High and Tight

The trials and tribulations of buying new English horseback riding boots

For equestrians, skin-tight pants and tall black boots are completely normal daily attire for the barn, school library, Walmart — the venue doesn’t matter. To anyone of the non-horsey persuasion or unfamiliar with equestrian couture, seeing someone dressed like this might make you question their fashion sense and/or wonder if they’re merging attire for their night job with their day job, if ya catch my drift. But I can assure you that my night job involves nothing more than homework.

Anyhow, my latest project has been breaking in new field boots, so I’ve been wearing them in public (AKA not the barn) quite often lately.

For my non horse-people readers, field boots are tall black boots with laces in the front used for certain types of English riding. Not only are they difficult to fit, as you have to consider calf size and height, but they’re expensive as heck and real buggers to break in.

When you buy field boots, they’re generally at least an inch taller than you want because they drop in height as the leather relaxes. Plus they should be almost as tight as you can bear so they don’t become too loose around your calves as they stretch.

My first pair of English boots were rubber, purchased from a garage sale and looked like rain boots, but I felt so fancy and equestrienne-esque when I wore them. Until it came to their removal, because they sealed onto my legs and feet like two giant suction cups. I recall a time or two of being hoisted off the ground as one of my parents or brother tried to wrench the boots from my legs.

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Who’s that weirdo with the shiny boots?

Then we tried ordering a pair (of REAL leather ones!) from tackoftheday.com, one of the best websites for discount English tack and attire. Unfortunately we underestimated the height I needed, so they broke in two inches too short.

Take three was buying a pair of zipperless used Ariats from a family friend who bought them back in her IHSA competition days. Zipperless tall boots are pulled on with boot hooks, and I had the same problem with tricky removal as the rubber pair.

My freshman year of college, my VERY non-horsey roommate had to rip them from my legs as I dangled from my loft bed. If she learned nothing else that year, I probably cured her of ever wanting to ride horses… poor thing.

Not only did the boots never fit quite right (a tish too tall and large in the calf) they were also the SHINIEST. BOOTS. EVER. No kidding, if you slapped leather conditioner on those bad boys, any light reflection could be seen from the moon. On the bright side (no pun intended), the sparkling boots probably distracted the judges from anything wrong with the position of my upper body in the show ring!

For over a year I’ve said I should buy new boots, and for over a year I’ve ignored my desire and kept on with the slick and shiny black diamonds. A couple weeks ago, I caved, dove deep into my bank account and bought boots.

After watching countless boot fitting videos, measuring, measuring again and trying on team members’ boots, we ordered four pairs from SmartPak. They offer free shipping both ways so you can try on your purchases at home. But not a single pair fit. Too short, too loose, too tall in the heel, too slippy.

The saga continued when we finally broke down and drove to a tack shop near Minneapolis to try on boots.

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Riding boots in action

When the sales clerk at Dover Saddlery determined what size I need, turned out they didn’t have them in stock.

So back to the internet we went, ordering several more pairs. By the time we hit the nail on the head with a pair that worked, there was a 5-foot pile of field boot boxes stacked in our dining room. If a burglar had been paying attention to the comings and goings of the UPS truck and knew the value of riding boots, we could have been in trouble.

The irony of all this is for the time and expense it takes to find the right boots, they end up getting  stepped on by 1,000-plus pound horses and drug through poop. Not the treatment you’d expect for the most expensive pair of shoes I will likely ever own. But that’s the life of riding boots for ya!

Last week I walked through the library, snaps on the backs of the boots jingling with each step because they were still too tight to fasten. People peered up from textbooks and stared, wondering.

“At least if we get two feet of rain you won’t have to worry about your feet getting wet,” said a group member in one of my classes.

True, my friend. I appreciate your positivity.

Somewhat coincidentally, it rained tonight.

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