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How to Select Riding Boots

Choosing the Perfect Type of Riding Boot for Your Needs
Two main categories of riding boots exist for the English sport horse disciplines of hunter, jumper, dressage and three-phase eventing: tall boots and paddock boots. Both styles share a common feature: an approximately 1" high heel.

If you’re new to riding or if you have a child enrolled in riding camp, your instructor may have already mentioned the prerequisite of riding in a boot with a small heel. Although this heel is not foolproof, it is a precautionary measure to prevent a rider’s foot from sliding through the irons.

The choice of whether to ride in a tall or a paddock boots depends on a variety of factors, including discipline, riding comfort level, showing versus schooling or pleasure, budget, instructor’s input and more. By understanding the fit and functionality of each type of riding boot, your choice will become clear.

Tall Boots: Field, Dress and Dressage
“Tall boots” is a broad term that encompasses field, dress and dressage boots. Each boot style nods to the tradition of the equestrian sport, offers details that reflect current fashion trends, and most importantly, provides specific functionality to support the efforts of the rider while in the saddle. In essence, riding boots become an aid to the rider in aiding his or her horse.

Field boots are worn in the hunter/jumper disciplines, in the various phases of eventing, and they are permissible at the lower levels of dressage competition. They are made of soft, supple leather that will crease at the ankles; some synthetic leather versions are available that look and feel like leather, but come at the most attainable price points.

Field boots are easily recognized by a lace system at the front of the insteps, which, combined with the ankle creasing, allow the rider to achieve a correct heels-down foot position for jumping, enjoy the flexibility to ride in shorter stirrup lengths and experience a close-contact feel at the inside calf. Laces used to be traditionally tied in a bow, but contemporary laces are elastic “speed” laces with no bow tying required.

Field boots have a highly contoured cut through the ankle and calf designed to flatter the rider’s leg profile. An upward curve at the outer aspect of the top, called a Spanish topline, can range from moderate to quite high. It may be accented with a logo plaque or a faux swagger tab as a nod to equestrian tradition, when swagger tabs helped pull-on boots slide on more easily. Some boots today are also accented with textural bands of detail at the cuff, and they may have either plain or punched toe caps and spur rests.

The inner aspect of a field boot may be lightly reinforced to guard against wear, but the supple leather allows the rider to feel the horse’s barrel. Most boots have a full-length zipper up the back to create an easy on/off process. Pull-on field boots today are rare.

If you plan to show, you’ll want to speak to your coach about field boots. He or she may have a preference in look, details, fit or brand. If you don’t plan to show, but love the classic look of black field boots, indulge yourself in a pair that fits you well. Plenty of stock options in black are available; for brown field boots or those with special details, custom boot options are nearly endless.

Dress boots, worn in formal hunter classes and in jumpers, present a more polished appearance than field boots. Their popularity in some hunter classes is also increasing, and they may be seen at the lower levels of dressage competition as well. Dress boots are equally soft and supple to field boots, but they do not have laces at the ankles.

Contemporary dress boots often feature flexible design technology at the insteps or ankles to support comfortable ankle flexion with minimal break-in time and minimal creasing. Most have a full-length zipper up the back to create an easy on/off process, but some of the most modern styles have an ergonomically curved zipper at the side or back of the calf.

Dress boots have a highly contoured cut through the ankle and calf, just like field boots. The Spanish topline cut can range from moderate to quite high. It may be accented with a logo plaque, a plain or punched toe cap, or other sophisticated detail.

Speak with your coach about preferences in looks, fit or brand if you plan to compete in dress boots. If you don’t plan to show, but love the look of dress boots, indulge yourself in a comfortable pair—plenty of stock and custom options are available.

Dressage boots are much stiffer than field or dress boots. Constructed with a stiffener up the back and offered in leather with various degrees of stiffness, a dressage boot should not drop or crease much at the ankle. The “stove pipe” design, as opposed to a highly contoured field boot design, supports the rider’s relatively flat foot position in the stirrup and a long, elegant leg position, which provides maximum area contact with the horse’s sides. Some stiff boots have a window of softer leather on the inner aspect of the calves to allow feel, but some riders prefer a stiff boot all around to achieve a flat surface that allows the most subtle of leg aids.

Most dressage boots have a full-length zipper placed toward the front of the calf, just to the inside, so as not to interfere with the leg aids provided by the back of the rider’s calves. Pull-on styles can still custom ordered for those who wish to avoid zippers.

Contemporary dressage boots usually have a fairly high Spanish topline. Some are accented with the boot maker’s logo plaque or feature textural bands of detail at the cuff. Plenty of stock and custom options are available to reflect your personal style and preferred stiffness of leather in a dressage boot. While black remains the most classic color, today dressage boots can be custom made in patent leather, brown or navy, or with plenty of other options.

Paddock Boots, an ankle-high style, are the footwear choice of many riders, from beginners to professional trainers. These short boots transition from the stable to the saddle with ease, require little maintenance and fit any budget. Many beginning riders prefer them while learning to ride because of the flexibility they provide and their affordability. Professional or avid amateur riders often choose to ride daily in paddock boots to prevent wear and tear on their show boots.

Paddock boots are readily available in black and brown leather and in virtually maintenance-free synthetic leather styles. Because paddock boots do not involve fitting the rider’s calves, they are much easier to fit than tall boots.

When topped by suede or leather half chaps, paddock boots offer the functionality of tall boots. Half chaps provide a level of support to the rider’s lower legs and help prevent breech pant legs from twisting, wrinkling, rubbing or rising up, all of which can cause chafing.

• Outside the show ring, anyone can wear field, dress or paddock boots for all-around riding, including jumping, flatwork or trail riding.
• Tradition, competition rules and current trends influence the type of tall boots worn in the show ring; always consult with your coach for guidelines.
• Because dressage boots are made of stiff leather with little flexion, they are not suited (or comfortable) for jumping.
• Tall boots require some break-in time; expect a bit of discomfort for the first few rides.
• Half chaps over paddock boots simulate the feel of tall boots. They go on and off easily, leaving a comfortable paddock boot to keep you on your feet in all-day comfort.
See our article, How to Measure for Tall Boots, to determine your size, or contact us for help at 1-800-989-1500.