Tall boots are expensive. Even off-the-shelf boots cost a lot, but custom boots? They can take your breath away. For many people, a pair of tall boots is the second most expensive piece of equipment they will buy, after their saddle, which is why it’s so important to treat your boots like an investment.
I remember the first time I bought semi-custom König boots: a real treat for me because way back then, it was almost impossible to get off-the-shelf boots that were tall enough, especially after the ankles softened up and they “dropped.” I wore them all the time, for every ride, and they lasted until I had my first child, at which point my feet got a half size larger and they became too uncomfortable to wear.
My next pair of boots were custom made for someone else. For whatever reason, they didn’t fit the original owner so they were consigned at Dover. They were Vogels, and so amazingly tall and elegant, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that they fit me. I wore those until my second child was born. Again, my feet grew a half size and, with great reluctance, I stopped wearing them. They were okay for short stretches of time, but it was impossible to walk a cross country course in them or wear them all day at a competition.
Providing your feet don’t grow (no one tells you that pregnancy can change the size of your feet!) there are a few ways you can ensure that your investment boots last a good long time. I have heard of people getting 25+ years out of a pair of boots if they take care of them properly.
Most important is remember that your boots are not tack and should not be treated as such, even though they are leather. While you might slather your saddle or bridle with leather conditioner, over conditioning or using the wrong cleaning materials, can keep your boots from looking their best.
Leather is a sturdy and resilient material, but with this strength, this material takes time to mold and stretch to your feet. After breaking them in, much will depend on the type of leather (calfskin, for example, is softer and wears more quickly), and how you treat them when they are not on your feet. With delicate calfskin boots, you may want to save them for competitions and use a thicker, sturdier leather for daily use.
Keep Them Clean
Clean your boots every time you wear them. If they are only dusty, wiping with a dry rag should be sufficient, but you don’t want to leave sweat on the leather, as it will cause the leather to break down. When your boots are wet (especially on the inside of the leg), a damp sponge should be sufficient. Some people use glycerin soap on their boots but too much product can dull the shine.
If your boots have zippers, don’t neglect them! Clean them with a damp sponge or a toothbrush and regularly apply a lubricant to keep the zippers from seizing. Don’t despair if your zippers break. They are easily replaced by most cobblers. However, they do tend to break when you need them (at a show, for instance), so preventative maintenance is a good idea. That, and keeping a roll of black duct tape on hand for emergencies!
The best way to protect your boots is to polish them. Once they are clean and dry, apply a thin coat of paste polish, let it dry, then add a second layer. Once that is dry, you can buff them to bring up the shine using either a rag or a soft brush. Don’t polish the inside of the shaft or you might find your boots start to squeak when they rub against your saddle flap. With new boots or in dry climates, you may need to condition your boots (or treat the unpolished part of the shaft). Choose a product recommended by the boot manufacturer and don’t overdo it.
When not wearing your boots, store them in a flannel boot bag (or pillow cases) and use boot trees. This keeps them upright and prevents excessive wrinkling at the ankles. Some wrinkles will appear as your boots break in, so expect them to drop about an inch from how they measured new. In lieu of boot trees, you can also roll up old newspapers and slip them down the shaft.
Even if you take exceptional care of your boots, they will still occasionally need repairs. As mentioned above, zippers can be replaced by many cobblers, or there are stores that specialize in boots. New soles can also extend the life of your favorite boots.
My final tip? Always look for good deals. I bought two pairs of boots on http://www.tackoftheday.com a few years ago. They are Tredstep boots made from a soft calfskin, so they broke in quite easily, essentially comfortable from the first day I wore them. So far they have stood up well. The shafts do soak through when I hunt, so I’m careful to rinse the sweat off after every use. Although I used to wear tall boots for every ride, breaking my ankle put a damper on that practice. I now find it more comfortable to wear paddock boots and use sheepskin stirrup leather covers to protect my legs.
What’s your experience been with tall boots? Have you kept them going for many years?