Even for the casual rider, horse riding can be an expensive hobby, but if you’re new to the sport (or are thinking about going on a trail ride while on holiday) you don’t necessarily want to pay out for a top of the range pair of riding boot and maybe wondered if sneakers were suitable instead. As an instructor, this is something I’m often asked so decided to write this article to hopefully answer the question. I also thought it would be helpful to take a look at exactly want makes something suitable for horse riding.
Can I wear sneakers when horse riding? Sneakers are amongst the most unsuitable type of footwear for horse riding, to start with their laces can easily get caught on the saddle or in the stirrup, but they also won’t support your leg in any way. More importantly, they won’t prevent your foot from sliding through the stirrups if you fall.
Are sneakers suitable for horse riding?
We’ve all been there in the past, the weather’s hot, you’ve been on your feet all day, and you’re about to head off for your next ride so decide to leave your sneakers or tennis shoes on. After all, they’re comfortable and your feet can breathe in them but this is completely the wrong way of thinking. While they may be extremely comfortable they sadly aren’t suitable for horse riding in any way.
To understand why sneakers are so unsuitable for horse riding you need to look at their design and what they’re used for. Built for comfortable, sneakers are often wider than riding boots but they also have thick, flat treads that are designed to support your foot while walking (or running) and help you to grip the ground as you move. All of these features are what make them a bad idea for horse riding.
While you might not think the width of your footwear will make a difference if it’s too wide then you won’t be able to get your foot in the stirrup properly, making your leg ache and giving you an incorrect riding position.
The flat sole (or more specifically the lack of a heel) means that there’s nothing to stop your whole foot from sliding through the stirrups. If you’re in the saddle this will simply be uncomfortable but if you fall from the horse (for whatever reason) then this could have serious consequences. Not least because you’ll end up hanging from the horse which will quite likely scare them and cause them to spook, dragging you along behind them.
It’s not just the lack of a heel that makes sneakers a poor choice though, the ‘grippy’ tread is also a big no-no because it works to keep your foot in place. I know that might sound like a positive thing but if you need to get your feet out of the stirrups quickly it won’t be so easy.
Lastly, if your laces are long, and aren’t tucked away, they can get caught up on the saddle or even in the stirrups. Okay, so this might not often happen but it is a possibility which is why you won’t find any riding footwear with long laces.
While I’ve just spent the last little while talking about the drawbacks of riding in sneakers there is one occasion when they can be used, and that’s when they’ve been designed specifically for horse riding. These will have smoother soles and small heels to make them safe for riding. That said though I still don’t like to ride in them because of the laces, that might just be me though as I don’t like tucking the laces in my sneakers (I find it uncomfortable).
Why are boots better for riding a horse than sneakers?
Having the wrong footwear for riding can be dangerous and lead to serious injury or worse which is why boots (even ankle ones) are far better than sneakers. Not only will boots be able to support your leg and ankle (helping you to position your legs properly in the saddle) but they’ll also have a small heel and smooth sole.
Why does a heel matter when horse riding I hear you ask, well to put it bluntly it could save your life! If you happen to fall (and believe me it happens to the best) and your foot slips through the stirrup and gets stuck then there’s a serious risk you could be dragged along as the horse bolts. On top of this, the heel will stop your foot from slipping through the stirrup when you’re traveling at faster speeds as well as over different terrains (as well as when jumping). To some extent the smooth sole does the complete opposite of the heel, it’ll allow you to quickly get your feet out of the stirrups if you need to.
With this in mind, you should never wear sneakers, unless of course they’ve been designed for horse riding. Even then though they won’t offer much protection if a horse weighing in excess of 1,000 pounds stands on your foot.
What should I look for in horse riding footwear?
Other than a riding helmet, correct footwear is the most important thing to consider when horse riding but what should you be looking for in the perfect pair of riding boots?
Good riding boots will help to protect your feet both in the saddle and on the ground so you should look for boots with a closed-toe (and ideally a steel cap), small heel, and smooth sole. The heel will help to prevent your foot from slipping through the stirrup while the smooth sole will allow you to get your feet out quickly if needed.
The closed-toe, on the other hand, will protect your feet to some degree if a horse decides to stand on your foot and the steel cap will add an extra layer of protection. You might not think this is necessary if you’re careful of the horse’s feet but it does happen (and some horses will do it on purpose). When I was younger (before the days of steel-capped riding boots) I had a lovely horseshoe-shaped bruise on my foot for ages and believe me I was lucky – the previous day I was wearing a cool pair of converse! I have to say I’ve not worn them since, I learned my lesson.
