This is the ultimate guide to horse riding boots so that you can figure out what you actually need.
I want to start off by saying that my ankles are just not flexible. “Heels down!” was like a mantra for my riding coach for years when I was young.
It’s not that I didn’t try – I really did!
But my ankles just wouldn’t bend.
Almost 20 years of riding later and I’m still working on my ankles to this day.
My first pair of riding boots were classic tall English riding boots as when I started I just rode English. You know the ones:
They were stiff as anything around my ankles and I didn’t have the strength or flexibility at 7 to start bending the thick material.
Once I switched to short boots with half-chaps, it made a world of difference!
My ankles had less pressure against them, they got more flexible and my coach wasn’t yelling at me anymore.
It also was a relief to stop getting my dad to pull my boots off me after lessons.
It’s crazy how that one little change made such a big difference in my riding.
Tall English boots might be required for some competitions (jumping, hunting, eventing, dressage, etc.) but if you’re just starting, they might not be necessary yet (even though – I know – they are gorgeous!)
The most important thing is to get boots that are comfortable, safe and fit your specific riding needs.
Looking for something specific? Skip ahead:
What Are The Best Boots For Horse Riding?
Having a good pair of proper riding boots is important at any level.
Not just because they look good and they make your legs look good but for safety reasons.
It might be tempting to just pull out a pair of running shoes especially if you’re heading off to your first lesson but definitely don’t do that.
You need something with a heel on it so that your foot won’t slip forward into the stirrup.
I don’t want to put you off riding – far from it! But I’ve heard about people who’ve gotten their legs stuck in the stirrup when their horse bolted and they were dragged.
If you’ve seen Sea Buiscit then you know that it accidents can happen to the most skilled and prepared of us but it’s much less likely if you dress for success, as they say.
How do I Choose Horse Riding Boots?
Follow the following 5 basic rules of horse riding boots to know what the best ones are for you:
#1. Safety: This is always key with horses. It’s important to have a healthy respect for your horse and riding.
All boots made for horseback riding will automatically have all the safety features. Horse riding boots should have a good heel so that your foot can’t slip forward into the stirrup:
Riding boots should also be closed-toed.
My foot has been stepped on too many times. Huge ouch!
Now imagine hoof on a sandal… yeah I don’t want to either.
Definitely closed-toed is the way to go for horseback riding.
The grip on the sole of your boot should also be good enough that your foot isn’t sliding around everywhere but not have thick grooves that could get stuck in the stirrup.
#2: Riding Discipline : This is key if you’re planning to compete and therefore have to follow strict guidelines.
Make sure that you know the rules of your competition and get the required type of boots.
For example: Dressage usually requires tall black leather dress boots. [You can skip to my breakdown of different kinds of boots here.]
It’s also important if you want to look the part when you’re riding!
If you know you’ll be riding Western, then you don’t want to show up with shiny dress boots and even more so vice versa.
I would say you definitely don’t want to show up to an English lesson in cowboy boots.
Jumping and dressage involved a lot of communication with the horse’s sides with your whole lower half – everything from your hips to your heels.
This is much simpler in English riding boots.
Western riding is all aboout comfort. It’s built around riding for days at a time and is perfect for ranchers. Western horses are trained to run with the slightest bit of leg.
You don’t need all the fine control with them so looser fitting, more casual (and much more durable) western boots work well:
More of an occasional rider?
If you’re looking for casual boots rather than authentic equestrian boots, check out this post on cute women’s boots that can be worn riding.
#3: Budget : You want to have an idea of how much you’re willing to spend before you go out and start looking becuase you’ll almost certainly get carried away…or maybe that’s just me?
I love the look of riding boots because I think they make my legs look longer and nicer. The more expensive they get, the more I seem to like them so I have to be strict with myself.
For beginners, I would say a budget of under $150 is a good place to start and stick with short boots if you’re riding english.
We’ll talk about the difference between short and tall English boots just a little bit lower down in this post.
#4: Material : If you’re in Arizona, you need something breathable so you should avoid rubber at all costs. You can get horseback riding boots made of rubber that are cheaper but they have 0 breathability.
If you’re further north like Ontario and you ride through the winter than you need to make sure you’re getting a boot big enough to fit some thick socks.
If you’re out in the fields rounding up your horse or doing chores as well as riding, you need to make sure your boot is 100% waterproof and you might want to avoid laces.
#5: Style : There are 2 major styles in horseback riding – English and Western.
