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What Kind Of Shoes To Wear Horse Riding: A Beginner Rider’s Guide

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Shockingly, not all boots are equal when it comes to horse riding! Despite their rugged look, hiking boots can pose a serious safety hazard in the saddle. Find out why and learn which alternatives we recommend for your riding adventure.

If you are reading this article I am assuming that you are getting started with horses or you are just curious. If you are getting started congratulations horses are awesome creatures and horseback riding is a lot of fun. I have been riding for over 20 years and still love it. I have gone through many well-worn pairs of riding boots and know what to look for in a good pair.

So to answer the question: What kind of shoes do you wear to ride a horse? It’s important to wear the right kind of shoes for horseback riding . This will help to keep you stay safer in and off the saddle. Riding shoes are more commonly called riding boots, in the horse world. You want a “shoe” or boot with a hard protected toe, enclosed heel, small tread on sole, a defined heel 1-2 inches high and good ankle support.

Having correct footwear is very important because it helps protects your feet on the ground if the horse accidentally steps on your toes. It protects you in the saddle in the event you fall off you are less likely to get your foot caught in the saddle and be dragged.

It is really scary being dragged. In my years of riding, I have been dragged twice, both times because I got my foot stuck in the stirrup. Luckily I was able to kick my foot out the first time and the second time my horse stopped and I don’t remember if I got my foot out myself or my instructor did.

Having correct footwear also helps you while you are riding, by giving ankle support and keeping your foot from sliding through the stirrup if you are struggling to keep your heels down.

Riding boots come in different styles but they all have the basic requirements for safety when riding. Your safety should be considered whenever riding or working with horses . Definitely consider in invested in boots designed for riding horses.

The goal of this article about shoes for horse riding is to help you choose a good pair of riding boots for your start with horses. Whether you haven’t ridden yet or have been riding for some time now and are ready to invest in some boots.

What Shoes Should You Avoid When Riding Horses?

If you are a beginner rider just starting out hoping you can wear something you already have, more likely than not you won’t have a suitable pair of shoes in your closet. But let’s go over what you want to avoid when looking through what you have. So you can figure out if you need to invest the money into a proper pair of riding shoes.

If you find a pair of hiking boots these are not going to be suitable. Despite most hiking boots having a heel, most do not provide much ankle support and the treads on the boot provide too much grip, which proposes a hazard if you were to fall off. This could cause your foot to get stuck in the stirrup and if the horse takes off you could be dragged. Another potential hazard is that these boots tend to be wider than riding boots and may more easily get stuck in the stirrup, plus it’s harder to get your feet in and out of the stirrups.

If you find tennis shoes or sneakers these will not be suitable either. The grip is a problem though not as bad as a hiking boot as well as lack of ankle support. But the main problem here is the lack of heel. If you are struggling with keeping your heels down you are much more likely to have your foot slide through the stirrup when riding. This will affect your riding ability and comfort as well as once again putting you at risk of getting dragged.

If you find sandals. Move on. I shouldn’t have to explain.

If you find military boots. The tread is a problem and some don’t have a defined heel.

If you find rainboots they are not ideal because they don’t have ankle support and are on the looser side. However, some have a definite heel and a sole with smaller treads. If it has these two qualities it could be a temporary or last resort option.

If you have fake riding boots it could be a possibility. However… if the boots have zippers or buckles on the inside of the boots you don’t want to use them. The zipper/buckle will either rub on the saddle or the horse. If the boots have heels higher than 2 inches they are not ideal. Another thing to consider is that these boots probably don’t have good ankle support or toe protection.

Comment below if I missed any footwear, you may be wondering about.

Different Kinds Of Riding Footwear

You might be surprised to find out that there are many different kinds of riding boots out there you can choose from. I am going to cover a handful of the most popular boots to help you go over your options.

Western Riding Boots

Western boots come in many shapes, lengths, colors, designs, and materials, including different types of leather.

The western boot’s

…shaft is the upper part of the Western boot and is what protects the ankle and lower leg. Depending on the style the length of the shaft will vary.

RMRS- How To Wear Cowboy Boots | Ultimate Guide To The Western Boot

The toe of the boots come in different shapes and widths. When you go shopping for western boots it helps to know what type of cowboy boot you are interested in because of the many options.

