Do You Need Riding Boots to Ride a Horse? What Shoes You CAN Wear


You’ve booked your first horse riding lesson and now you are wondering, as many budding equestrians before you, what should I wear? And we’re not talking from a fashion standpoint here, but what should you wear to ensure your comfort and safety as much as possible when horse riding and do you need riding boots to ride a horse?

Second only to a helmet, your footwear is an important gear category for horse riding. While you do not need riding boots specifically, it is important that your footwear has at least a 1-inch (2.5 cm) heel, a closed and protected toe as well as a sole with some grip. The heel and sole will help your foot stay in place in the stirrup (and not slide through it) and the protected toe will guard your feet in case you get accidentally stepped on by your horse. Good riding boots also support your leg and ankles to help you maintain a correct leg position when you ride.

So now you have the key requirements for horse riding footwear, but you are probably still wondering if you can use any of the shoes you have lying around the basement or at the back of your wardrobe, right? Let’s have a look at their suitability to find out if you need to invest in a pair of riding boots or if you can wear a pair of shoes you already own.

And if, in the end, you decide it may be a good idea to invest in a pair of riding boots, we will go through what you should consider before buying and share our boots recommendations with you.

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    Can You Wear Rain Boots Horseback Riding?

    Rain boots are practical, easy and can be pretty darn cute too, but are they the right choice for horse riding? Although rain boots come in lots of different types and shapes, what they usually don’t have are those 1-inch heels and grippy sole. They also fit very loosely around the leg, which means no ankle support or grip to the saddle and the extra rubber flapping around your leg will cause disturbance and discomfort when riding.

    Being around the stables – a rough and dirty environment – a lot of wear and tear on your footwear is to be expected. Most rain boots will not offer the kind of durability needed to last under these circumstances. So, in conclusion, we would not recommend wearing regular rain boots when horseback riding.

    Can You Wear Cowboy Boots Horseback Riding?

    Yes, you can wear your favorite cowboy boots! These boots are typically made from durable leather, they have a protected toe as well as a generous heel height. Cowboy boots were originally made to make it easy for cowboys to transition from the saddle to the ground and back again, so this category of footwear was actually made with horse riders in mind.

    Again, you may want to spare your boots from all the dirt and moisture around the stables as it will wear them out faster.

    Can You Wear Hiking Boots Horseback Riding?

    Depending on the hiking boots, they can fulfill much of the criteria for horse riding. They have a solid sole with some grip, they often have a decent heel and protection at the front of the shoe. The issues you may run into with hiking boots, however, are shoe tread and laces.

    Hiking boots are usually quite wide and may not be narrow enough to fit comfortably into a stirrup.

    Secondly, most hiking boots have laces that could get tangled in the stirrup during the ride.

    Basically, hiking boots are not optimal, but they can work adequately for horse riding and perfectly fine around the stables. I used mine a lot when riding in different parts of the world because I just couldn’t carry around several pairs of bulky shoes and although they were on the wider side, it worked ok for the trail rides I did, but I wouldn’t recommend this for a novice rider though.

    Can You Wear Sneakers Horseback Riding?

    With a lack of grip, heel and toe protection, sneakers check all the no-no boxes. It is tempting to step into comfy, breathable sneakers, especially on a warm summer day, and we often see horse riders using them (we may have been guilty of doing a trail ride or two in them ourselves), but that doesn’t mean they should.

    However, in summer we will quickly swop out our riding boots with sneakers as soon as the riding session is over to let our feet breathe and make walking around the stables much more pleasurable. Just be careful of those toes around the horses!

    In conclusion, no to sneakers for horseback riding and a ‘not really’ for the stables.

    Can You Wear Sandals Horseback Riding?

    Let’s just be clear here. NO! Sandals do not fulfill any criteria for horse riding footwear and have no business being around horses. We all like to sport our favorite sandals in the summer, but the stable is not the place for them. The same goes for flipflops or any open-toed shoes.

    What Shoes Do You Wear Horseback Riding?

    What shoes you wear horse riding depends on what type of riding you are doing. For instance, a western rider herding cattle will prefer different footwear than an English style rider competing in show jumping. For a beginner, the most important is safety and comfort, which is why the heel height, the toe protection, and the sole quality are the key elements to focus on.

    But horse riding boots are not the only equestrian footwear out there. There are a few categories to choose from depending on activity, season, riding style and preference. If you have not found any suitable shoes to wear in your closet, let’s have a look at what types of shoes you can choose from and their pros and cons before you make a purchase.

    Recommended Footwear for Horse Riding

    Riding Boots

    Riding boots come up to right under the knee and can be made from leather, rubber or other synthetic materials. Riding boots are obviously made with riding in mind and have a good heel, sole and protected toe in addition to good ankle support. Tall riding boots will help protect the calf against rubbing against the saddle and help the rider maintain a good leg position in the saddle.

