These Boots Were Made For Walking (But Mostly Riding)

Mia Zanzucchi

If you own a stylish pair of leather knee-high boots, you’re not alone. I’m not one to pay attention to fashion trends, but I happened to notice an increase in equestrians. Another look said that these were in fact knock-off “equestrian trend” fashion statements. And while they do look very stylin’, do you who sport the so called “equestrian” look know the story behind the English riding boot?

In horseback riding, boots come in all shapes and sizes: muck boots (essentially rain boots), cowboy boots, short paddock boots, and knee high tall boots. It’s these tall boots that’s taken fashion by storm. Tall boots are used for English riding, mostly jumping and dressage (both Olympic sports, by the way), and even by the mounted police. Traditionally, the tall riding boot, then known as a “top” or “hunt” boot, was used in fox hunts, sporting a cuff of tan leather at the top of the black leather boot.

Now a day, there are two common types: field and dress. A field boot is used by people who jump horses. A full length zipper runs down the back of the calf, and they have laces where the foot meets the ankle, which allows for more flexibility as the rider hurls themself and their horse at a huge, or in my case embarrassingly tiny, obstacle. Dress boots are used in Dressage, which if you’ve ever seen it, is comparable to dancing on horseback. Dress boots are made of stiffer leather. The Dressage rider is supposed to make their work seem effortless. Some dress boots have zippers, others don’t.

The idea of wearing knee high socks that go over pants has also been an equestrian thing for years. “Boot socks” make slipping a tall boot without a zipper on and off much less frustrating.  Boot socks, like most of the ridiculous clothes horseback riders wear, now come in “technologically advanced” options, like ones that “wick away moisture” or give you the power of mind control. My personal favorite kind are called Zocks, impossibly thin knee socks that come in every color under the sun and make people believe I’m a crazy person.

So how can you tell the difference? Riding boots are much more conservative. It’s very rare to find a show boot in any color other than black, and if you can, it’s guaranteed to be brown. No equestrian would be caught dead in the show ring in flashy colored boots. For the most part, tall boots used for horseback riding won’t have any adornments. Just smooth leather. None of this stripes or bands and buckles nonsense. Equestrian boots are also much snugger. Can’t have extra boot flapping around as you ride a 1,000 pound animal of prey. Zippers, if there are any, run down the back of the calf, not on the inside of the leg. A zipper there would interfere between horse and rider.

Now that I have shared my limited knowledge of the origins and functions of a subject nobody really cares about, I hope you just give a quick thought to the equestrians who endured years of strange looks as they walked through Kroger and ate at McDonalds because “they dressed weird” as you zip up your (strange to all horseback riders everywhere) boots.

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