English is used in events such as jumping, hunting, eventing, dressage. Boots are classically fitted and black leather. They are made to help very fine communication between you and the horse using your legs.
Within English, there are tall boots and short boots and then a lot of variation within those. We’ll go over each of those next.
Western is used in events such as roping, reining and all other rodeo events. Cowboy boots are used because they’re durable, comfortable and versatile for ranching.
The style and substyles that you choose depend a lot on what kind of riding you’ll be doing. If you haven’t figured it out yet, [read about different styles of riding and all the equipment you’ll need here].
Types of Horse Riding Boots – The Master List
I started out riding English so I’ll start with English boots first.
English Riding Boots
Also we’ve now talked about short and long riding boots a few times so we should go over that in more detail.
English Riding Boots: Are Short or Long Riding Boots Better?
Is your goal to compete?
If so, take the time to go through the dress code for the event you’re competing in. More than likely, you’ll need to get tall boots. This isn’t always the case especially with young riders but as the level increases, the formality does too.
This is why I started off with tall boots – I knew I wanted to compete and I didn’t want to invest in more than 1 pair of boots initially.
For me this didn’t end up working because of my ankles so I got short boots with half chaps for training and then a pair of tall dress boots for competitions.
If you get the right pair of tall boots, then you can probably just get away with one pair for a while.
Competitions (and of course satefy) are the only main restriction on which type of English boots you can buy. After that, it comes down to the other 3 things : budget, material and style.
Long boots are not generally better than short boots or vice versa. They both have strengths and weaknesses.
Long Riding Boots (Tall Riding Boots)
My very first type of boot! And one that you’ll most certainly need at some point if you’re riding English and competing.
The distiguishing feature is that long boots and well, long. They’re also called tall riding boots.
You can get ones that are pull on which are traditionally how long boots are made or you can get ones with a zipper at the back that’s hidden.
There are 3 classic sub-types of long riding boots: the field boot, the dress boot and the hunt boot.
1) The Field Boot
Field boots have a lace-up closure at the front of the ankle for the same reason I was telling you my ankle story.
If you’ve got stiff ankles but you need a tall boot, then this is the way to go.
Field boots are used a lot in jumping disciplines like show jumping, eventing and hunting because they’re easier on the ankles.
The further down you can push those heels and dorsiflex you’re ankles (think opposite of a ballerina) the more stable you’ll be while riding. You’ll also be able to shock absorb much more effectively when jumping.
The laces make sure there is give in the material of the boot to allow for significantly more bend at the ankle joint and makes it easier on you!
Depending on the level and location that you’re competing, field boots may or may not be accepted. Some competitions only allow dress boots.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the meme floating around Pinterest of the man covered in mud head to toe being on the farm in the Spring? That is exactly what Southern Ontario is like in the Spring.
If you want multi-tasking boots, laces are usually not good for a lot of mud.
Double and then triple check to make sure those bad boys are waterproof otherwise you’ll have mud in your boots the whole time after you bring your horse in from the fields during your lesson.
2) The Dress Boot
Dress boots are THE boot to have at high level competition. They’re stiff, they’re fancy, they’re form-fitting and they’re traditionally slick black and made of fine leather.
You can find dress boots now in synthetic materials and even rubber to cut down the cost on them.
The thing is, if you don’t absolutely need dress boots for competing, I woudn’t get them.
When I did buy dress boots for competitng, I did splurge on the expensive leather ones and they’ve lasted me a decade. I would highly recommend you do the same.
Rubber is a huge no for me and riding and if you’ve ever owned a pair of rubber rain boots you’ll totally understand why. Rubber doesn’t breathe at all and makes your feet super sweaty! Imagine riding on a hot day now…
Ugh – it’s the worst!
Steer clear of rubber boots would be my advice in general.
Synthetic fabric is better than rubber forsure but it’s not going to look as nice in competition.
The Spanish Cut
Dress boots have a variation to them called the spanish cut when the outside of the boot comes up higher on the outside of the rider’s knee.
This is meant to make your legs look even nicer and longer.
I mean if you didn’t think horse back riding was for you already – don’t you now?
3) The Hunt Boot
Hunt boots are essentially dress boots that are made for men doing hunting events.
They have a cuff at the top of the boot, which is their distinguishing feature.
CHECK OUT OUR TALL BOOT GALLERY:
Short Riding Boots
Short boots are generally cut off at the ankle. They’re also traditionally made of leather but now have been made in synthetic and rubber materials as well to cut costs.
