How to Ride in Heel Cowboy Boots: A Beginner’s Guide

If you are new to horse riding, you might not know that wearing the right boots is crucial to your safety, comfort, and performance. While there are many types of riding boots to choose from, cowboy boots with heels are among the most popular and traditional choices for western-style horse riding. But how do you ride in heel cowboy boots?

how to ride in heel cowboy boots

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know as a beginner, from why cowboy boots are ideal for horse riding to how to avoid common mistakes.

Why Cowboy Boots are Ideal for Horse Riding

First of all, cowboy boots are designed to provide specific features that can benefit a rider. The heel of a cowboy boot, usually around one to two inches high, serves many purposes. For starters, the raised heel helps keep your feet in the stirrup, preventing them from slipping forward or out of position. This can be essential for maintaining control over your horse, especially during sharp turns or sudden stops.

Moreover, the heel can enhance your balance and posture by shifting your weight forward and centering it over the ball of your foot. This can help you maintain a stable and secure position in the saddle, as well as improve your ability to communicate with your horse through subtler cues.

Another feature of cowboy boots that can benefit riders is the pointed toe. This design allows your foot to slide easily into the stirrup, reducing the risk of getting stuck or caught. At the same time, the narrow toe provides a sleek and stylish look that is synonymous with western fashion.

Understanding the Anatomy of Cowboy Boots

Before you start wearing cowboy boots, it’s helpful to know their basic anatomy. A typical cowboy boot consists of several parts, including the vamp, which is the upper part of the boot that covers your foot; the shaft, which is the tall part of the boot that covers your calf; the heel, which we’ve already discussed; the sole, which is the bottom part of the boot that contacts the ground; and the toe, which we’ve also covered.

Additionally, cowboy boots may feature various decorative elements such as stitching, embossing, cutouts, or overlays that add to their aesthetic appeal.When choosing cowboy boots for horse riding, you should look for models that are specifically crafted for this purpose.

Riding boots often have a smooth sole that provides better grip and less interference with the stirrup than other types of boots, which may have a rough or sticky sole that can hinder your movement or cause slippage. Moreover, you should select boots that fit your feet snugly but not too tight, as you want to avoid any discomfort or blisters.

Choosing the Right Pair of Cowboy Boots for Horse Riding

Once you’re familiar with the anatomy of cowboy boots and what to look for, it’s time to choose the right pair for your needs. Here are some factors to consider:


Cowboy boots are made from various materials, such as leather, suede, or exotic skins like snakeskin or ostrich. Leather is the most common and durable material, but it can be expensive, especially if it’s of high quality. Suede is softer and more flexible, but it requires more care and is not as water-resistant. Exotic skins can be flashy and unique, but they may be harder to find and maintain.


Cowboy boots come in different styles that vary in toe shape, heel height, and shaft height. For riding purposes, you should opt for a classic or riding-style boot that has a pointed toe, a low to medium heel, and a mid-calf or knee-high shaft. Avoid fashion boots that have a round or square toe, a high or chunky heel, or a short ankle shaft, as these features can compromise your safety and comfort.


As mentioned earlier, the fit of your cowboy boots is crucial for successful riding. You should measure your feet accurately using a foot ruler or a size chart and try on different sizes and widths to find the one that fits you the best. Make sure your toes have some wiggle room but are not cramped or overlapping, and your heel sits firmly without slipping up and down.

cowboy boots riding

Breaking in Your Cowboy Boots for Comfortable Riding

After you’ve found the right pair of cowboy boots, you might need to break them in before you can wear them comfortably while riding. Breaking in means softening the leather and molding the boots to your feet through gradual wear and stretch. Here are some tips on how to break in your cowboy boots:

Wear them around the house:

Before going out riding, wear your boots around the house for a few hours each day. This will allow your feet to adapt to the boots’ shape and loosen the leather. You can also wear thick socks or use a shoehorn to ease the process.

Read moreHow To Break In Cowboy Boots

Apply leather conditioner:

To keep your boots hydrated and avoid cracking or creasing, you can apply a leather conditioner or oil to the surface. This will also make the boots more supple and less stiff. Be sure to follow the instructions and avoid overdoing it, as too much conditioner can over-soften the leather and make it vulnerable to damage.

Stretch the shaft:

If the shaft of your cowboy boots feels tight or snug, you can try to stretch it by wearing your boots with wet socks or using a stretcher. Wet socks can help expand the leather and conform it to your calf, while a stretcher can gradually widen the shaft to accommodate your leg. Again, be careful not to overstretch the boots or damage them.

Read moreBest Boot Stretcher

riding in cowboy boots

Essential Tips for Wearing Heel Cowboy Boots While Riding

Once your cowboy boots are broken in and ready to ride, you should also follow some essential tips to ensure your safety, comfort, and performance. Here are some pointers:

Use the correct stirrup:

As we’ve mentioned earlier, cowboy boots are designed to work with stirrups and provide a secure grip. However, you should also make sure you’re using the right type of stirrup for your boots. A wide or angled stirrup can help accommodate the heel of your boot and prevent it from slipping out of the stirrup loop. Additionally, check that the stirrup is adjusted to the right length and angle for your leg and your intended riding task.

Avoid gripping with your toes:

While wearing cowboy boots can enhance your balance and posture, it’s important not to rely on your toes for gripping or squeezing the horse’s sides. Doing so can create tension in your leg and cause discomfort or even pain over time. Instead, focus on keeping your weight centered and your heels down, and use your lower leg and calf muscles to control your horse’s speed and direction.