    Riding boots are a popular choice with many English style riders and come in different seasonal variations. Riding boots are also what is worn by riders in most English style competitions such as dressage and show jumping.

    Jodhpur Boots

    Jodhpur boots are essentially a shorter version of the classic riding boot that goes to the ankle. It is usually made from leather and intended mainly for riding. Riders often pair these with half chaps when riding to provide similar calf protection and grip that higher riding boots give.

    Paddock Boots

    Paddock boots also ankle boots but are intended for use around the stable and paddocks, so made with rougher use in mind. They are made of waterproof (or resistant), durable material and should be comfortable to make in for longer periods of time. Given the environment they are used in, it is a big plus if they are easy to clean as well!

    Can I Use the Same Boots for Horse Riding and In the Stables?

    While it is possible to use the same shoes for both stable work and riding, personally, we are not a fan of this. Walking around the barn involves stepping into water, dirt, manure and mud and we find that most boots just can’t handle those conditions over the long term (especially those made from leather) and riding boots are simply not comfortable to walk around in for longer periods of time given how tightly they fit around the calves. This is why we use sturdy, waterproof ankle boots in the stables (not necessarily specific to equestrians) and change into riding boots before getting in the saddle. Each to their own, of course – that’s just what works best for us.

    How Do I Choose the Right Riding Boots?

    Choosing the right riding boots is important as they play a key role in ensuring your safety and comfort both on and off the horse. What type of boots you go for will depend on a few criteria.

    Riding frequency

    Do you go through new hobbies like you go through your underwear or are you more of the committed type? If you plan on sticking around in the equestrian world and ride twice a week or more, we’d highly recommend you invest in a quality pair of riding boots.

    Riding style and activity

    Are you going for Western or English style? This is likely to influence the style of boot you want to purchase.  

    Climate and temperature

    Will you be riding in hot or cold temperatures? Inside or outside? Check that your boots are adapted to the environment you will be spending the majority of your time in.

    Comfort

    Your boots need to fit snuggly, but not rub in places they shouldn’t. That being said, if you decide to buy leather boots you will need to ‘break them in’, which can take a bit of time (and sometimes be a bit of a painful process), but once they are, they will be like your own personalized pair shaped perfectly to that weird pointy toe you inherited from your dad.

    Budget

    How much are you willing to spend? There is no need to break the bank for a pair of boots, however, if you will be wearing these shoes twice or more per week you probably want them to be comfortable. Be wary of the cheapest synthetic or rubber models. They can be very sweaty and uncomfortable, so read reviews or talk to friends for recommendations if you are considering those – they are not part of our recommended boots.

    What Are the Best Boots for Horseback Riding?

    Our Recommended Riding Boots

    The Horze Elisa Tall Dress Boot is our favorite riding boot to date. They are made from high-quality leather and take the shape of your legs and feet after a (surprisingly short!) period of breaking them in. Unlike many other leather boots we have tried, we found these didn’t ‘fall down’ as much around the ankles as other models have. The zipper means not having to struggle to pull tight and sweaty boots off after a ride and it still glides smoothly after many, many uses. The boots themselves look great (at least we think so) and can be used for competitions as well as everyday riding.

    Our Recommended Paddock Boots

    In the cold and wet months, we swear by the Horze Sporty Rugged Jodhpur Boots for barn chores and casual rides outside of the arena. Coming from a place where the fall is wet and muddy and the winters freezing and slippery, sturdy and warm footwear is absolutely essential! These boots are partially made from leather, which means they can never be 100% waterproof, but spraying them with a water-proof spray will go a long way in maintaining them. The heel pull tab makes it easy to put them on and taking them off. I also love that the tab is so thin as the thick ones tend to rub on my calves or get in the way for pants, half chaps or other clothing.

    The soles have great grip and do a great job keeping me on my feet on snow-covered and icy ground. The isolation is good, although on colder days a good pair of woolen socks are recommended to keep your feet nice and toasty. It did take a few wears to break them in, especially around the ankles, but they are now nice and flexible (or as flexible as insulated shoes can reasonably be expected to be).

    With its smooth surfaces and lack of laces, the boots are also very easy to brush off and keep clean. We do occasionally ride in these, especially on winter trail rides, and they work great for that.  

    TIPS: the sizes run a bit small so try to order a half size up. Some reviews indicate that these may not be suitable if you have wider ankles.

    We hope this helped you figure out what footwear you will wear on your next ride. We also have a great article on how to prepare for your first horse riding lesson, if are looking for more tips on that.

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    Horse Learner

    Behind Horse Learner are two passionate horse enthusiasts. One horse owner and competitive dressage rider and one horse riding adventure traveler. Between then they have more than 40 years of experience with horses and horses and horse riding.

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