Horseback Boots for Beginners

Horseback Riding Boots for Beginners

You’ve decided to take up horseback riding – exciting!  But what are the best beginner horseback riding boots?

To truly get the most out of the experience and ensure you don’t miss out, you need to invest in a few pieces of crucial gear like helmet, pants and boots.  The shoes and boots that most people have in their closets will not make for an enjoyable ride and could even jeopardize your safety, so read on for some pointers about the right footwear.  

Horseback Riding Footwear Must-haves

  • 1-Inch to 2-inch tall heel.  While riding – and especially for new riders – it’s possible for a foot to slip through the stirrups.  Not comfortable and not safe. A modest height heel will stop that from happening.
  • Moderate traction on the sole of the boot.  Your sole will be the main part of your foot that’s touching the stirrup and you don’t want it to slide.
  • …But not too much traction.  A hiking boot, or a similar boot with deep treads, may get jammed in the stirrup in case of a fall.  Hiking boots are also bulky and boxy which are hard to get in and out of stirrups.
  • Enclosed foot.  Don’t even dream of wearing flip-flops or sandals; I don’t want to imagine your foot if a horse steps on it!  Your shoes need to offer some degree of protection in case this happens.
  • No laces near the foot.  Laces – and tongues – can get caught in the stirrups or other nearby gear.  Certain footwear – field boots, riding sneakers – do have laces, riding boot manufacturers have made these laces safe.  Your average running shoes are not.

Horse Riding Boot Styles and Footwear Styles

There are many different styles of boots so choose whatever feels good on your feet, fits your budget and is suitable for your type of riding.  

Important note: Before you explore your options below, if you are taking up riding to compete in a specific discipline like dressage, jumping, etc, check with the organization that governs your competitions for any riding boot requirements they have.

First of all, boots can be divided into English riding boots and Western riding boots.

English Riding Boots

These boots were specifically designed for English-style riding, in which the stirrup leathers can chafe, rub or even pinch your legs if you don’t have the right gear (boots and/or pants).   

The boots are mostly made out of leather but can also be made out of materials like PVC and rubber.  In addition to choices about material, English riding boots come in several different styles, generally falling into one of two categories: tall riding boots and short riding boots.

On a side note, many English riders also ride draft horses. They are awesome, and if you are looking for horseback riding boots for beginners because you have a draft horse then click on the link to head over to that article and see all about them.

Tall riding boots (eg: dress boots, dressage boots, field boots, Footwear)

As the name suggests – states outright, in fact – tall riding boots are tall and come most of the way up your calf.  These stylish numbers were seen in Downton Abbey and have long been considered the standard for English horseback riding.  

If you’re getting a tall boot, know that there are calf widths to choose from in addition to shoe widths.  

Dress boots:

  • Rigid and relatively inflexible: rather than being a bad thing, this is actually helpful to give extra stability while riding
  • Style tip: that piece that comes up higher only on the outside of the knee on some boots is called a ‘Spanish Top’

Field boots:

  • Look similar to dress boots but are more flexible, and this flexibility can have a noticeable, positive impact if you’re in jumping competitions 
  • Most easily differentiated from dress boots by the laces on the top of the foot at the ankle; dress boots are smooth across the top.  (Were you wondering about the laces, given the list of must-haves? The laces are tight in the boot and can’t be caught in the stirrup.  Most field boots have a zipper up the calf to put the boot on and take it off.)

Short riding boots (eg: jodhpur boots, paddock boots, work boots)

Short riding boots, although not the traditional footwear, are preferred by many riders for a few reasons: easier to pull on and off, easier to size, potentially more comfortable in warmer temperatures, and usually quite a bit cheaper.  

These are the most popular choice for riders who are just beginning and for children, although many transition into tall boots as they gain experience.  While they are called ‘short’, these boots still go above the ankle, but no calf-sizing is required.  

You may want some protection for your legs while riding; wearing gaiters or half chaps with these boots will help.  It will also give the impression of wearing a tall boot.

Jodhpur boots:

  • Have a strap or elastic sides for easy pulling on/off
  • Often have wooden soles
  • Frequently made out of fine leather

Paddock boots:

  • Typically worn pleasure riding and working around the barn
  • Mostly made out of a more durable material that can be worn all-day
  • Usually have an extra layer of material called a ‘toe cap’
  • Might have a steel toe for added protection

Boots for English disciplines

For English disciplines like show jumping, dressage, hunter jumper, eventing, and saddle seat, you will need dress boots or field boots for competitions.  Rules might be relaxed for children’s beginner classes, where paddock boots are often allowed.

Western Horseback Riding Boots

western horseback riding boots

Western Riding Boots also known as Cowboy Boots, come in a variety of sizes, colours and styles.

Western boots are typically made of cowhide but can also be made of a wide variety of materials: alligator, crocodile, snakeskin, ostrich, bison, lizard and certain marine creatures like stingray and sturgeon.  Western boots are recognizable around the world for their distinctive look and famed for their durability. Did you know, the original purpose of the extensive, decorative stitching was to reinforce the boot so it wouldn’t sag or fall over?

