Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where did dressage boots come from?

The look that says, "Ouch."
I ask this, because believe me they are not like any other boot I've ever ridden in. It's like slipping my foot into a carved-out block of wood. Every time I put them on I think of the short story by Steve Martin (comedian), "Cruel Shoes:"

Anna knew She had to have a new pair of shoes today, and Carlo had helped her try on every pair in the store. Carlo spoke wearily, "Well, that's it. That’s every pair of shoes in the place."
"Oh, you must have one more pair. . . .”

"No, not one more . . . . Well, we have the cruel shoes, but no one would want to try . . .

“Yes, let me see the cruel shoes!"

"No, you don't understand, you see, the cruel shoes are . . .'

"Get them!"

 So, where do stiff boots come from? Not from the hunter world, or the eventing world, or the polo world, or the racing world, I don't think. I posted to the Chronicle of the Horse forum and Ultimate Dressage forum to find out more. Here's what folks say...
  •  Alot of it has to do with appearance. Stiff boots don't break down, and they don't wrinkle at the ankle. 
  • They stabilize the leg.
  • They allow for sharper aids.
  • They've been around a long time but I can't quite find out how long.
  • It's claimed that the nicer quality boots are comfortable -- I don't know, Petrie is not a crappy boot company, and my boots fit well, but they aren't exactly sneaks. I think some folks are in denial.
I don't mean to trash stiff boots, mine do keep my leg quiet but I'm an ammy -- why does everyone else go for this style?

What do you all know?


  1. I would bet it has everything to do with appearance.

  2. I wear field boots. If I am riding so badly that the judge can't find anything else to comment on..... well, then I have bigger problems than boot style. I just can't wear boots that I can't walk in. But then I don't aspire to a shadbelly, so I am probably not who you are asking. :-0

  3. They present a nicer and taller lower leg which is why the Spanish Cut is so on trend. The better made they are ( the more custom) and the better the leather used the more comfortable they become. A lot of comfort goes to knowing how to work leather to mold to your foot/leg shape. A better company will use 2 plys of leather. The outer boot which is stiffer but still pliable and the inner which is allmost like glove leather.

    As long as you get the initial fit and shape correct you can work the leather as you please. Tall dress boots can look stunning and still be comfortable to wear. You just must know what you want when ordering.

  4. Ha, I knew there was a reason I don't do dressage! ;-) I'm a fan of footwear that is at least somewhat comfortable, so I do not think I would care for dressage boots. How on earth did people even get them ON before zippers came into vogue, if they're that stiff? Seems to me you would break your foot or ankle!

  5. The softer boots seem strange to me. I don't like the way they twist and wrinkle around the lower calf/ankle, although I'm sure they'd be comfortable. Perhaps they are more of an American fashion that has now come across to Australia?

    I have a pair of custom Cavallo boots with the stiff box calf which I sadly have been unable to wear for years. (Bought when I was 18, but I'm now 33 and have no hope of squeezing into them again!)

    At home I ride in short joddy boots, but at comps I have stiff gaiters to wear over them which I've also had a long time. Looking to get another pair recently, everything in the shop is soft! What happened to the stiff ones?

    Fashion seems to have slipped by me :-)

    I do prefer the lovely line down your calf right to the bottom of the heel (bar the neat ankle break) that you get with stiff boots. The snug ankle fit of the softer ones is not very flattering unless you have very skinny legs.

  6. I would think is for appearance also. Also, Dressage riders are supposed to keep as still as possible, they are supposed to be able to communicated to their horses without us, the audiences, noticing and stiff boots definitely help.

  7. Tall boots make about as much sense as wearing white breeches around horses.

    I prefer field boots, too. I have a narrow foot and the "medium width" breaks funny. I had custom Dehners back in the day. I spent a lot of time walking around without knees (;o) but the field boots do break in more quickly.

  8. I have those boots! Though mine are the dress boot with the patent leather! I ride in the hunter ring and my trainer raises her eyebrows when I wear my non-traditional boots! But I love them and really, isn't that what matters?

  9. I realize there are fashion trends in dressage but to be honest, for me, part of the appeal of dressage is that it is judged purely on performance and not on looks. IMHO the dressage rider's wardrobe aught to be conservative but elegant. If I wanted to ride in a fashionable sport I would switch to western pleasure!

