Riding Boots: What They Are & Their Features
Riding boots, in the English tradition, are boots that are made specifically with horseback riding in mind. We will be focusing on classic knee-high boots in this article. If you’d like to read about jodhpur boots, click here to jump to that article. For now, here are some of the main points of what makes a riding boot a riding boot:
- Knee-high to protect against friction and pinching of the leg skin against the saddle
- Traditionally a pull-on style with no laces, straps, or buckles
- The leather of the sole is actually very flexible and smooth. This is to allow additional maneuverability in the stirrups and to prevent the rider from being caught in the stirrups in case he falls off
- Horseback History & The English Tradition
Humans have been riding horseback regularly since about 800 B.C., and the process has certainly been refined over the last 2800 years or so. Using horses as beasts of burden was one thing, but being able to ride them was a different story altogether. You could deliver messages faster and escape enemies easily if they were on foot. Groups with strong cavalries were formidable in warfare until the invention of motor vehicles, which rendered equestrian efforts on the battlefield obsolete.
Naturally, riding horseback provided challenges in terms of the comfort of the rider. In the way that form tends to meet function at some point or another, riding gear was invented to ease the burden on riders’ legs.
Before the invention of the jodhpur pant in 1890 ushered in widespread use of jodhpur boots as riding footwear, the riding boot was the option to wear while riding. They were largely replaced by the jodhpur boot for the same reason that most people do anything: it was easier.
Getting jodhpur boots on and off is no big deal, you just remove them like you would any other shoe. Taking full riding boots off, however, is a bit of a project. It requires either:
- A boot jack
- A staff of people to help you
Not many of us nowadays are so wealthy that we have a team of people to help us with our equestrian endeavors, and a boot jack is just another thing to have to worry about. It’s easy to see why folks went to using jodhpur boots so quickly.
Knee-high riding boots are nowadays typically reserved for formal occasions like hunting or eventing, whereas jodhpur boots are used more regularly in everyday hacking, cross-country, or dressage practice.
How To Wear Riding Boots
We admit that seeing riding boots on men in a non-riding context is rare. Peculiar, even. With that said, the English riding tradition has influenced a lot about menswear. We wouldn’t have center vents without horseback riding, nor would we have hacking jackets or slanted pockets on jackets (sometimes called “hacking” pockets, so named after the equestrian activity with which they’re associated).
With that said, Wellington boots (“wellies”) are based off of the riding boot design, and these have seen increased popularity among men in recent years.
Furthermore, Ralph Lauren’s Polo line is, literally by name, based off of the equestrian tradition.
The footwear deserves its due as well!
Riding boots don’t play by the same rules as normal footwear when it comes to formality. There is, however, a uniform worn along with them, which includes:
- Tan legging-style pants with stirrups under the feet and leather on the insides of the calves. Made to be tucked into the boots
- White button-down shirt
- Navy, black, or hunter green sport coat
We don’t advise wearing this outside of a riding context unless you’re involved in performance art or a practical joke of some kind.
One can theoretically ride in any season, though it’s customary to avoid the dead of winter and the hottest summer days. Horses are living beings and are just as adversely affected by extreme weather as we are.
Who Even Makes Riding Boots Nowadays?
You typically won’t find these at your average shoe retailer, but there are a couple of specialty brands who have a history of making English riding boots:
Should I Buy A Riding Boot?
We understand that it’s impolite to answer a question with another question, but we have to in this case:
Do you ride horses or plan to take up horseback riding in the English tradition.
If the answer is yes, go for it! Invest in a good pair so that they last! A pair with an angled shaft will reduce wear as it already accommodates the “toes to heaven, heels to hell” mantra.
The the answer is no, don’t buy these boots. It’s one thing to be a poser, but quite another to be a poser in super rare clothing.