Just as there are many materials to choose from, there are many styles: classic, shortie, work, roper, buckaroo, riding and stockman.  All have the recommended heel height, no laces or tongues, and have a pointed toe to make it easier to guide your foot into the stirrup.  

Distinctions between the boots are

  • How tall they are: the shortie, roper and work boot are all 6-10” tall; the classic and the stockman are ~12” tall; the riding boot is 14” tall, as is buckaroo which is definitely designed for show
  • The depth of the decorative throat or ‘scallop’ (the pointy dip against your shin at the front of the boot) with the buckaroo, riding, and stockman having the deepest scallops
  • The extent of the stitching simply because the riding western boot is so tall and plain, it looks similar to English boots, such that Western riding boots appear in both English and Western disciplines.  Instead of loops to pull the boots on, they typically have buckles at the ankle and the top of the shin
  • Weight, with the shorter boots claiming the crown for being lighter, and therefore also cooler in warm temperatures
  • Cost, where the shorter boots save you a bit of coin over the tall boots

If you’re looking for your boots to do double duty outside the barn and into a social scene, avoid the tallest boots (and make sure your boots are clean) and you can step out with confidence and style.

Many of the boots listed here and ones that you will find are double purpose. They perform the function of helping you ride the horse, but also help you with a trendy look. It is important to remember that being safe when you are a beginner is paramount, and more important than looking good. That doesn’t mean that you can do both, however, and some people really go all out when purchasing their riding boots. Have fun. but stay safe.

Boots for Western disciplines

The competition requirements for boots in Western disciplines are much more relaxed than English disciplines.  Pretty much any cowboy boot will do, whether you’re cutting, barrel racing, roping, or trail riding.  

In a nutshell, here are the steps to find the right boot:

  • Check if there are dress code requirements for the type of riding you’ll be doing
  • Determine if you’ll be riding more than working in the barn, or the other way around, or an equal amount of both
  • Determine what weather you’ll be wearing the boots in
  • Figure out how much you want to spend
  • Try on some boots

There are few activities that can produce the variety of emotions that horseback riding can: excitement, exhilaration, nervous anticipation, adrenalin rush, teamwork, accomplishment, satisfaction and serenity (to name a few).  And every good emotion you’re seeking can be compromised if you have inadequate boots for your purpose. Use this guide to get your shortlist of boots, try some on, listen to the experts, and then ride comfortably and safely off into the sunset.

FAQ Section

What Kind of Boots Should I Wear For Horse Riding?

As Discussed above the right choices include riding boots, cowboy boots or footwear with a heel. The Heel is important because it stops your foot from going through the stirrup. It is important to get boots that cover the ankle and don’t have extra pieces that can get caught in the saddle or stirrup. Boots or other sturdy shoes with heels (1/2 to 3/4 inch).

What are the Best Riding Boots To Buy?

The best riding boots you can buy are easy to pull on, have a heel and fit your foot snug so you can enjoy your riding experience. Cowboy boots fit all of these criteria and are designed for riding. There are also English riding boots available in a wide variety of styles and sizes.

Are Paddock Boots Good for Riding?

Yes, Jodphur or paddock boots are English styles of riding boots that only go up the ankle. Many people also pair these with half shaps and it makes for a great everyday riding, hacking and training footwear choice. A quality pair will be good for all-day wearing, even to wear around the barn for chores.

Can You wear Sneakers Horseback Riding?

You definitely can, but you have to consider safety. There are companies that are now making “riding sneakers” or “riding shoes” they are adequate, but you have to make sure they have some kind of heel. Never wear sandals or flip flops, getting stepped on by a horse can be very damaging to your foot and will bruise and even break bones. Make sure you wear proper footwear.

Can you Wear Rain Boots Horseback Riding?

Yes, you can wear rain boots, or rubber boots horseback riding. What you will find is that they will become uncomfortable over time, and may give you blisters. The heel in most rain boots is adequate for the task, however. You may also find that the feeling of your foot against the horse is less sensitive with a thick rubber boot. As you get better as a rider you will find that feeling the horse through your riding boot is important, and rain boots may not be the best for that.

Can you Wear Cowboy Boots Horseback Riding?

Yes, most definitely. Cowboy boots are specifically designed for horseback riding, and when riding western are the best. Do not wear sandals or flip flops, even when on vacation, you really need something with a heel to be safe. Cowboy boots are designed with a heel so they sit well in the stirrup and don’t go through. They also don’t have laces or a tongue that can get caught in the saddle or the stirrup. You will also want to invest in a good pair so that your feet are comfortable and don’t get sore.

What other equipment do I need as a beginner?

We have a whole section of this website dedicated to riding equipment and gear for beginners. You need boots, pants, a helmet, gloves and a number of other things. Check out our guide.