Selecting the right horseback riding shoes is important for keeping you both safe and comfortable as you ride. I know first hand that the wrong pair of shoes can hold you back in the saddle, so I decided to put together this guide to help you choose the correct pair of shoes.
What shoes should you wear horseback riding? You should wear shoes that have a 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch tall heel to prevent your feet from slipping through stirrups, offer protection from being stepped on by a horse, and provide a moderate level of traction in the stirrup.
Many of the shoes that people have in their closets won’t be suitable to wear horseback riding, so you’ll need to find a pair of shoes that matches these requirements before you go riding.
Types of Horseback Riding Shoes
If you’re like me, then you’ll want to know all of your options before investing in a pair of horseback riding shoes. There is certainly no shortage of options when it comes to riding shoes, so let’s look at the different types of shoes that are available.
English Riding Boots
The two categories of English riding boots are traditional long riding boots and short riding boots. Both categories have additional subcategories that we’ll dive into. English riding boots are typically made out of leather, but can also be made out of materials like PVC and rubber. You can see some of our favorite riding boot options here.
Traditional Long Riding Boots
Traditional long riding boots have long been the standard for English horseback riding. One of the reasons that these boots are so popular is that they provide an ample amount of protection from in the event that you are stepped on, and they prevent uncomfortable chafing and rubbing while riding in an English style saddle. The leather of the stirrups on these saddles is notorious for causing discomfort when riders aren’t sporting the proper legwear.
Dress Boots are the fancy tall riding boots that you’ve likely seen in period movies or TV shows like Downton Abbey. Today, dress boots are frequently worn by those competing in English horse disciplines. Dress boots are known for being rigid, and somewhat less flexible than other types of riding boots. While this might sound like a bad thing, the rigidness of the boots provides extra stability that is actually helpful while riding.
Field Boots are the next style of long riding boots. The most notable difference between dress boots and field boots is that field boots have laces on the top, while dress boots are smooth across the top. Many people enjoy field boots because they provide significantly more flexibility than dress boots. This can make a big difference if you are doing a lot of jumping.
Short Riding Boots
Many riders prefer short riding boots to the tall traditional riding boots because they are usually significantly cheaper, are easier to pull on and off, and can be more comfortable in the warmer months of the year. The short riding boots below are frequently worn by children and beginner riders before they move onto the traditional tall boots.
Jodhpur Boots are short ankle boots that have a strap or elastic sides, allowing them to easily be taken on and off. If you find taller boots uncomfortable and difficult to size correctly, jodhpur boots make things easy for you because you won’t have to worry about matching your calf size.
One drawback for these shorter riding boots is that some competitions won’t allow you to compete in them, so I recommended double checking this if you’re buying these for that purpose. Many people wear gaiters or half chaps with jodhpur boots because doing so provides protection for your legs as you ride.
Paddock Boots are very similar to jodhpur boots, but there are some noticeable differences between the two. Paddock boots generally have rubber soles as opposed to wooden soles like Jodhpurs. While jodhpurs are typically made out of fine leather, paddock boots are made out of more durable materials so they can be worn all day long.
The versatility and durability of paddock boots make them a great option for any riders on a tight budget looking for a durable pair of riding boots.
Western Riding Boots
Western boots are world renown for their distinctive look and great durability. They are typically made out of cowhide leather that makes them very durable. While cowboy boots look very similar across the board, there are significant distinctions between the different types that you should be mindful of as you’re making a decision about which ones are right for you.
Traditional Cowboy Boots typically have a heel that is an inch and a half tall, making them fairly comfortable for walking. These boots come up to roughly mid-calf and provide protection for horseback riders from the stirrups of a saddle. These boots are a great option for those who are interested in pleasure riding and want a boot that they can wear outside of just riding.
Tall Cowboy Riding Boots are created specifically for horseback riding. This is clearly shown by their smooth holds that won’t provide too much grip in the event of a fall while riding, and their angled two-inch heels that help prevent riders’ heels from slipping through their stirrups.
The front of tall cowboy riding boots narrows at the front, making it much easier for cowboys in a hurry to get their feet into their saddle stirrups without getting stuck.
Short Cowboy Riding Boots generally have a heel that is one and a half to two inches, and a shaft that comes up just several inches above the ankle. You might consider these if you’re trying to beat the heat while you ride but like the appeal of cowboy boots.
Alternative Riding Shoes
If you’re not very fond of riding boots, you might be interested in a good pair of riding sneakers. Riding sneakers are built like normal sneakers, however, they are much more durable and provide a slight heel that you’ll need while riding.
You won’t see people competing in riding sneakers, but for casual horseback riders, they are an absolute dream. They are very breathable and lightweight compared to English and western riding boots. One of their drawbacks is that they have laces. Laces are never ideal for riding shoes because they are more likely to get caught in the stirrups or elsewhere.
Muck Boots look a lot like a hardcore pair of rainboots, and that’s essentially what they are. These boots are great for outdoor work and keeping your feet warm in freezing temperatures.
If you plan on using these for riding, it’s ideal that you get a very close fit to avoid the upper shaft of the shoes moving around as you ride.
Because of their similarities to riding sneakers, you’ll see people horseback riding in hiking boots from time to team. Taller hiking boots can offer good ankle support and plenty of protection like you would get from a pair of riding boots.
The problem with hiking boots is that they are generally very bulky and boxy, meaning you can have a difficult time getting your feet inside and out of stirrups.
In addition, hiking boots are made with grip in mind. The ideal pair of riding boots will have a minimal amount of grip. Not so much that you can’t get your feet out of your stirrups quickly, but not so little that your feet are slipping all over the place as you ride. Hiking boots, like riding sneakers, also have laces that can get caught where they’re not supposed to.
Riding Disciplines and Boots: Which Ones Do You Need?
Within the horse world, there are a plethora of disciplines that you can pursue. If you already have your discipline in mind, you might be wondering what type of shoe you will need. In this section, I’ll cover some of the main riding disciplines and the most common shoe requirements for each one.
Boots for English Disciplines
For dressage, cross-country, jumping, English pleasure, hunt seat, and saddle seat, you will need dress boots or field boots for competitions. In most beginner classes for children, they will allow paddock boots with matching gaiters.
Boots for Western Disciplines
For reining, pleasure, trail, cutting, roping, and barrel racing, traditional cowboy boots and riding cowboy boots will do. In general, the dress codes for western disciplines are much more relaxed than those of English riding disciplines.
How do you care for leather riding boots?
Taking good care of leather riding boots can go a long way in extending their life and polished appearance. To take care of them, you should wipe them down thoroughly after each use with a damp cloth. You should never use household cleaners for this because you can damage the leather.
You can help your boots maintain their shape by inserting boot trees into the shaft when you’re not wearing them. Avoid wearing your shoes on wet days. If they do get wet, let them dry out naturally.
Can you wear sandals horseback riding?
Sandals are not recommended for horseback riding because they offer little to no protection for your feet from horses and they will likely slip off of your feet while you’re riding. They also won’t supply any ankle support, or protect your legs from rubbing against stirrups as tall riding boots will.
Can you wear rainboots for horseback riding?
Rainboots are usually very bulky and loose around the calf, making them not ideal for horseback riding. Bulky shoes won’t slip in and out of stirrups easily, and if the upper shaft of your rainboots is loose, they will likely flap around as you’re riding.
Can you wear sneakers horseback riding?
Normal sneakers are not ideal for horseback riding because they offer very little protection for your feet and their laces can get snagged in your tack. In addition, sneakers typically lack the recommended one to two-inch heel that most riding shoes have to prevent your feet from slipping through stirrups.