As equestrians, riding boots are one of our most key pieces of equipment. They have both a functional and style component. Functionally, boots keep us safe and comfortable both on in the saddle and on the ground. Heels keep our feet from slipping through stirrups; shanks give us foot stability when we only have a small portion of our foot supported by stirrup treads; snug laces give us ankle support, and leather calves (whether from tall boots or chaps) keep us from getting rubs from stirrup leathers. From a fashion or style perspective, boots can be a signpost for what discipline we ride, and even our personal fashion sense. Think riding boots are all tradition? Wrong! While they are based in years and years of traditional equestrian attire, you can now flaunt a bit of personal style in your selection of boots.
First the Basics:
Dress and Dressage Boots:
Dress Boots are what many people think of when they imagine traditional English tall boots. The are generally black, come up to just at the knee, and have a slightly higher outer top than inner top (this is referred to has a “Spanish Top”). Years ago, Dress Boots tended to be the same height all around. The Spanish Top has become the norm to the point that a boot without it would appear quite old fashioned to most people.
Dressage Boots are a form of Dress Boot. The Dressage boot is built slanted more forward than the Dress boot and has stiffened side panels. The back of the boot is generally stiffened. This stiffening nearly eliminates the amount of “drop” the boot will have at the ankle. This all facilitates the longer leg position, and more formal form we see in Dressage.
Field Boots look much like a Dress Boot, but with one significant difference. A Field Boot has a laced ankle built into the front of the boot. This enables the rider to adjust the ankle fit, and also makes the boot more flexible in the ankle area. This allows for the shorter stirrup, and more flexed ankle position that is required when jumping fences. Not surprisingly, Field Boots are the preferred boots for most riders who jump. Additionally, Field Boots traditionally have a “toe cap,” a decorative seam across the front of the foot.
Paddock Boots are short equestrian boots- originally named for wearing around the “paddock” rather than in the dressage court or hunt field. In recent years, these easy wearing boots that come just above the ankle have become the daily boot of choice for many English equestrians. Available in lace, zipper, and pull on versions, these boots function like a tall boot when combined with chaps or half chaps.
Once, paddock boots were strictly schooling boots, never to worn in the show ring, or even to lessons, or clinics. Increasingly, however, the quality of paddock boots and half chaps has increased. It is now very possible to get a high quality paddock/half chap combination that looks virtually indistinguishable from a tall boot in the show ring.
Which Should I Choose?
If you are planning to show, you’ll want to consult your discipline’s rules. Here is a general guide, but remember, rules change and different regions have different norms. ALWAYS check with your ruling body before you purchase show attire!
Field Boots are traditionally used for schooling and competition by the Hunter/Jumper rider, however the USEF Rules does not specify footwear other than “boots.” We strongly suggest you attend some shows and see what is the norm for your region!
The USEF Rule book specifies that “boots or jodhpur boots” be used from Training Level through 4th Level. Half Chaps are ONLY allowed through first level. Above 4th Level, tall black boots are required. In practice, Dressage riders generally wear tall Dress boots or Dressage Boots. Standard Dress boots are seen at the lower levels, and the Dressage boots with a stiffened back are seen at higher levels. Increasingly, formal Dressage Boots are being seen at lower and lower levels.
The formal requirement is usually for “high black boots”. You will probably see a fairly equal split between Field and Dress boots. It is always advisable to check on individual hunts regulations before you ride with a hunt.
From the USEF Rules vs. what is generally seen:
a. Tests and Horse Trials (Beginner Novice through Preliminary)
Boots—black, brown, field, jodhpur or a black or brown full grain smooth leather leg piece and matching leather boots. Chaps and/or half-chaps are not allowed.
Dress boots are seen at the higher levels and Field at lower levels.
b. Horse Trials (Intermediate and Advanced)—Two Day & Three Day Events. Boots—preferably black dress or a black full grain leather leg piece and matching leather boot. Chaps and half-chaps are not allowed.
Black Dress boots are the most commonly seen and at the Advanced levels, the more formal European-style dress boots with stiffened back stays will be seen.
Boots—black, brown, field, Jodhpur or a black or brown full grain smooth leather leg piece and matching leather boots. Chaps or half-chaps are not allowed.
You will predominantly see black Field boots out on the Cross-Country course.