We’ve almost completed building your
western show wardrobe, but a few details remain. In this chapter,
let’s talk about western boots.
Both you and your horse need good footwear to put in great
performances. Fortunately, people shoes are much easier to
deal with than horseshoes. Your boots will last
for years instead of six weeks, and you hopefully won’t pull off a boot
and lose it in a muddy pasture. Nonetheless, there are several important considerations
when selecting boots as a finishing touch to your show ring presentation. Before
you buy, let’s examine construction, safety, comfort, and style to see
how they’ll affect your next purchase of western boots.
Today’s western boots are not the same animal as those made even a few
years ago. High-tech innovations are changing the way most boots are made,
including molded one-piece soles with gel inserts and carbon fiber shanks (reinforcements)
and other advances. Compared to traditional leather soles, these composite
usually last much longer, seal out moisture better, and are often more comfortable
than traditional leather, but on the downside, high-tech soles usually cannot
be re-soled like leather. The other popular choice in western boots soles today
is a synthetic crepe material that is thicker and softer than leather, insulates
and pads well, and makes a terrific sole if you stand around on cement floors
in boots all day.
Whether boots have leather, crepe, or technical soles, the sole is usually
glued and stitched to the uppers. In inexpensive boots, the uppers (both the
the shaft, or leg, portion of the boot) may be of a synthetic vinyl or plastic
material, but leather—an animal hide that can be anything from cowhide
to crocodile, ostrich, whipsnake, or even eel—is the material of choice for boots.
stretches, breathes, and dries in such a way that your boots will let your feet
be more comfortable because they will be cooler than in a synthetic boot. While
synthetic boots are attractively priced and a decent choice for small children,
investing in leather boots with leather linings is good value for comfort if
you’ll wear your boots for more than a few hours at a time.
There’s an important safety consideration for riding boots: they must fit
your foot well but they must also be compatible with the stirrups you use to
allow your foot to slip from the stirrup in an emergency. If you and your horse
part ways, you don’t want your boot to catch in the stirrup and drag the
rest of your body along with a frightened horse. For safety’s sake, avoid
thick crepe-soled boots for riding unless you know that they will slip free
of your stirrups.
To clarify this point: most western stirrups are about 5" wide at their
broadest point, but the mostly-flat part of the tread is only about 4".
Double-welted crepe soled boots in a women’s size 9 medium measure nearly
4" across, versus about 3 1/4" for leather double-welted soles—and
that extra three-fourths of an inch makes the crepe boots much too snug to
be safe in a standard stirrup. The crepe soles also look odd in a stirrup many
as they are often a very noticeable pale cream color that will look like you
are wearing water skis with dark chaps. Stick to composite or leather soles
for show, and by all means enjoy comfortable crepe as a work boot, or allow
of extra safety width in a stirrup.
Another safety consideration is the boot’s heel design. Very high underslung
heels are sometimes considered a drawback for riding as they too can catch on
the stirrup in an emergency. Though a great traditional look for buckaroo horsemen,
high heels are another ‘don’t bother’ design in the show ring.
A boot’s tops don’t have much impact on safety, especially as they
are usually wrapped by a layer of chaps and a layer of pants, but moderate
heels and slim soles are worth looking for. Tip: if you find leather soles
easily out of your stirrups, wrap your stirrup treads with a few layers of
Vetrap or latex bandage in a color that blends with the stirrup for better
When it comes to boot comfort, don’t get a Cinderella complex. Remember
Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to cram on the glass slipper? Bad idea,
even for a great deal on your dream ostrich show boots. Make sure your show boots
are truly comfortable by either buying them from a store that offers expert fitting,
or using a brand and size that you’ve worn comfortably in the past. You’ll
have your show boots on from sunup ‘til way past dark some days, so don’t
hobble yourself with anything less than a perfect fit.
On the style front, western boots, along with hats, are the two symbols of ‘real
cowboys.’ Whether you choose an exotic leather in a wild color, or simple
boots that can carry you into the show ring or the grocery store, the shape and
detailing of western boots adds spice to your presentation and are a source of
pride for most anyone who appreciates ‘ranch dressing.’ But think
about this: only the toe of your boot will show when you ride, so go for sensible
and simple show boots and save up your bucks for some dancin’ boots or
extra entry fees. Think about how your boot will look peeking out from under
your chaps, through your wide stirrup, and next to your horse’s shoulder,
then choose something classic that will fill your needs.
A basic roper style boot (semi-rounded toe with low tops) with leather soles
is the all-around best bet for showing. They are relatively inexpensive, safe
in your stirrups, and fit great under the slim leg of your chaps. Ropers are
also the most popular style of boot on the market, so there’s a tremendous
variety of colors, leathers, and prices. Moderate roper heels are also comfortable
to walk in, for those who show in halter or showmanship. Lacer boots are a second
choice for show boots, but remember to remove the kiltie (fringed panel at the
bottom of the laces) to eliminate bulk under the south edge of your chaps. Don’t
spend lots of time and money trying to find fancy boots for wearing in the show
ring—they simply don’t add much to the overall impression.
Because your boots show only their toes in the ring, color-matching boots to
chaps or show pants is not as critical as you might think. Coordinate your
boot tone to your chaps or your horse’s shoulder color by either buying the
correct color boots, or having a shoe repair shop re-dye an existing pair of
boots. Make sure you keep extra dye for touch-ups, and don’t worry about
the tops of the boots- they’ll never show in the ring. Of course, no
matter what you spend for show boots, they should be freshly polished with
polish and lots of elbow grease for each show day, and dusted with a dry, clean
cloth before each class.
Chapter 8 - Saddle Blankets