Saturday, September 24, 2011

If the boot fits...

Vogue 2009 via
Equestrian dressing in the country never goes out of style.  Everywhere else, it cycles as a fashion trend on a regular basis, probably because riding clothes are comfortable and utilitarian while giving the wearer a patrician aspect and a certain swashbuckling, outdoorsy sexiness all at the same time.

Grace Kelly in Central Park via

The trick to pulling off this look while you browse antique stores or sip a latte with the Sunday crossword at a sidewalk cafe, is knowing something of the origins of the gear and staying authentic.  Of course, you can always break the rules, but that's way more fun to do if you know what they are first.

For example, if you're wearing this snazzy boot while you ramble around the farmer's market, don't be surprised if someone asks whether you play polo.

Want to see the boots in action?  Click above.

Captain George K.H. Cousmaker, 1782
by Sir Joshua Reynolds

There are generally two types of tall boots worn by riders in English disciplines, the field boot, and the dress boot, and they haven't changed much in hundreds of years.  Non-riders rarely consider this, but one can buy beautiful authentic riding boots which are reasonably priced and better quality than typical fashion boots at any tack store that sells English riding gear.  No horse required.

Alexander I of Russia, 1837
 by Franz Kruger

Tall boots are made from cowhide, calf, or pigskin and their purpose is to prevent the rider's leg from being pinched or rubbed by the saddle and stirrup leathers, and to give some protection from brush and brambles.

The boot has a roomy, firm toe box to protect the rider's foot when on the ground, and a low heel to help prevent the rider's foot from sliding through the stirrup (and the rider possibly being dragged) should she unintentionally dismount.

Boot hooks

Both types of boot usually have a spur rest to support the spur, and these days are available with a zipper that runs down the back of the calf to make them easy to put on without the aid of boot hooks.

Important note:  Authentic riding boots do not have zippers on the inside of the leg.  If you want to appear horsey, this is a dead giveaway.

The topline of riding boots has morphed periodically through history.  The popular "Spanish" topline is cut higher on the outside of the boot to elongate the appearance of the rider's leg when seated in the saddle, while still allowing his or her knee to bend comfortably.

To get a long, elegant look with breeches, leggings, jeans or skirts without the annoyance of having your boot poke you in the back of the knee when you sit down, measure from the bottom of your heel to the crook of your knee when seated in a chair, then add about an inch.  That number is the height of boot that will likely be most comfortable for you.  That extra inch is added because most boots will drop a bit as they break in.   The sales associates at your local tack shop can usually help you with the specific break-in characteristics of your chosen style and brand.

While you're at it, measure around the fullest part of your calf.  Boot length and calf width can vary considerably between manufacturers, and even between models by the same manufacturer.  Shops that sell riding boots usually have a chart for the various brands and models to help you select the most comfortable boot length and calf width.

Field boots with a high Spanish topline, lacing, toe caps,
stitched down outside leather tabs, rear zippers and spur rests

Field boots have lacing at the ankle to allow the rider to be more comfortable riding with the highly flexed ankle and shorter stirrup length required for riding over fences.

Field boots are generally tied with a straight bar lacing so they can be cut easily with a knife if necessary.  The shoelace ties at the center, or the ends are tucked in.

Brown field boot, plain toe, inner tabs, straight bar lacing

Field boots are preferred in most jumping disciplines, but are not considered correct for dressage or formal fox hunting meets.  They have inner or outer leather tabs, and sometimes an extra layer of leather over the toe, called a toe cap.

It is acceptable for field boots to slouch a bit around the ankle.  Black boots are standard.  Brown boots are correct for schooling or less formal "cubbing" meets.

Dress boots with moderate Spanish topline, spur rests and rear zippers

Dress boots are plain black without a toe cap.  They do not have ankle lacing and should not slouch.  To this end, dress boots may be either kid glove thin and form-fittingly sleek, or they may be firm or lined leather constructed with boning or stiffening in the ankles.  They are worn by dressage riders, eventers in the dressage phase of their tests, for everyday schooling and training, and by both men and women for formal fox hunts (unless the rider is wearing scarlet, or a frock coat in which case see the boots with "cuffs" below).