4 different western riding boots:

  • Classic cowboy boot
  • Buckaroo cowboy boot
  • Roper cowboy boot
  • Packer cowboy boot

1. Classic Cowboy Boots

These are the icon boots people think of when they think of what cowboys and cowgirls wear. The shaft will be 12 inches long, which is right about mid-calf. This helps protect your leg from being rubbed by the stirrups. The heel on these boots is angled and around 1 to 1-1/2 inches high. These boots are great for recreational riders that ride for fun and want to wear there boots at the barn and in there every day.

2. Buckaroo Cowboy Boots

These are the really tall cowboy boots with the shaft ranging around 15- 17 inches in height. These boots came about from cowboys who lived in brushy terrain.

…. mostly associated with buckaroo cowboys in the Great Basin region that stretches from Oregon into Mexico and from Wyoming to California.

True West Magazine- The Functional Side of Cowboy Boots

They are tall so debris and burrs don’t go down into your boot and you are more protected. These tall boots feature scallops or v-cuts in the front and back of the shaft and most of these boots have holes to help you pull them on. Sliding your foot into these boots are not a thing. You need to pull them on with some force. The heel can be flat or angled.

3. Roper Cowboy Boots

These boots were created for cowboys who compete in calf roping events. When the cowboy ropes the calf he has to jump off his horse and run to the calf, flip it on it’s back and tie three of the calf’s legs with a short rope called a tie-down rope. So these boots had to be comfortable and practical for these competitions.

These boots have a much lower shaft than other cowboy boots hitting the lower calf between 7 to 10 inches tall. They also sport a lower flatter heel at 1-1/2 inch or less. Almost all ropers have a flexible sole for comfort and a rounded toe. These boots are also a great option if you live in an area with a warmer temperature since the shaft is shorter.

4. Packer Cowboy Boot

Packers are a different style of western boot and look similar to some short English riding boots. They are a lace-up boot that sits right above the ankle and they have a flat heel.

Packers are named for cowboys who use pack horses and mules in the mountainous backcountry of the northern Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest.

True West Magazine- The Functional Side of Cowboy Boots

These boots provide more ankle support than other western boots, due to riders dismounting often on the rocky terrain and wanting protection from spraining or twisting ankles. These can be great work boots as well as riding boots. The toe is tapered and more narrow than a work boot and has a well-defined heel so that it is also suitable for riding.

English Riding Boots

The main kinds of English riding boots are tall boots, paddock boots, and jodhpurs. Half chaps are commonly worn with paddock boots so I have included them in this section. English riding boots are commonly made of leather, vinyl, rubber or synthetic leather. The leather is usually pigskin or cowhide. Most of these boots have a tapered toe so they more easily fit inside the stirrup, although rare there are some English boots with a rounded toe.

Tall Boots

Tall boots that rise up to the rider’s knee, used to be required to be pulled on with boot pulls. But nowadays tall boots most often have zippers to make the process of getting them on a lot easier.

4 different kinds of English tall boots:

  • Field boot
  • Dress boot
  • Hunt boot
  • Dressage boot

1. Field Boot

Field grade officers in the calvary wore these boots and that’s where field boots got their name. They have laces across the vamp or instep. Many nowadays are elastic but when I first started riding the only option for field boots was tie up laces, which are still used today. Field boots tend to have soft and supple leather but there are some that come in flexible synthetic leather as well. This lets you ride with shorter stirrups for jumping and gives you the room to flex your ankles and drop your heels. Most field boots have a higher cut on the outside top of the boot than the inside top, which is called a Spanish cut. Field boots sport a close fit from the ankle through the calf to the top of the boot to make the leg look longer. Some new trends include boots with laces all the way to the top of the boot, designs on the tops of the boots, and different colors. These trendy boots tend to cost a lot more than their traditional counterparts.

2. Dress Boot

The dress boot can have flexible leather or leather with a slight firmness. They fit the leg similar to field boots but don’t have any laces. The dress boots also fit to alow the ankles to flex and for the rider to be able to use a shorter leg position for jumping. These also can have the Spanish cut at the top. Dress boots are used in many different disciplines.