Short boots are overall significantly cheaper than long boots.
Jodhpur Boots/Paddock Boots: What is the difference between paddock boots and riding boots?
Classically and especially in the UK, there are 2 types of short riding boots: short jodhpur boots and paddock boots.
Short jodhpur boots are meant for riding whereas paddock boots are meant for work in the field and aren’t really meant for riding.
Personally, I don’t find that there is much of a difference and I refer to all short boots as “paddock boots”. You’ll find that a lot of brands do the same. One of my favourite riding boot brands, Ariat, refers to virually all of their short boots as paddock boots.
As with everything riding boot related, the only time it really makes a difference is in competition.
Short boots are meant to be waterproof although you have to be careful with laces because that’s not always the case. Furthermore, a lot of them have protective steel toe caps (remember what I told you about hoofs stepping on your feet – this comes in handy!) and they’re made to be comfortable.
CHECK OUT OUR SHORT BOOT (+ HALF CHAPS) GALLERY:
In order to mimic the look of the long boot but also to help with riding stability and comfort, you can pair a short boot with a half chap or gaiter. This is usually required for competition if short boots are allowed.
The Difference Between Gaiters and Chaps
Mostly it’s for competitions that you need to worry about the differece – gaiters are allowed in some competitions whereas half chaps are not.
Gaiters are built to look sleeker, more fitted, are generally made of leather and really aim to mimic the look of a long boot. They come in black or brown (black is safest to make sure you’re complying with competition rules).
Gaiters can also have the spanish cut where they’re longer on the outside
Half chaps are more casual, come in different colours and materials. Generally, you’ll find them in suede or synthetic materials.
They’ll have more detailing to them, more padding on the inside of the leg and they’ll have some elastic panels.
If you’re getting half chaps just for riding, I would recommend that you get synthetic ones that you can throw in the washing mashine. It makes a huge difference! Especially if you have kids and multiple pairs.
MORE ON PICKING THE BEST ENGLISH RIDING BOOTS:
Learn more about picking the best English riding boots:
I’m not quite as familiar with western boots as with English ones.
There are many different variations in terms of the embroidering patterns and various glitz and glam aspects but as far as I know, they’re all pretty similar.
You can get various heights and the toe can either be quite pointed or more round.
In terms of rodeo competitions, there isn’t really any sort of rules or regulations so it’s really just up to what you like best!
CHECK OUT OUR WESTERN BOOT GALLERY:
[Best Western Riding Boots – coming soon]
Ariat Riding Boots : The Perfect Boots for Beginners
I’m giving these a special section because they remind me of the “bread” of riding boots – a staple.
They are the perfect boots for beginners becuase they’re comfortable, durable and affortable. I still use them today and I’ve been riding for almost 20 years so they’re also great for more advanced riders.
My favourite pair of short boots and half chaps that I do a lot of training and field work in are both ariat. The half chaps are newer but the boots themselves have lasted me over 8 years now!
They were my first pair of riding boots and they’re also the brand that I have the most of (I have wayyy to many riding boots though).
Ariat English Riding Boots:
Ariat Western Riding Boots:
Horse Riding Boot Maintenance
Leather boots require good maintenance.
Yes exactly – the kind that everyone talks about but hates doing.
If you get synthetic, you can usually just use water and some mild soap. You can also throw them in the wash.
If you’re serious about horses, it’s worthwhile to get a good leather cleaner. You’ll need it for your good boots and also for your tack.
First step is to keep your leather from sitting out in direct sunlight as this will age it faster than anything.
Next, just keeping it relatively clean can make a big difference (yes, that means wiping the chunks of mud off when it’s gross outside).
Every once in a while, you’ll want to actually clean the leather off with a leather cleaner. Most places will try to sell you on fancy leather boot cleaning products. Personally, I hate this.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated like 10-15 products in my mudroom for boots and shoes that I never use and just accumulate dust.
What I’ve found works the best for leather anything (boots, purses, saddles, bridles, etc.) is a good quality saddle soap.
My favourite hard soap is Feibing’s and my favourite liquid soap is Farnam’s. I have both depending on how lazy I’m feeling.
You could also use boot shapers to keep your boots upright so they don’t get those creases from bending over. I have a pair of boots I spend over $600 on that are my favourites and if I was to do this with any of my boots, it would be these. I’m just too lazy – I know, I know, it’s so bad!