How to Find Riding Boots That Fit
By Jessica Adcock
Every horse rider knows that the right riding boots are crucial — whether you’re riding for pleasure or for sport, your boots provide protection and stability, both of which are vital to safe and happy riding. But just as important as choosing the right type of boots is getting the right fit, since ill-fitting boots can be distracting, uncomfortable and even dangerous. So what goes into picking the right fit? How do you ensure you’ve chosen boots that will be helpful and not hurtful? To help answer these questions, let’s take a look at different types of riding boots, how they should feel if they fit correctly, and how to break in new boots!
Types of Boots
Part of knowing how to find boots that fit is knowing how to pick the right boots to begin with — which will depend upon the way you want to use them. Are you planning to ride competitively, for pleasure, or are you looking for some waterproof boots to use around the barn? Do you typically ride dressage, hunter/jumper, go fox hunting, or trail ride? To determine which boots are best for you, consider the options (and their uses) listed below:
Tall English Riding Boots
Photos courtesy of Dover Saddlery
Available in several different types, tall English riding boots are designed specifically for the roles they will serve, so choosing the right type means choosing the type catered to your needs. Here are the types of long English riding boots available:
Field boots: Featuring laces on the front side of the ankle, field boots are flexible and comfortable, designed to make it easier for a rider to flex his or her foot into a deep heel when jumping a horse. The extra room through the ankle is essential for the jumping rider, who typically rides with a shorter stirrup. Good for show jumping competitions, hunter riders, and hunt seat equitation.
Dress boots and dressage boots: Similar to field boots but stiffer and without the laces, dress boots and dressage boots are typically black and provide a traditional English tall boot style. The dressage boot is specifically designed to prevent the ankle area from dropping, giving the rider a taller elegant look, as well as added support. Today most dressage or dress boots have the stylish Spanish top where the boot’s outer top curves higher than its inner top. This adds an even longer line with a sophisticated appearance. Good for dressage events.
Hunt boots (aka top boots): Similar to dress boots but with black patent leather tops or mahogany tops, these special hunt boots are used for formal attire only. Most hunt clubs have their own set of rules for appropriate attire, so it is always best to check with the individual hunt group you intend to ride with. Good for formal fox hunting events.
Short English Riding Boots
Photos courtesy of Dover Saddlery (left); Much Boots Canada (middle).
Featuring the same toe and heel structure as tall riding boots but with a shorter body, short English riding boots are good for riding practice as well as for basic barn upkeep. They are also the choice for young riders involved in competitions.
Paddock boots (aka jodhpur riding boots): Also sometimes called short boots, paddock boots may be worn on their own or with half chaps to create the feeling of tall boots. The heels are designed for riding to help prevent your foot from slipping too far through the stirrup, while the smooth, flat sole helps ensure your foot won’t get stuck in the stirrups either. High ankles provide support and protection for the rider both in the saddle and around the barn.
Paddock boots may be worn with half chaps to create the feel of tall boots. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Typically young children will wear jodhpur pants with brown paddock boots and matching brown garters or knee straps for competitions. While they’re not acceptable for adults at most shows, paddock boots are still useful for wearing between classes or at home, as they are comfortable and long lasting. Good for pleasure and trail riding, and children’s competitive riding.
Short boot options: Paddock boots come in zip and lace varieties. Zip paddock boots make getting your boots on and off a breeze. Lace boots are more traditional looking and riders with thinner or thicker ankles may want to consider lace boots because of the customizable fit they offer.
Muck Boots and Wellies
These are a must-have for any equestrian who spends hours around the barn. These waterproof utility boots are good for barn work and offer a textured sole to prevent slipping in muddy or wet areas. They typically either pull on or have front ties, although some newer models feature buckles. The best part about them is their easy care. Simply hose them off and they look new again.
Muck boots (aka mucker boots): These come in a variety of heights from a slip-on shoe-like style to a knee high heavy duty mucker boot. Completely waterproof, this style muck boot is made for heavy barn chores. They are made to withstand the harsh working environments the stable can provide, while keeping your feet comfortable and dry. Good for barn work, feeding horses, etc.
Wellington boots (aka wellies): Wellies are lighter duty muck boots that oftentimes have fun fashion patterns and colours to show off your own unique personality. They are classic rain boots that keep your feet dry even in the worst weather conditions. Good for barn work, feeding horses, etc.
Western Riding Boots
Also known as cowboy or cowgirl boots, Western riding boots differ from English riding boots in that they have square or pointed toes, higher heels, and ornate designs on the exteriors. Although they can be used as a fashion-forward trendy accessory to go with a variety of outfits, their design is actually purposeful — the higher heel helps keep the rider’s foot from slipping through the wider stirrups of Western saddles. The fun colours and patterns are used to pair with the rider’s outfit to make for a stunning show ring appearance. Good for riding with Western saddles.