3. Hunt Boot

Hunt boots are used for fox hunting. Fox hunting has specific rules for what to wear when. When you think of hunt boots you probably think of black dress boots with tan tops. Those are worn by men during the formal season, but black dress boots can be acceptable as well. Brown field boots or black dress boots are acceptable during cubbing season. Make sure if you will be fox hunting you check with the hunt for specific guidelines on what you should wear.

4. Dressage Boot

Dressage boots look like dress boots without the laces. But they are much stiffer especially on the outside of the boot. They have a more rigid straight fit down the leg. There is a small area around the ankle that has some flexibility to move. These boots are not recommended for jumping or work in the half-seat because they would be uncomfortable as their purpose is to encourage a longer leg.

Paddock Boots

These boots like tall boots tend to be made of leather or synthetic leather. Paddock boots often have an extra layer of leather called the toe cap to protect your feet. They are short boots that come just past the ankle and are easier to take on and off compared to tall boots. They come in two different styles, laces or zip-up.

Laces provide more support for the ankle because you can tie the laces tight for more support. If the laces break it is not too hard to fix the problem. You just buy a new pair of laces and swap them out.

Zip ups are quicker to put on because you just slide your foot in zip-up the boot and your good. But if the zipper breaks its more of a pain to get fixed, because you have to take it to someone that knows how to fix zippers.

Jodphur Boots

Jodphur boots tend to mostly be worn by children, along with jodhpurs, or rider’s who’s discipline is saddle seat.

Children jodhpurs are riding pants that have an elastic strap on the bottom, which goes under the jodhpur boot on the arch of the boot in front of the heel. The strap on the jodhpurs pants keeps the pant leg from rising up on the child as well as leather garter straps that sit under the knees.

Saddle seat riders wear jods, riding pants that look like dress pants but have a bell in the back bottom of the pant.

Jodphur boots look very similar to paddock boots but they don’t have a zipper or laces, instead, they usually have a loop on the front and back to pull the boot on.

Half Chaps

Half chaps are worn with paddock boots and are used not only for grip but for comfort as well. They provide protection from the stirrup leathers rubbing your legs in the saddle which often causes chafing with paddock boots alone. Another benefit is while trail riding, the half chaps can protect your tree branches and bushes. Half chaps tend to extend up to just below the knees. There are zippers on the back or side of the half chaps to easily put on. Common options for half chaps are black or brown colors, smooth leather, suede leather or synthetic leather. Some new trends include rhinestones and colorful options. Half chaps are looked down on at horse shows but there are some half chaps that make you look like you are wearing tall boots. Check these out on amazon so you see what I am talking about.

Other Kinds Of Footwear For Riding and Around The Barn

There are other kinds of footwear that are worn around horses and while riding horses. Any kind of shoes or boots you wear around horses you want to make sure has a hard toe that will protect your toes in the event a horse steps on your foot. Any kind of shoe or boot you ride in you want to make sure your foot won’t slide through the stirrup by having a defined heel. Your boot won’t slide off if your feet are out of the stirrups by having a snug but a proper fitting boot. No treads on the sole or wide bulky footwear that can get stuck in the stirrups.

5 Different Other Kinds Of Footwear For The Barn:

  • Riding Sneakers
  • Endurance Boots
  • Casual Boots
  • Winter Riding Boots
  • Barn work or muck boots

Riding Sneakers

There are not many of these but riding sneakers are an option for people who don’t like really like riding boots and ride for pleasure.

These riding sneakers are hardier, have a defined heel and rise higher to cover the ankle compared to a normal sneaker.

These are great to keep you cool and comfortable yet still protected.

So far I have only seen 2 brands that carry riding sneakers right now Horze and Ariat.

Endurance Boots

Endurance boots are like a mix of a hiking boot and a paddock boot. I find these boots convenient if you work at the barn and ride.

They make good work boots to walk around all day in but they are also suitable for riding. Or if you like to go hiking and also ride horses.

These can serve you as multi-purpose boots, unlike regular hiking boots which are not suitable for riding due to lack of definite heel and the treads.

Ariat has a range of endurance boots available.

Casual Equestrian Country Boots

Not all casual equestrian boots are suitable. But there are some casual tall boots appropriate for riding horses and are a fashion statement. Make sure there are no buckles or zippers on the inside of the calf, that there is a smooth sole with a small amount of grip and a defined heel.