Comfort is something that’s often overlooked when looking for riding boots but it’s more important than you might think. After all, you may well be spending a long time in them so you need them to fit properly and be comfortable. Ideally, they should be able to keep your feet warm and dry in the winter but also be breathable to help keep your feet cool in the summer.
Horse riding is a physical and demanding activity so it’s important that any boots can not only cope with this but won’t wear out quickly. For this reason, many people choose leather, cowhide, or pigskin boots but molded vinyl and other synthetic materials are also popular options.
If you’re just starting out then this isn’t going to be so applicable but if you’re hoping to take part in competitions or events then you might need a particular style of boot. Also, different disciplines put different stresses on boots so you should also take this into account.
There’s no doubt that horse riding can be a dangerous pastime and while having the correct footwear won’t reduce that risk it can go a long way to reducing the impact or severity if anything does go wrong. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to get the best boots you can afford, as long as they’re suitable.
In most cases the cost of the boots won’t make a difference to how suitable they are, but what it will make a difference to is how long they last. The reason for this is often down to the materials used and the quality of the stitching. Hand-stitched leather boots will cost a lot more than off-the-shelf molded boots but will last a darn sight longer.
What’s a good substitute for riding boots?
In an ideal world your use footwear that’s been properly designed for horse riding, whether it be riding boots, cowboy boots, jodhpur boots, or even paddock boots but sometimes this isn’t possible. And if you’re not sure whether or not you’ll enjoy horse riding it’s perfectly understandable that you won’t want to buy a new pair of boots that may only be used a few times.
Luckily some riding schools do have riding boots that you can borrow but if not, and you’re forced to rummage through the bottom of your closet, what should you be looking for? The ideal boots for riding should be safe, durable, comfortable, and if possible suitable for your chosen discipline, although this isn’t essential at the start. On top of this you should also make sure your footwear has the following:
- Heel – The boots should have a small, flat heel that is between 1 and 2 inches in height.
- Sole – The sole of your boots should be smooth with nothing more than a textured tread.
- Closed toe (and heel) – While it might be cooler your boots should cover your feet completely.
- Narrow width – If the boots are too big then you may not be able to get your foot into the stirrup.
- Tall – Tall boots aren’t essential (and many people prefer riding in ankle boots) but they will help to support your legs and ankles.
What pants can you wear for horseback riding? What pants are okay and what should be avoided?
Of course, you CAN ride in sneakers but just because you can do something it doesn’t mean you should, or that it’s safe to do so. After all most of us know we can ride in a car without a seat belt, but be honest, how many of us actually do?
There’s no doubt that many experienced riders will choose to ride in footwear that’s completely unsuitable but they do this knowing (and accepting) the risks. For a new or novice rider, the correct footwear should be a must, second only to wearing a riding helmet.
If, for whatever reason, you really can’t ride in boots and find that sneakers are the only footwear you’re comfortable in then consider a pair designed especially for horse riding. They may cost a little bit more but if the worse does happen they really could save your life! And that’s something you can’t put a price on.
I’ve never worn riding sneakers myself but know a lot of people who use Ovation riding sneakers and absolutely love them.
Want to know more about what to wear when riding? A beginner’s guide to horse riding attire.
Can I ride a horse in flip-flops?
Absolutely not! Flip-flops, sandals, crocs, or any type of open-toed footwear is a definite no-no when it comes to horse riding. They offer no support at all and could even fall off while you’re riding. Wearing them at the barn isn’t a good idea either, horses are heavy animals that can break both skin and bone if they stand on your exposed toes.
Can I wear rain boots when horse riding?
While rain boots may be suitable to wear when working at the stables they shouldn’t be used for horse riding. They tend to have grips which will make it difficult for you to remove your foot from the stirrup in an emergency but also, they often don’t have heels. On top of that, your legs will move around in them so they won’t offer any support at all.
How can you tell if ‘riding’ boots really are suitable for horse riding?
Some fashion boots are classed as riding boots when they’re anything but. The quickest way to tell if they’re really meant for riding is to look for a zip, if you find one and it’s on the inside then they’re fashion boots and not riding ones. Some riding boots have zips but they’re ALWAYS on the back and never the inside. If the boots don’t have a zip then you just need to make sure the sole is smooth and that they have a small heel, if they have both of those then you’ve got yourself a pair of riding boots!
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