Never try to force your foot out of the stirrup:

If you ever feel like your foot is stuck or trapped in the stirrup, don’t panic or pull your foot out forcefully. This can cause you to lose your balance or get dragged by the horse. Instead, try to shift your weight to the opposite side and gently rock your foot back and forth until it comes out naturally. You can also use your hand to help guide your foot out.

Adjusting Your Stirrups for Heel Cowboy Boots

One of the challenges of wearing heel cowboy boots while riding is finding the right stirrup length and placement. This can affect your balance, your leg position, and your ability to control your horse. Here are some guidelines on how to adjust your stirrups for heel cowboy boots:

Measure your inseam:

To determine your ideal stirrup length, you should first measure your inseam, which is the distance from your crotch to your ankle. You can do this with a tape measure or by standing against a wall and marking the wall with a pencil or tape. Then, measure the distance from the mark to your ankle with a ruler or tape measure. This will give you your inseam measurement in inches or centimeters.

Calculate your stirrup length:

Once you have your inseam measurement, you can calculate your stirrup length by multiplying it by 1.5 or 2, depending on your riding style and preference. A shorter stirrup will result in a more secure and stable position, while a longer stirrup will give you more room to move and absorb shock. For heel cowboy boots, you might want to aim for a stirrup length that allows your heel to touch the bottom of the stirrup without stretching or lifting your leg unnaturally.

Adjust the stirrup leathers:

To adjust the stirrup length, you need to modify the stirrup leathers that connect the stirrups to the saddle. You can do this by sliding the buckle up or down the leather or by using a stirrup leather punch to make new holes. Be sure to keep both stirrup leathers at the same length and check that the stirrup hangs straight and parallel to your horse’s body.

boots for riding

Practicing Balance and Control in Heel Cowboy Boots

Like with any horse riding gear or technique, practicing is key to improving your balance and control while wearing heel cowboy boots. Here are some exercises you can try to refine your skills:

Riding bareback:

Riding bareback, or without a saddle, can help you develop a more independent seat and a deeper connection with your horse. This can also challenge your balance and coordination, especially in heel cowboy boots. Make sure you feel comfortable and confident before attempting this exercise and start by walking your horse at first.

Posting the trot:

Posting the trot, or rising in and out of the saddle with each stride, can help you develop a smooth and rhythmic motion that reduces strain on your back and improves your horse’s impulsion. To post the trot in heel cowboy boots, you should focus on keeping your heels down and your weight centered, and avoid bouncing or gripping with your knees.

Doing squats and lunges:

Doing squats and lunges off the horse can strengthen your leg muscles and improve your flexibility and balance. You can try doing these exercises while wearing your cowboy boots to mimic the riding position and challenge your ankle stability. Be sure to use proper form and start with lighter weights or reps to avoid injury.

Proper Care and Maintenance of Your Cowboy Boots After Riding

After a long and satisfying ride, you might be tempted to kick off your cowboy boots and forget about them until the next time. However, taking care of your boots after riding can prolong their lifespan and quality, as well as prevent any unwanted odors or damages. Here are some tips on how to care for your cowboy boots:

Clean off dirt and sweat:

Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any dirt, dust, or sweat that accumulated on your boots during riding. Pay extra attention to the creases and corners, where dirt can accumulate and damage the leather over time. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that can scratch or discolor the surface.

Condition and polish the leather:

To keep your boots hydrated and supple, you should apply a leather conditioner or oil to the surface. This will also help preserve the color and shine of the leather. Be sure to let the conditioner soak in and dry completely before polishing the boots with a soft cloth or brush. You can use a matching or neutral-colored boot polish to cover any scuffs or scratches and give your boots a fresh look.

Store them in a dry and cool place:

When you’re not wearing your cowboy boots, you should store them in a dry and cool place away from direct sunlight or heat sources. This will help prevent the leather from cracking or fading and protect the shape of the boots. You can use a boot tree or insert to maintain the shape of the shaft and the toe.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Riding in Heel Cowboy Boots

Although riding in heel cowboy boots can be fun and rewarding, there are some common mistakes that riders make that can compromise their safety, comfort, or performance. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

Wearing boots that are too loose or tight:

Wearing boots that don’t fit your feet properly can result in blisters, chafing, or slippage. Always measure your feet before buying cowboy boots and try on different sizes and widths to find the one that fits you snugly but not too tight. Avoid wearing socks that are too thin or too thick and check that your heel doesn’t lift or twist while walking or riding.

Using stirrups that are too wide or narrow:

Using stirrups that don’t match the width of your boots can cause your foot to get stuck or slip out of the stirrup loop. Make sure you select stirrups that are wide enough to accommodate your heel and narrow enough to prevent excess movement. Avoid using stirrups that are too small or too big for your boots or your comfort.

Over-relying on the heel:

Although the heel of your cowboy boot can help you maintain your position in the stirrup, it’s not meant to be your only support or control. Avoid squeezing or gripping with your heel excessively or locking your foot into a fixed position, as this can make it harder to move or adjust. Instead, use your lower leg and calf muscles to communicate with your horse and keep your body relaxed and flexible.By following these guidelines and tips, you can enjoy riding in heel cowboy boots safely, comfortably, and stylishly. Remember to always prioritize your personal needs and preferences and to ask for help or advice when needed.

Happy riding!

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Patricia Merken

Interior design blogger

Neat freak and shoe lover. American expat in Switzerland.
Blogger and mom. Blogs at Footweardrobe.