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How to Find the Right type of Equestrian Boot for the Right type of Riding at the Right Price
There are bold equestrians and beautiful equestrians; I am the Budget Equestrian, but I guarantee you, there are no barefoot equestrians. If you are going to ride horses, you need appropriate footwear. There are many different types of boots for different types of riding.The following is a general list of types of boots and what type of riding they're used for and suggestions about how to find some of these items at a discounted price.
If you're going to be doing western riding, you'll need western boots. All riding boots have a heel. They also have minimal tread and usually have a reinforced toe. Western boots are designed for use with a western saddle. The way your leg rests against the saddle and in the stirrup have influenced the design. If you'll be participating in western pleasure, basic western horsemanship, reining, games or other western riding, these are the type of boots you'll need. They are usually worn with jeans, which can be tucked in to the boots, but most often are worn over the boot. The boots in the above image are an old pair and have a more pointed toe than most riding boots you'll find now.
English Tall Boots
Field boots have laces. They are tall boots that are made in either a pull-on or zip-up style. They are worn when riding English for basic horsemanship, hunters and jumpers. They are worn with breeches, and cover the lower leg to the knee. Like western boots, English tall boots are designed for use with a specific type of saddle and style of riding.
Dress Boots are similar in appearance to field boots but do not have laces. They are worn for dressage. If you buy a pull-on type of tall boot, either dress or field style, you'll need a pair of boot hooks. These are designed to fit into loops on the upper inside of the boots to assist in sliding them on. Unless you've bought your boots a few sizes too large (not a good idea!), these are essential. If you purchase the type that zip up the back, no boot hooks are needed.
Paddock boots are an all around boot. They are worn primarily by English riders, but also can be worn in western riding, though it's not often done. Endurance riders use paddock boots and they are popular for trail riding. They can even be found in styles that resemble athletic shoes. They cover to just above the ankle, and are available in lace-up, or zip-up styles. They are significantly less expensive than tall boots, but unless you're buying for a small child, you'll need to invest in a pair of half chaps along with your paddock boots. Because English riding requires that one's lower leg is engaged, or on the horse, protection for the leg, up to the knee is very important. The half chap is made of leather, suede, or a synthetic fabric to slide over the paddock boot and zip up, or be hook and loop fastened up the lower leg to the knee. Generally, a pair of paddock boots and a pair of half chaps together will still be significantly cheaper than tall boots. Children may ride with paddock boots and garter straps worn just below the knee--instead of half chaps--to keep their breeches in place. Wrinkling of breeches or jeans when riding English can cause painful sores on your leg, which is why riders need the protection of a tall boot or a half chap to keep everything in place and cushioned.
A last note about the paddock boot with half chaps combination, they are more versatile around the barn than tall boots for daily riding, because you can remove the half chaps when not on your horse for more comfort while grooming, or doing chores, etc. In recognized shows, however, only tall boots are allowed. Keep in mind that if you are just beginning to learn about horses, it will be awhile before you or your child will be thinking about a recognized show. You will likely first participate in schooling shows that are just for fun and to give you the idea of what showing is all about in your half chaps and paddock boots. These shows are good experience and are much cheaper than recognized shows. If you don't think showing is in your future at all, paddock boots and half chaps are all you'll ever need.
Materials Affect Cost
All the various types of riding boots, can be purchased in a variety of materials. Some materials are more expensive than others. As with a depressing number of things in life, you usually get what you pay for. Remember that brand name affects the cost also and must be taken into consideration when pricing boots. Generally, boots and half chaps can be found in leather, synthetic materials, or a combination of both.
Synthetic materials are often less expensive than leather, and in half chaps can be more breathable and offer more stretch. These materials are always being improved upon for durability and now some products rival leather for longevity. Synthetic boots also now look very similar to their leather counterparts. Synthetic materials are also a great option for those people looking to live a lifestyle that doesn't involve the use of animal products.
Leather still is considered more durable, and attractive than their synthetic counterparts. I love a pair of broken-in leather boots that have conformed to your foot and fit like they are part of you. Leather boots with some synthetic components are a good compromise as they are leather in the areas that see the most wear and synthetic elsewhere, boosting durability and keeping down the cost to some extent.
I believe that if you or your child is just starting to ride and you aren't sure yet if this will be a long term commitment, buying a pair of inexpensive synthetic boots is the best option. If you wear them out, you're probably ready for the investment into leather and there are ways to save money on leather boots.
Fashion vs Function
I think it's important to mention that fashion boots and actual riding boots are very different things. Look for boots that are specifically designed for riding horses. Fashion boots may look similar to riding boots but they are not designed to take the punishment of riding, or the carelessly placed horse's hoof--along with a large portion of the weight of the animal--on top of the toe of your boot . Enough said.
Where to find equestrian boots
I’ve said before that I love tack stores, and I do! They are places of many wonders—everything is so shiny and there are helpful employees to answer your questions! I also prefer to visit these wonderful stores when they are having a sale or I have a coupon. If you’re just starting to ride and are looking for that first pair of synthetic boots, you’ll find them at the tack stores for a reasonable price.
Online tack stores are also great sources for new boots. If you get on their mailing list, you'll be emailed notices of sales and get catalogs in the mail that may have coupons and discounts. Use your search engine and type in online tack store to find products for your discipline. Some of my favorites for English tack are doversaddlery.com, and statelinetack.com.
Beyond the tack store, the best place to find new or gently used boots is a tack swap. (Please see my hub titled How to Find Inexpensive Helmets for Riding Horses for more information on tack swaps and how to find them.) They are always worth the trip and the crowds.
Another great resource for finding used boots--usually tall boots--is the classified section of websites devoted to your discipline in your area. (Please see my hub titled Where to begin When you want to Learn to Ride Horses for information on disciplines and association websites.) In the twin cities, where I’m located, hunter/jumper used products can be found at the Minnesota Hunter/Jumper Association website for zone 6 (mhja6.org). They have a great website that is easy to navigate and has a good classified section. If you are using a local site like this one, then you will likely be able to try on the boots at someone’s house or a local stable before you buy, which is always preferable.
You can also try the websites for nation associations. For example, if you are riding English and learning dressage, you can look to the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) website. On the main page of the site is a Products tab. Clicking on that will bring you to a listing that begins with apparel. Boots is the first category under that listing. Clicking on that will bring up all the people who are selling their boots all over the US. I do not suggest this as an option for anyone who is new to riding. You should know something about the brands and styles before you shop on any national, or international sites where you will have to buy from photos and descriptions (without trying anything on).
Some other websites that sell used boots in all styles and sizes are equinenow.com, myhorseforsale.com, eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist. Before you decide to buy a used pair of boots online, try that exact size, style and brand on somewhere. Don’t forget to play around with your favorite search engine and see what comes up when you type in used riding boots and your community, or state. Ask people where you ride, about local online groups for all things horse-related. There may be online groups that you must ask to join within a discipline that provide information about upcoming shows, items for sale, horses for sale, etc.
Finally, check the bulletin board at the stable where you are riding. Some stables have an area for items that are for sale. Ask if you can put up a Boots wanted sign. Someone may have just what you need that they’ve been meaning to list.
It may take a little more time and effort, but you can find riding boots to suit your needs for much less than full price. Ask questions at the stable where you ride. You'll make new friends and get lots of great tips and advice from people who were once in your shoes--needing boots.
Happy shopping and enjoy the ride.