Most athletes and workers wear proper footwear for their job. It’s just as important to wear proper footwear when working around and riding horses. Good boots or shoes help protect your feet if they get stepped on, and help prevent your foot from sliding through the stirrup should you fall off your horse when riding. Flip-flops, high heels, sandals, clogs, garden shoes like Crocs, and canvas running shoes have no place in the barn. Even rubber boots don’t provide a lot of protection, although they do come in handy when the weather is wet, or you’re mucking out stalls. When you’re choosing any type of gear, including footwear, always think ‘safety first’.
What Not to Wear
Boots made especially for riding come in several different styles. Whatever style you choose, any riding boot should have a small tread and a heel that is about 1 inch (2.5cm) to 1 ½ inch high. This will help prevent your boot from slipping through the stirrup. Boots with thick or heavy treads, like hiking boots or snow boots are unsuitable for riding, although they may be suitable for working in the stable. These boots tend to be wide, with a big boxy toe, which means they may get caught on the sides of the stirrup. They also have a lot of grip, which is good while you're hiking but will make it harder to slide your foot in and out of the stirrup.
Western Boot Styles
Whether you choose an English or western style boot is up to you. Western boots traditionally tend to have a slightly higher heel than English. Some western-style boots have crepe soles, which may not slide out of the stirrup easily. You can also find ankle height boots. This might be more comfortable if you wish to ride in half chaps. But all will provide you with good stability and protection.
Many of the more inexpensive boots are made with either the upper or lowers, or both made of vinyl. This may be less comfortable for your feet and may break down faster than a good pair of leather boots, which can be repaired. They may not breathe like leather, but they are easier to clean up if they get soiled.
Packers have become very popular and besides looking smart, they’re great for every-day barn wear as well as walking. They are sturdy and provide support for riding while not being as cumbersome as some English boots.
English Boot Styles
English boots come in several different styles as well. Traditional dress boots; those tall black boots we see in old British hunting scenes are still common in the dressage ring and in eventing and really are correct in almost any English discipline. Some backyard riders and trail riders find that a comfortable pair of tall boots is good protection and support for every day. Other’s find them too hot and cumbersome. Field boots look like dress boots but have a lace-up over the instep. These are worn in the hunter show ring and are more comfortable if you have a foot with a high instep. The lace makes it a little easier to get in and out.
Both types of tall boots may or may not have a zipper up the back so they’re easier to get in and out of. If you find a perfect pair of new or used boots, but they are difficult to put on, it is possible to have zippers put in or replaced if they get worn.
Jodphur or paddock boots are English styles of riding boots that only go up the ankle. They are often worn by children in the show ring, with jodhpurs and leather gaiters, straps that go around the calf just below the knee to prevent the jodhpurs from bunching up the leg. Many adults, wear these, with or without half-chaps for everyday riding. A good pair will be comfortable for wearing around the barn, although you may not want to use leather boots for stall mucking. Jodhpur boots come in pull-on, zipper, or laced styles. Some people prefer the zipper style because they’re quick to put on and take off, but feet with high arches can feel cramped in the zipper or pull-on styles.
Running Shoe Styles
Running shoe style boots are available for those who like a casual look that is both comfortable and durable, and doesn’t require the care leather does. They were as comfy as running shoes, with a little extra support in the sole and ankle. They are in fact the perfect thing if you’re into a sport like ride ‘n’ tie that requires you to do a bit of running. Many long-distance trail riders wear these.
All of these boots come in different materials from cotton canvas and synthetics to leather. Of course, leather boots tend to be much more expensive and require more care. The better quality the leather and better the construction, the more comfortable and the more expensive the boot will be. Try on a pair of $500 boots, compared to the $100 boots, and you’ll quickly feel the difference in comfort and support. A good pair of boots is an investment, and with good care, should outlast the cheaper version by many, many years. You can’t deny the feel of good-quality boots, so if new boots are out of reach, comb consignment shops and want-ads for used boots you can afford.
Both English and western-style boots come in synthetic materials. The main problem with rubber riding boots is that they heat up, hold the moisture and can be really hard to get off, holding like a suction cup to your legs. They’re great though when the weather is wet, or if you’re only riding in a few small shows and don’t want to part with the cost of leather boots.
Many riders have two or more pairs of boots, depending on how they ride. If you’re planning on showing, you will probably need to have separate boots for at home and at the competition. Of course, every discipline requires a different pair of boots, so if you plan to show English and western, you’ll probably need both types of boots. Winter riding means you may need a pair of lined riding boots to keep your feet warm. You may also find polo boots or tall boots with a black or brown cuff at the top. These are fine, as long as they are safe and comfortable.
You may have something in your closet that will work just fine, without the expense of buying boots made specifically for riding. As long as the tread and heel are appropriate, they aren't too big for the stirrup, they fit well and support your foot, they should be fine. Dress boots with a zipper along the inside of the calf won't be suitable. Always view your horse riding attire with an eye to safety, which is far more important than how you look.