I loved my Dublin River Boots I would wear them out, doing barn work, while I was teaching lessons and when I would ride. Not ideal for showing but fine for occasional riding. Take not most don’t have the best ankle support.

Dublin is a popular brand for these kinds of boots. Dubarry is another popular brand with casual equestrian boots but they are much more expensive.

Winter Riding Boots

Winter riding boots tend to come in the color black. There are both winter paddock boots and tall boots. The tall boots are better with winter breeches, whereas the paddock boots are better with winter snow pants.

The only brand I have experience using is Mountain Horse. I have tried 3 of there winter tall boots and one of their winter paddock boots.

Some other brands that carry winter riding boots include Dublin, Ariat, Tuff Rider, Ovation.

Muck Boots

Most muck boots are made for working in the barn and aren’t suitable for riding because they don’t have a defined heel. However, there are some muck boots, not only designed for staying drying and working at the barn but also for riding.

Two brands I know make some muck boots like these are Ovation and The Muck Boot Company.

When I work in the barn, I prefer more than any other footwear to work in muck boots. Not rainboots… The muck boots have more cushioning. I love that I can walk through mud and muck and my socks stay dry.

Unless my boot gets sucked off in the mud has happened more than once. Or I work hard and sweat in my boots, that happens too.

7 Considerations When You Are Choosing Your Boots

Most boots are not cheap. You are going to be making some sort of investment whether it is $40 or $600. If the price is not an obstacle there are still other factors you want to consider like if they are safe, fit properly, are the right kind of boot for the type of riding you will be doing. Be careful not to just buy a boot on Amazon that says riding boot because riding boots are a trend right now and many of them are not real riding boots and lack some of the safety features.

7 Things To Consider When Buying Your Riding Boots:

  • Safety In Mind
  • Type Of Riding
  • Competing?
  • Material
  • Price
  • Fit And Comfort
  • Style

1. Safety In Mind

The most important thing when looking at boots for riding is that they are safe to ride in.

I have mentioned several times in this article what requirements mean a safe boot. Lets review:

  • Defined heel
  • Small treads
  • Hard protective toe
  • Enclosed no heel exposed

Ankle support is ideal and beneficial but not required for the boot to be safe.

2. Type Of Riding

What kind of riding are you are going to do? English or Western? Then there are disciplines within english and western riding .

Such as hunter/jumper, dressage, eventing, fox hunting, pleasure riding, saddle seat for english riding.

Roping, reining, barrel racing, western pleasure, and trail for western riding. Each discipline wears certain boots for showing and riding.

3. Competing?

Do you plan on competing in shows? You will either need to buy boots you can wear at shows and regular riding or buy two separate pairs of boots. One for show and one for everyday riding. If you do plan to show find out what boots are acceptable for your discipline to show in.

If you are competing in the western discipline you will want to wear a pair of cowboy boots, which kind is up to you. But in western pleasure attire may have a bit more flash and sparkle.

Here is a chart for english riding disciplines and types of boots for each.

Riding Discipline Type Of Riding Boots
DressageDressage Boots, Dress Boots, and Field Boots (At lower levels)
Hunter/EquitationField Boots or Dress Boots, Jodhpur Boots for young children.
JumpersField Boots or Dress Boots, Jodhpur Boots for young children.
EventingDressage Boots (Just dressage phase), Dress Boots or Field Boots
Fox HuntingHunt Boots or Dress Boots (Check outfit guidelines with each hunt. Will depend on season and hunt.) Jodhpur Boots for young children.
Saddle SeatJodphur Boots

4. Material

What do you want for material? Leather, synthetic leather? Rubber tends to not breathe and is not recommended for riding. Synthetic leather is usually a vinyl type material, and less expensive than leather. Leather comes in different quality levels. You will find some leather a bit stiff and dry while other leather is soft and supple. Soft and supple is the most comfortable and tends to be of better quality. But dressage boots are made rigid on purpose to help with leg position, though doesn’t mean it is dry low-quality leather.

5. Price

You need to figure out what you can afford and what you are comfortable spending. Boots can last for a few years if you take care of them well. It is an investment that will make you not only safer but the ride more enjoyable. Try to get the best boots you can get with your money because it really is worth spending more on boots that you like, fit well and are comfortable.

