Tall or short, round toe or square, colorful or traditional, for show, just for kicks, or made to muck – there are Western boots for a variety of personalities and activities. So how do you find the best boots for you? Consider these key things when shopping for your next pair of boots.
Historical and Practical
All Western boots have some common traits, including a slip-on style without any laces, and a heel that is typically about 1″ tall. These features have functional significance: they have kept riders safe on horseback throughout history. For those horse people whose livelihoods depended upon their ability to work, safety was paramount. Their daily tasks were often rather risky, involving training young horses and doing challenging ranch work on difficult terrain. Both the lack of laces and the heel of the boot prevent the foot from getting stuck in the stirrup if the rider was to fall off their mount. Without laces to get caught on the saddle, and with the boot’s heel preventing the foot from going all the way through the stirrup, the rider is much less likely to be dragged and injured by a spooked horse. These features continue to keep current-day cowboys and cowgirls safe, and they have also carried over to Western fashion boots.
Each Boot is Unique
Today, Western boots come in a wide variety of styles and colors, for several different uses and personalities.
The two main types are the classic Western boot, and the roper. The shaft of the classic Western boot is typically about 12″ high and hits around mid-calf. These boots have an angled heel that is roughly 1″ in height. The roper style features a shorter shaft that hits lower on the calf and a flatter and lower heel that is less than 1″ tall. The Justin Boots Gypsy style and the Ariat Fatbaby style are types of Roper boot.
Western boots come in a variety of toe shapes. Regional fashions and personal preference will dictate the toe shape that you select.
Comfort is Key
Once you narrow down the general style of boot you’d like, a proper fit will help you determine the best boot for you. These days, most Western boots are made for all-day comfort, in addition to their traditional styling which has been both fashionable and functional for over a century. Comfort first starts with a proper fit.
The fit of most types of footwear can vary slightly from brand to brand, and this is especially true for Western boots. In general, however, they tend to run on the large side – so start by trying on boots that are a half to a full size smaller than you normally wear. Keep in mind the thickness of your socks, and when you go shopping, wear the socks you normally wear with boots.
When you slide your heel into the boot, it should make an audible “pop” sound. If not, then the boot is too wide. Once the boot is on, stand up with your weight evenly in each foot. The ball of your foot should fill out the widest part of the sole, and the boot should flex where your foot does. The boot should be snug at the instep. If you see a slight wrinkle, but cannot pinch the leather, you have a good fit. Some heel slippage is normal for a new pair of boots, and this will decrease with wear, as the boots break in and mold to your feet.
Most importantly, the boots should feel good, and you should feel comfortable standing and walking in them.
Putting it All Together
Consider other aspects of your ensemble to compliment your favorite Western boots.
While skinny jeans and sundresses will work for casual wear, a quality pair of boot cut riding jeans are best for work around the barn and in the saddle. For denim you plan to ride in, consider a mid- to high-rise at the waist, fabric with some stretch, and a slightly longer inseam to accommodate your boots and to allow freedom of movement in the saddle. Ariat R.E.A.L. riding jeans are tailored specifically for riding, with comfort stretch denim that keeps its shape even after long hours in the saddle.
For the show pen, a pair of Western show pants can provide comfort and a smooth line under chaps. You can also consider boot cut breeches or tights, which can work for both schooling and for showing – but just make sure they have belt loops wide enough for your Western belt. Boots should match your chaps in color, to create a long clean line. Roper boots should be avoided in the show ring, because their short height breaks up this long clean line of the leg. Learn more about what to wear in the show ring.
When it’s time to take of your boots for the day, try a boot jack to protect both your ankles and your boots.