reasons for wearing purpose-built equestrian boots, is protection – those delicate bones and joints are no match for several hundred kilograms of horse!
First things first
But before you dust off your credit card in preparation for a little retail therapy, you need to think very carefully about what it is you actually need. Good quality riding boots – and yes, your boots should be the very best quality you can afford – are not cheap, but in terms of longevity they’ll more than earn their keep. So choose well!
Obviously the boots you buy should suit your discipline (are you into English or Western, dressage or cross country, hacking or competition), they should be well made, sturdy, and an excellent fit. If your boots aren’t a good match for the shape and size of your foot, they’ll be uncomfortable and that can create an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction while you’re in the saddle. Your painfully pinched toes should not be foremost in your mind as you ride a dressage test!
Getting to the sole of the matter
Paddock or Jodhpur Boots: These are your general use short boots that are suitable for riding, as well as all those other around the yard tasks: cleaning out stables, washing down horses, grooming, feeding and so on. Trailrace offer an all-purpose boot that’s a great example of a design you can wear all day long and yet be as comfortable at the end of the day as you were at the beginning. And who doesn’t want that?
If an all-purpose design appeals, look for a boot with a toe guard for protection (remember those 100 kilogram hooves?) as well as for scuff-preventing longevity. A padded ankle collar is a comfort-plus option and while waterproofing isn’t strictly necessary (unless you’re living in a very wet climate) water resistant uppers are a definite bonus. Look for an inner sole that will cushion your foot, and a moisture wicking lining is a top idea. And remember to check the zip or laces to ensure they’re good quality and are likely to last the distance.
On the other hand, if you’d prefer to go with a more traditional Jodhpur boot, there are plenty of options to choose from. For elastic sided boots, ensure that they’re comfortable and fit snugly around the ankle without gaping. You don’t like the idea of elasticated sides? No problem – you’ll find styles that sport back zippers, front laces, and shock absorbing soles, an additional layer of protection for your feet and back.
The sole of the boot you choose should not have too much grip – you don’t want your foot getting stuck in your stirrup – and the uppers should be made with good quality leather preferably cut in once piece, thus reducing the necessity for lots of seams. And for the younger riders in the family, there’s a range of snappy zipper boots that come in a variety of cute colours.
What if you can’t find your dream Jodhpur boot? Don’t despair! Ashbree Saddlery offer the completely customisable DeNiro boot. You can mix ‘n’ match from a wide range of options including the fit, colour, leather type, and sole, and choose whether they are lace up, zippered or elastic sided – and that’s just for starters!
Gaiters & Half Chaps: What are they? Both are an alternative to long boots. Worn with short boots, they wrap around a rider’s lower leg to provide additional protection, and both allow for more ankle movement than tall boots. But there is a difference. Half-chaps are essentially your everyday leg wraps. Usually made from swede or synthetics, they fasten with studs or a zipper on the ankle side of the leg, and are also known as chaps, chappettes and chinks. Gaiters, on the other hand, are generally made from grain leather and zip up at the back. Some equestrian sports allow gaiters to be worn in competition, but draw the line at chaps. That said, you must check your discipline’s governing body rule book for clarification. For example, under Equestrian Australia’s 2020 National Dressage Rules, gaiters can be worn with approved short boots ‘up to and including Advanced (including YH events) with short coat only.’ Several other conditions regarding the gaiter’s colour, style and type of leather follow – so we’ll say it again, check the rule book!
Long Boots: Long boots, also known as top boots are de rigueur for English style events including dressage, show jumping, and of course, the show ring. They sit just below the bend of the knee, and protect the rider’s ankle and calf from chaffing against the saddle. For everyday riding, softer leather is very comfortable and will break in more quickly.
If you’re into show jumping you’ll also appreciate soft leather, which offers great flexibility when riding with a shorter stirrup. However, if you show your horses or you’re a dressage rider, look for boots made from firmer, good quality leather. This type of leather shines up well, which is ideal in the arena or ring. You’ll also have confidence that your boots are going to stay up and in place – one less thing to worry about!
And why not opt for something a little special in your choice of long boot: patent leather borders, the sparkle of Swarovski crystal detailing, silver piping, contrasting brushed leather tops – the options are as stylish as they are on trend.
Some long boots lace up at the front to allow for a more adjustable fit without the need to have your boots custom made. Others have a zip at the back of the boot, making getting your boots on and off a much easier proposition (but do check to see that the zip is sturdy and not likely to break).
On the subject of fitting your long boots, if you buy in store you’ll have the advantage of expert help in finding the calf size and length of boot that suits you. When buying on line, look for a retailer whose site includes detailed instructions on measuring your leg – then you’ll have a much better chance of ordering a boot that fits you well.
If you love the look of leather, but you’re on a tight budget, you may want to consider a pair of synthetic leather boots for everyday riding. While they break in easily and allow for plenty of stretch, keep in mind that they will not last as long as genuine leather boots.
Western Boots: Finding a western style boot that is comfortable and fits you well is important as they don’t have zips, laces or any other feature that might make them more flexible in their fit, or in their ease of putting on and taking off.
Traditionally made of smooth cowhide, suede is another popular option and the more expensive designs may include uppers made from alligator or snakeskin.
When determining which Western boots are right for you, consider whether you need the boots for casual riding or the show ring. Casual riders should consider a mid-calf length boot, while many show riders opt for a square toe style with higher heels.
The main things to look for in a Western boot is the quality of the leather and stitching, both of which should be strong and well able to withstand a life of hard work! Plus, you’ll probably want a sole that gives you plenty of grip. Other than that, your options are just about limitless. Western boot design and style options include intricately patterned stitching, hole punch designs, different heel types, and multiple coloured leathers – and they’re just some of your options!
In the final analysis
The last word on boots? They should be comfortable, well-made, fit for purpose and the best quality your budget will allow. And always check the rules governing your discipline to be sure that if competing, your boots comply. The pair you’re thinking of purchasing may be beautiful, but if they don’t meet competition guidelines, you might be about to make an expensive mistake!