6. Fit and Comfort

Speaking of fit and comfort. You want to make sure you find boots that fit you or else you are going to be focusing on how uncomfortable your footwear is, instead of on your riding and the horse.

Thinking Of Fit And Comfort:

  • Shoe Size
  • Toe Shape
  • Footbed
  • Calf Size
  • Ankles And Heels

Shoe Size

Find out if the shoe size runs big, small or true to size. So you can get an idea of what size is right for you.

Toe Shape

Make sure the shape of the toe will be comfortable for your feet. If you have a wider foot, you want to find a wide toe boot or a round toe.


Some boots thin soles and almost no support. You can feel every pebble you step on. A good boot will have a comfortable footbed and provide some support to your feet.

Calf Size

Measure the widest part of your calf. Most boots come with size charts and you can figure out your leg size. Tall boots are very form-fitting and calf size is important to get right.

Ankles And Heels

you may find some boots are really stiff and the heel or the ankle dig in causing blisters. This may be because the boots need a breaking in period, or they may be low-quality boots.

7. Style

Of course, you want to choose the boots you think are cute, or look nice, but let this be your last deciding consideration not your first. There are many different trends going on now. Western boots can be pretty colorful and fancy and even english boots are coming out with new trends, like bright colors, rhinestones, tall laces, fancy prints and more.

Which Riding Boots Are Best For Beginner Horse Riders?

I assume most of you are dipping your toes in the water of horse riding and are more likely looking for boots priced on the low end. Am I right? Or maybe you just want good boots to get started with and don’t care so much about price. You probably won’t get right into competing so you can wait on competition boots.

For english riders, I suggest you start with paddock boots. Then when you commit to riding get half chaps to go along with paddock boots. Paddock boots tend to be less expensive than tall boots, less to clean, great for warmer weather and versatile.

My favorite boot brand is Ariat. I really like the ARIAT Women’s Heritage Rt Paddock Paddock Boot. I used to have a pair of these, they were comfortable and lasted a few years. I only used them for riding. They are a good first pair and worth the investment.

If you want to go cheap check out the Saxon Ladies Syntovia Zip Paddock Boot. I used to have these as well. They are synthetic leather and don’t last as long as leather boots. But the price is right. They are okay with getting you started riding.

For western riders, any kind of cowboy boots that fit, are comfortable and safe will work.

I ride in English boots but if I were to ride in western boots, I would need a rounded or wide square toe. I have wide feet and the narrow tapered toe squishes my feet.

Take a look at the reviews of the Ariat Women’s Delilah Round Toe Work Boot. Love the look of these boots.

Seems like most people are really happy with these boots, except for a few whose expectations weren’t met. Most people gave 5 stars.

Which Riding Boots Are Best For Kids?

For young kids under 10, jodhpur boots are usually the way to go for certain english disciplines such as hunters, equitation, jumpers and saddle seat.

If your child is just going to be recreationally riding and taking lessons. Paddock boots are fine to wear.

Half chaps often come in kid sizes as well and protect your child’s legs from chafing due to the stirrup leather rubbing as they ride.

For western riding, cowboy boots are made in child sizes as well. Any western riding boot that fits your child follows safety guidelines and is comfortable for them is suitable.

Which Boots Are Best For Plus-Sized Riders?

If you are plus-sized riding western you want to make sure the shaft is going to be wide enough for cowboy boots. You may want to go with a shorter shaft which should be easier to get on.

For english plus size riders, tall boots come in wide and some brands offer extra wide. If you are wanting to purchase paddock boots, avoid zipper up boots that are tighter around the ankles. Purchase lace-up paddock boots instead because you can loosen the laces to fit you better.

Now Go Choose Your Boots

I hope this guide helps you find a pair of good riding boots for your journey with horses. You want a pair that will help you not hinder you. Most important is you want to stay safe and have a bunch of fun!

Did you find this article helpful? Check out:

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Cheers, Kacey

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Disclaimer Notice: Please be aware that horseback riding and related equestrian activities carry inherent risks. The advice and experiences shared on this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional training or advice. Ensure your safety and that of your horse by wearing appropriate gear, practicing safe horse handling, and consulting with certified equestrian professionals. Remember, each horse is unique, and techniques may vary accordingly. Always prioritize safety, respect, and patience in your equestrian endeavors.

Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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