Hunt Seat Riding Boots Decoded
For young hunt seat riders embarking on a show career, the show ensemble can be one of the bigger investments. A source of particular confusion, especially for non-horsey parents of passionate young riders, is the issue of what kind of hunt seat riding boots to invest in, and when?
For general riding purposes, the style of footwear you choose is a matter of personal preference. Basic guidelines are, what is safe, and what is comfortable. Look for something with minimal tread, a defined heel block, and enough freedom through the ankle to allow you to drop your weight correctly through the stirrups. In short, if it won’t let your foot slip through or get trapped in the stirrup, and doesn’t hinder your position, it will suit for general schooling or leisure riding.
Once you enter more formal settings like horse shows, however, tradition plays a role in the boot choices that you will need to make. Correct turnout (the rider’s attire plus the horse’s conditioning, preparation, and grooming) forms a portion of the score in every judged riding event.
Paddocks or Talls: What is the Difference?
First of all, I want to quickly run over the types of hunt seat show boots out there. For industry newbies, or for unfamiliar parents of young horsemen, just keeping track of the types can be tricky.
Paddock boots are ankle height leather (or synthetic) boots. They can either lace or zip up, and are available in brown or black.
For show ring purposes, paddock boots are worn with jodhpur pants that have elastic loops at the feet (like old-school stirrup pants) and garter straps at the knees to hold the jodhs in place during the ride.
Tall boots are knee height, available in leather or synthetic material, and also available in brown or black, along with myriad leather types and textures from the traditional to the exotic. For general show ring purposes, plain black leather is ideal. Tall boots can either pull on and off with boot hooks and a boot jack, or can be zippered up the back. Some tall boots have elastic gussets and other features to increase comfort and ease-of-wear. Tall boots also merit some special storage considerations in the form of boot trees to help them keep their shape.
While paddock boots are worn with jodhpurs and garters, tall boots are worn with breeches. High socks made of thin and stretchable material, usually in fun patterns, make the boots easier to put on and take off.
Field Boots or Dress Boots?
Just to add to the confusion, tall boots come in either field or dress varieties. The upside is that it is fairly easy to distinguish the two – field boots have laces at the ankle, and dress boots do not have laces at all. For the vast majority of hunt seat riders’ needs, field boots are the more appropriate choice. Dress boots are more common in the dressage arena, and even in that sphere field boots are appropriate for the most introductory level riders.
Which Hunt Seat Riding Boots Should I Choose for the Show Ring?
The simple answer is that younger youth riders show in paddock boots with jodhpurs and garters, and older youth riders and adults show in tall boots.
But then the answer gets less simple… how old is old enough for tall boots?
Guideline #1: Age Alone
Once a rider reaches 13 years old, they are typically moving into a new age division, riding against other older (but still youth) riders, often leaving behind the ponies for larger mounts. With these considerations in mind, a 13 year old rider in paddocks will stick out, and not in a good way, against 16-17-18 year old riders in talls.
Guideline #2: Height and Build
Taller, leggier, and more “maturely” built kids often present better in tall boots. Often, these kids are already riding horse-sized mounts versus small or medium ponies, and tall boots at age 12 may even be a sensible choice. Just bear in mind the issue of future growth spurts — you don’t want to be replacing tall boots, even synthetic ones, on an annual basis.
As a general rule, 13 years and 5 foot 2 inches are the numbers to balance — under 13 and under 5 foot 2, stick in paddocks. When the rider hits one of those numbers or the other, it’s probably time to go shopping for tall boots.
Common Questions about Hunt Seat Riding Boots
“I’m over both 13 years of age and 5 foot 2 inches… do I only get to ride hunt seat in tall boots now?”
For the purposes of showing, yes. Schooling and otherwise, wear whatever footwear floats your boat! I personally love paddock boots and half chaps for casual riding. Really, that’s the way to compare the two options; paddock boots as casual and tall boots as more formal. It can be very appropriate (even traditional outside of the middle-class of western culture – check out Britain’s Prince George’s shorts for example) for a student to wear shorts and sneakers to school and social events. It’s a lot less appropriate in the traditional workplace for an adult to wear such clothes. If I show up to my office in shorts and sneakers, I’m too casual.
“My child definitively should be in tall boots this year, but boots are EXPENSIVE, and I’m not sure if they are done growing yet! What if I invested in half chaps to go over their paddock boots instead until they are finished growing?”
Short answer… no. Unless you are doing extremely small and local shows, half chaps in lieu of tall boots are not appropriate. Even in the extremely local small schooling show it is iffy. Certainly not in any kind of association or rated show.
Tall boots are definitely an expense and an investment – I feel your pain! The best routes to take are to buy used, buy quality synthetic, or both, until you and your child are sure that the last major growth spurt is behind you. Don’t feel the need to dart out and order a pair of custom Venetian leather field boots for a 14 year old. Take advantage of local tack swaps, eBay, Craigslist, and other venues to find folks looking to size up or upgrade, and selling their used boots. There are some great deals out there.
Synthetic boots are an ok compromise, especially at that extreme small and local level, however I do recommend investing in good used leather if you can. Not only are they more appropriate than synthetic, especially in shows of any size at all, but they also have resale value when the time comes to trade up in size or quality.
What has your paddock/tall boots experience been like? When did you make the transition from paddock boots to your first pair of tall boots? What do you prefer to ride in from day to day? Drop us a line, share your story in the comments, and don’t forget that you probably should be riding!!