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These boots aren't made for riding

Updated on September 6, 2012

Why Roy Rogers didn’t wear waders on Trigger

“Don’t bring riding boots,” they said. “We have them.” And the first two stables did. The third was not as well provisioned.

I have calves, you see, thick, muscular calves. Truth be told, my calves are the only muscles in my body that don’t jiggle when I walk, but I do enjoy walking briskly and I walk with great energy. My feet, however, are dainty, so it is difficult to find boots that slip over my calves without leaving my feet to wander around in the roominess below.

I was with a group of travel writers in Western Ireland to write about riding in Donegal. The scenery was lush green hills and ferocious seas in the far northwest at Dunfanaghy and tall shore grasses and the heartbreakingly delicate beauty of Donegal Bay farther south. It was at Donegal Bay that I met my Waterloo. Well, Wellingtons.

Riding Boots
Riding Boots
Not Riding Boots
Not Riding Boots

Donegal Equestrian Center is well-equipped and professional beyond question. The staff are expert and personable. They had everything except riding boots with robust calves and petite feet. What they did have was a pair of duck-footed Wellies that would fit over my manly, yet curvaceous calves.

Wellington boots are not high fashion. Clint Eastwood would have shot himself in both feet before applying his spurs to a pair of Wellies.

I should be clear. These are not the handsome calfskin Wellingtons that the Household Cavalry sports, but green rubber gum boots: dwarf waders. Their singular homeliness was not the issue. Nor was the gritty feel of the inside sole as my foot skittered around the great space. It was not even the cold rubber that encircled my now notorious calves. No, the problem is that the foot of the Wellington gumboot is not significantly smaller on the outside than it is on the inside. There is a reason that one feels as if he is walking in swim fins when gumboots adorn his feet. There is a reason that walking on concrete makes an fwap-fwap noise as the rubber soles slap the pavement. There is a reason that Cinderella did not wear them to the ball.

Donegal Bay
Donegal Bay | Source
Sheephaven Bay, Dunfanaghy
Sheephaven Bay, Dunfanaghy | Source
Elaine and Clive (on Annie) look toward Dunfanaghy
Elaine and Clive (on Annie) look toward Dunfanaghy | Source
Rider in tall beach grass, County Donegal
Rider in tall beach grass, County Donegal | Source
River in Donegal
River in Donegal | Source
Horses wait during pub run
Horses wait during pub run | Source

If walking in Wellies is clumsy and unattractive, then trying to slip those bad boys into stirrups is a nightmare. Stirrups are no more made for gumboot Wellies than gumboot Wellies are made for stirrups. And they aren’t.

So I was wearing gumboots that were as roomy at the top as they were in the foot. When I walked, I had difficulty keeping them on, but never mind; I would be sitting handsomely in a saddle.

Not until I tried to mount the horse did I realize the problem. I could barely fit the toe of my boot into the stirrup.

Not to worry, said the trail boss, or whoever he was. (His crew cut showed about an eighth of an inch of gray bristle, but I called him "Curley." In my head.) The growing crowd of riders around me were finding my predicament much funnier than I was. By the time a team of people more stable than I were attempting to hoist me into the saddle and to jam my bubble toes into the stirrups, I was not only decidedly unamused, but also feeling remarkably like Humpty Dumpty being hoisted onto a wall. And cranky.

I worked at being a good sport. If ever there is an opportunity to avoid appearing to be a poor sport, it is while traveling with a group of international travel writers. They carry cameras and they are prone to awareness of a developing story. I did not want to be that story.

So, with a brave smile frozen in place--unlike my boots--I sat astride my steed, a burly Irish Hunter, sufficiently broad to worry that someone would want to make a wish while I was mounted on it.

My toe tips delicately touched the edges of the stirrups like a virgin uncertain about whether his status was about to change.

Off we went in single file. I began to relax a bit as I realized that walking did not require great dexterity—or stability. Then we began to climb a narrow trail, bordered by a barbed wire fence.

Barbed wire is bad for bowlegged boots
Barbed wire is bad for bowlegged boots

It was the fence that did us in.

I listed slightly to port to keep clear of the barbs. Doing so meant that my starboard boot lost its precarious purchase on the stirrup, and the boot, left to dangle precariously in air, narrowed its distance to the aforementioned barbed wire. To counter the new danger I leaned farther and I realized that the right boot was slipping off my foot. I tightened the foot muscles in an attempt to fill the boot more fully with my foot, and raised my foot to keep the boot from sliding to earth, but the barbs began to snatch at it, hurrying its departure. So I leaned….You see the problem.

My body was rigid; sweat poured off me. I wanted to cry. In a manly way, as my calves would require.

As we neared the top of the hill, the ride leader turned and saw me listing heavily to port, starboard leg extended almost straight out, boot dangling from my cramping foot at the end of my cramping leg. The cramp in my side was invisible.

“You all right?” he asked lightly.

He did not attempt to conceal the smirk.

“Fine,” I grunted from clenched jaw. (Writers in front of me; writers behind me. There was no other response.) I wished that I were carrying a couple of six-shooters. Or a Gatling gun.

We crested the hill and the fence stretched away from us at last. Before us stretched a band of tall course beach grass, beyond which marvelously blue, marvelously placid water stretched to the horizon, and, the crisis past, I heaved a great sigh of relief, realigned myself in the saddle and juggled my boot back onto my foot.

We rode lazily through the tall grass to the sandy expanse along the water’s edge and I began to enjoy the gentle shifting of the muscles of the beast beneath me. We looked off to the horizon, admiring the serenity and the beauty of the water that stretched out before us, lapping gently at the beach, until the trail leader reined his mount to the right and began to trot along the beach.

Trotting was not good. I struggled to keep both boots in contact with the stirrups, not under the misapprehension that I would be able to actually fit them in, but only to keep them from falling off.

As our pace increased, I realized that the field was not mine. As we began galloping, frustration clenched those muscles that had not already been called into service to keep me upright and seated. I recalled Jingles (Well, Andy Devine) arms flapping as he galloped Bill Hickok (Guy Madison without the buckskin) calling his raspy “Hey, Wild Bill, Wait for me!”

I wished that I had six-guns. It was the only manly way to stop the torture.

Other challenges ensued, including fording a brook with which I cam awfully close to having a close and wet encounter, when my horse stumbled on rocks on the bank of the stream, until at least we saw a corral at the edge of town and tied up our horses while we headed to a pub, gum boots flopping along the sidewalk.

It wasn’t until I had drained a few pints that I realized that, although the stirrups might not be especially comfortable with stocking feet, if I removed the boots, feet would fit.

The return ride was far easier.


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