There are a few equestrian boot traditions that either originated or perpetuated through the sport of fox hunting.

Start of a fox hunt at Downton Abbey via

I don't want to get too off-topic, but for Downton Abbey fans, Jane Asten's World at, has an interesting, balanced, and fairly comprehensive post on the history, traditions, attire, etc. of fox hunting here.  

Lady Mary at Downton Abbey via

Men's dress boots with brown cuffed hunt tops and outer tabs

Black dress boots with brown cuffs are traditionally worn at a formal hunt by male members of the club who have been awarded their "Colors," and in modern times, a female Master or Huntsman.  Colors are considered an honor, awarded by the Master of Foxhounds (MFH) at his discretion.  For long-standing members of a hunt, wearing Colors means one has earned the privilege of wearing the club's color on one's jacket collar, club insignia on one's buttons, and certain other attire.

Ladies of the hunt who have been awarded Colors wear black dress boots with black patent leather cuffs.  The wearing of cuffed boots is a tradition still known and actively practiced in the countryside, so do be aware of that when choosing riding boots for non-hunting wear.

Must Reads:


Images: 1. Vogue, 2009 via mermaidinmadras 2.  via Mermaidinmadras 3. Dehner 4.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, 5. Hermitage Museum 6. Cavenders 7-8. Vogel 9. Fieggen 10. Dehner 11. Ariat 12. Powderham Castle, Devon 13-14. Downton Abbey via 15-16. Dehner


  1. If I love riding boots, do I need to ride a horse?
    I just bought two pairs thanks to you. I think my Santa Monica neighbors are going to think I've lost my mind. I do plan to have horse when I move to Patina Farm. I guess I'll need to take some riding lessons asap!!


  2. I think you're in serious trouble Brooke! You know that's how it all begins. First, an innocent pair of boots, then some stirrups to put them in, then a saddle to hang the stirrups on, then a horse to set the saddle on top of... next thing you know you own a ranch. I am teased to this day because years ago I traded in my car for a truck, and then bought a horse trailer in the hope of one day having a horse to put into it.

  3. You are reading my mind. I've been online for two days looking at riding boots! There are so many wonderful ones available this year. What's a girl to do???

  4. Just found your blog thanks to Brooke and I loved this post! I've had my black dress boots (alas no colors because when we had our horses I rode, gasp, Western) for over ten years and they look pretty much the same as the day that I bought them--and I bought them second hand so they had already been used! A better investment than gold...

    1. Hi! So glad you dropped by! Very true, they do seem to last forever.

  5. Last year I tried to buy a pair of dress boots at an equestrian shop and I had to give up because I had such a hard time shimmying them up. I am not cool enough for the slip on boots. I need a zipper!

  6. Thanks so much for your comments! I agree Ms. Mindless, I can't pull the darn things on either, so I buy mine with rear zippers. I think we might be in the cool crowd this time. It is actually getting harder to find the pull-ons, because so many riders feel the same way. Possibly try the Ariat rear zip. They come in calf widths, have a zipper and a cushy insole.

  7. we are talking! I have a theory on boots and in my mind it is all in the fit of the ankle. I have the men's version of the dress boot for kicking around.... I have been after a nice slim fit black dress boot that fits nicely around the bagging allowed. I think you have covered the market here. Great post...I just tweeted your post on Tweeds...will add this one too. Do you have a Facebook Page or Twitter acct ?...might be something to consider as you pull together. Let me know if you need help... Now...I really must stop reading your blog, work to be done around here!! :)

    Jeanne xx

  8. ohmigoodness! I have to have some of these boots!

    I may have to find out what the kind Brooke bought, and where she found them!
    Kinda spooky! I have been longing for English riding boots!

  9. Having grown up in the horse show world I too covet the "look". No horses now but I do have two Barnesby full cut back show saddles in my living room. Dressing for the show was much of the fun of showing. I can still pull on my riding clothes. I'm 78 years old. Ann

  10. what a wonderful site! A joy to read and view! Thank you!!


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