  10. I've never quite been into the stiff dressage boots. My regular calf boots are just fine, thank you.

    I am not sure the stiffer leg really does make the aids sharper, but it does keep your leg more still, I suppose. But to be honest, I'd rather work on my leg position in comfort rather than pain. My ankles need the flexibility.

    I have the Mountain Horse dress boots now, as my old customs don't fit anymore--my foot got bigger over the years. I'm not a slave to fashion if fashion hurts. *G*

  11. Oops, by the way, Barbara, I rode through Intermediare I in my regular, not stiff dressage boots. Never a judge comment about it, either. *lol*

  12. I dont wear stiff boots. The idea just ughs me out; I have terrible feet in the first place, they ache for all sorts of crazy reasons. Ski boots? Always a nightmare!! So I just wear regular softer riding boots. I must confess I've never attempted to buy stiff ones. Maybe I should try a really good custom made boot maker sometime. Maybe...

  13. I read the page on this link after reading the 'boots' post. It made me chuckle and thought I'd share it with you... (you have to scroll down a little to the 'boots' section)...

  14. just curious, what boot is that in the photo? (obviously a fashion item)
    I have a pair of Koenigs I got used off of ebay and they fit me like they were made for me and I'm 6' tall with big feet. Amazing luck!
    They are so stiff in the calf I could get run over by a car and not feel it but boy do they get respect from his rib cage!!!

  15. It might be historical, descended from calvary boots or from male fashionistas of the day who required a valet to get their boots on and off.

  16. Most of the serious dressage riders I know (serious meaning about the riding/training piece but not the competing piece) ride in paddock boots and half-chaps because the half chaps add some support but the ankle is free to flex.

    I rode in tall boots for years as a young rider but now I vastly prefer paddock boots (the more broken in the better) with a pair of French leather half chaps I found in a consignment shop. The leather is as soft as a glove and I get some support without the stiffness. If something isn't working well with my aids though I take them off so I can feel what's going on and often have a better ride for it.

    I tried on a pair of tall boots a couple of years ago - they were nice ones - and to get the fit right they were extremely, EXTREMELY snug in the calf. To the degree that I felt like I couldn't breathe with them on. There is no way I'm going to ride in something like that. But I'm not competing, so...

    I do think they look elegant and lovely but not at the expense of a good ride. I have wondered when watching competition if some of the bouncing pinging leg syndrome that seems so prevalent has to do with the boots and the stiff legs.

  17. I have a hate-hate relationship with my tall boots. They go on AFTER I've tacked my horse, and come off immediately after I get off. They are reasonable when riding, but will chew holes in my feet if I try to walk more than 5 steps with them. Blech.

    As for where dressage boots came from, I dabble a bit in medieval history, especially as it pertains to horses. If you Google "Antoine de Pluvinel" (1620s) and look at the images, you'll see boots that are very close-fitted that come up to mid-thigh, but they are made of a very supple leather (you can see the wrinkles in the engravings). Slightly further back (1550), Google Federico Grisone to see engravings of thigh-high boots, but these generally look at bit less fitted. Before Grisone there aren't really any treatises on riding for pleasure (instead they were about jousting and warfare), so you have to turn to illuminated manuscripts or paintings to see what they wore. For knights, this often meant the entire leg was armored, and for everyday riding, short or mid-calf boots over fitted hose.

    I'd just as soon shift back to those nice, supple boots they were wearing in the 1600s. Think the judges would mind?

  18. Billie, I agree - seems to me a pair of really stiff boots could ADD to your "pinging" leg (perfect expression!) if that's what you have, since your legs could bounce off the horse's sides. I'm just guessing, though.

    And yes, I always notice busy vs. quiet legs on dressage riders. I think the ideal is for the rider to be virtually "invisible," with all the attention focused on the horse and its beautiful movements. Hard to do that when the rider is pinging around, as you say.

  19. When I became disgusted enough with competitive dressage to give up competing I also very gladly gave up my hard-as-stovepipes boots. No more moleskin needed for the ankles!

  20. You say you have Petries - Although they are quite a quality company, Petrie tends to make very stiff boots by any standards. I have Petrie field boots that are much stiffer than any other field boots I've ever ridden in. I imagine their dressage boots are much the same, even stiffer than other brands.
    I wear field boots for dressage, but I event. =)


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