After selecting the type of boots best suited to your needs, the next step is sizing. Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to be sure you pick the right one:
European vs. American sizing: Sizes in the United Kingdom and Canada/USA are notoriously different; a women’s size 3.5 in Europe could be a women’s size 6 in Canada. Before purchasing a size from another sizing set, be sure to double check a comparison chart.
Manufacturer sizing: Different manufacturers tend to run their sizes slightly smaller or slightly larger than standard sizes. Research before buying to find out which way a particular boot maker leans.
Multiple sizes to consider: When considering tall boots, you will not only consider the foot size, but you will need to determine your calf size as well as the boot height that you will need. Be sure to take these measurements before picking out your next tall boot.
Checking the Fit of New Tall Boots
Important though sizing may be, it’s only half the battle when it comes to the proper fit of riding boots. Not all tall boots are made to fit alike. Field boots should drop and soften around your ankles, as this is conducive to proper riding leg positions — that’s why you should look for new field boots that are high enough at the knee to allow for some dropping as you break the boots in. Boots will vary by the type of leather used, but most field boots will drop one to two inches by the time the boot is fully broken in. Dressage boots, on the other hand, should be purchased at about the height you want them to stay — unlike field boots, because of their stiffer design, they will not drop much at the ankle.
To assess fit, start by wearing the clothes and legwear (the chaps, breeches, riding socks or tights) you plan to wear while riding. Then, try on the tall boots. Here’s what to look for:
A snug fit: Look for boots that feel pretty tight around your calves, but not so tight that they cut off circulation. They should be hard to pull on and off; the zippers should zip all the way up and snap while you’re standing.
Taller than you’d eventually like: You don’t want to end up with a boot that is too short once it breaks in. To ensure the maximum height after the breaking-in period is over, choose field boots that have fronts as high as the middle of your kneecap (not higher and not lower) and dressage boots that have fronts as high as just under your kneecap. At this initial try-on, the right boots will feel too tall, and they will likely be uncomfortable for a short amount of time, until they’re broken in — but the top creases and discomfort should disappear in time, as the boots adjust to you.
New dressage boots should fit just under your kneecap at the front, so they will be high enough after the breaking-in period. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Comfortable footbed: Imagine wearing the boots in a stirrup pad — will you be able to comfortably keep the ball of your foot in it? If the foot size is a little large, you could add an air cushion or sole insert to fill up extra space.
Tips for Breaking in New Boots
Boots will soften and drop around the ankle as you break them in. Most field boots will drop one to two inches, while dressage boots drop much less due to their stiffer design. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
New boots always require a breaking-in period, but there are steps you can take to make this period easier. Consider the following:
Ovation socks: Designed to fit smoothly under tall boots and available in various designs, these tube-style socks make it easier to pull your boots on.
Stretch spray: A boot stretch spray can help with those tight spots in the calf of a boot, making it easier to slide your boots on while you’re breaking them in.
Boot cream: While you probably already know a good quality boot cream can extend the life of your riding boots, by conditioning the leather and keeping it in top quality, you might not realize boot cream can also be helpful for breaking your boots in. Rub the cream on stiff areas to help them soften and bend to your body.
How to Protect Your Riding Boots
Once you have found riding boots that fit properly, you won’t want to let them go. So how do you go about keeping them in good shape? What can you do to make them last longer? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Regular wiping: Make it a habit to wipe debris (dirt, manure, horse sweat, dust, etc.) from your boots after every use, using a damp cloth or sponge. Removing these contaminants regularly will protect your boots from harmed leather and rotted stitching.
Boot cleaning products: Find cleaning products designed specifically for boots, such as conditioners, creams, and other cleaners. Never grab an all-purpose household cleaner to clean your boots — it can damage the leather permanently.
Overshoes: On especially wet, muddy days, overshoes can protect your boots from the elements. Always remove the overshoes from your boots before storing them, however, or the spread of wetness can lead to mildew and stitching damage.
Total drying: Every time your boots get wet, allow them to dry completely by placing them at room temperature (not by a direct heat source like a fireplace or a heater) until no longer wet.
Boot trees: Inserting boot trees into boots helps them maintain their shape, as well as the life of the zippers. What’s more, if you choose cedar boot trees, they’ll also repel moisture.
The good news is, today it’s easier than ever to find the perfect riding boots that fit your body and your needs. When you’re equipped with the knowledge of what you’re looking for and how to spot a good fit, as outlined above, you’re ready to find the right pair for you.
Jessica Adcock is a lifelong equestrian and a member of the e-commerce team at Dover Saddlery, a leading retailer of quality English horse tack, supplies and riding apparel for horse and rider at any level.
Main Photo: Thinkstock/Stock Photos/Photos.com