Riding boots: long or short – which is best for you?

  • The riding boot is an essential kit for the sport, but choosing whether to wear long or short riding boots opens all sorts of doors. Advice is specific on the sole of the boot – the British Horse Society says: “Boots should preferably have a smooth, through sole and a small heel (no less than ½in high). This means there should be no break in the sole from heel to toe, so there is nothing to catch on the stirrup.” However when it comes to the actual boot, the guidance is less forthcoming. Even the Pony Club, which used to specify short (or jodhpur) boots for children, now permits short (jodhpur) boots with chaps or clips, or knee-length boots. Either can be black or brown.  Most competitions permit short (with same-coloured chaps or gaiters) or long boots. So how do you decide which is right for you?

    Safety and protection are key, but the style depends on your riding experience, budget, climate, fashion sense, age, preferred discipline and even body shape.

    Long riding boots

    Long boots are smart, traditionally more formal and the common choice for adult competition riders. The boot covers the whole calf up to the knee but the styles vary widely. The most elegant look is the high-cut dress boot – often preferred by dressage riders. Laced-front field boots are more common with riders who jump, hunt and go cross-country due to the flexibility at the ankle allowing greater freedom of movement. The more traditionally-shaped boot with a straighter top and garter straps is still found in the show ring, although an increasing number of riders in this discipline are also moving towards boots with a shaped top and no garter straps.

    The more you pay, the better the technology and quality of material; leather is the most traditional, while rubber or synthetic boots are popular among leisure riders. Yard boots are an option for everyday wear. They are durable and comfortable, being less stiff than a leather boot. They are a useful boot to wear round the stables and can be used for riding, although not permitted for competition. However, choose wisely as some have a heavy tread which can get caught on the stirrup, wedging the foot, which is dangerous if you are unseated. The tread should be offset, rather than going right across the sole, and an appropriately wide stirrup used (with 1.5in gap between the stirrup and widest part of the foot).

    The pros

    Provided they are well cared-for, they look stunning – traditional yet professional and elegant.

    Long boots prevent chafing and pinching from the stirrup leathers, as well as offering some protection from a kick or in a fall.

    Some riders feel that the stability they offer can help them maintain a better lower-leg position.

    They keep you warm and dry in winter.

    While you can usually wear short boots and gaiters or chaps for competition, long boots look smart and traditional.

    The cons

    Many designs of long boot come with zippers, but the pull-on varieties can be back-breaking to take off even with a boot-jack. Some riders find long boots restrictive and cumbersome – they can take time to wear in.

    Long boots require more maintenance – polishing to keep them smart and in good nick, as well as boot trees, such as Cathcart Elliot’s tall boot shapers, to maintain their shape and prevent them wrinkling round the ankle.

    You’ll also need to have them correctly fitted at a tack shop as it’s not just the foot size you need to accommodate, but the length and width of calf. It’s an expensive outlay if they aren’t quite right, and the made-to-measure option is pricier still. Those with short or wide calves may find it difficult to find something suitable, although manufacturers produce a variety of sizes.

    Long boots are generally more expensive than short, however you get what you pay for – a lot more material and the polished, formal look. Synthetic long boots are far cheaper, and a potential alternative for those on a budget. Many riders keep a smart pair for show days, using synthetic or short boots for everyday riding.

    The verdict

    Once you have found a pair of long boots that fits you well, there’s no going back. Nothing looks smarter than a beautifully made pair of tall leather riding boots, making them the quintessential purchase for many riders. They are pricey, and you might choose to wear less smart riding boots round the yard, but the leg support and protection they offer is a major advantage.

    Short riding boots

    These go by different names – jodhpur boots, paddock boots or short boots. They cover the ankle and allow a close contact between your leg and the horse, and are generally viewed as more informal. Children traditionally use short boots, and they remain a common choice for juniors and beginners because they allow increased flexibility and are more affordable.

    Short riding boots should be teamed with jodhpurs and either half chaps that cover the lower leg, or jodhpur clips (an elastic strap connection the bottom of the jodhpurs under the arch of the sole of the boots, to prevent the jodhpurs from riding up or twisting).

    As with the long boots, there is a vast range of short boot, from elasticated, zipper, lace-up and in a range of materials, from leather to synthetic.

    Always check with the competition rulebook which type of riding boot is permitted.

    The pros

    Easy to slip on and comfortable, especially in hot weather when a long boot may be sweaty.

    A general-purpose boot that is usually sturdy enough to stand up to everyday use on the yard.

    A smart leather short boot can resemble a long boot when teamed with the right half-chap.

    Easier for beginners and juniors to develop feel when learning to give leg aids to a horse.

    The cons

    Not as smart or elegant as the long boot; however, a quality leather boot paired with similar half-chaps is a good alternative.

    Without the protection of the long boot on the calf, the stirrup leather can chafe of pinch.

    The lower leg is not protected in the event of a fall or a kick.

    The verdict

    The best option for juniors, leisure riders, those on a budget or with calves that don’t fit in standard sized boots.

    If you’re competing, you’re likely to need two pairs of boots anyway – a durable pair of short boots for everyday, and a smart long pair to keep clean and smart for competition.

    You may like to read…

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...