How to Break In English Riding Boots

Breaking in new boots takes time, but comfortable boots keep you safe and allow you to focus while riding.

You finally bought the perfect pair of English riding boots, but they feel so stiff on your feet and legs that you can’t keep your heels down! What to do? Here are some expert tips for breaking in tall boots.

Before You Get Started

Before beginning the process of breaking in a new pair of English riding boots, be sure that you really want to soften the leather. If your boots are for dressage, you’ll want to break them in very minimally at the ankles only, if at all. These show boots are meant to look and feel like stovepipes – thus the nickname!

If your boots are ones that do need softening, gather up a few supplies in advance of beginning the breaking in process:

  • Leather conditioner
  • Boot trees
  • Boot stretch spray
  • Moleskin or petroleum jelly

The Night Before

Before you really get down to business, apply a liberal amount of boot stretch spray and insert the boot trees. Be sure that you follow the directions on the boot spray bottle.

Repeat this process whenever you are not wearing your boots, until they finally feel just right. The combination of boot trees and boot stretch spray will very gently add elasticity to the leather.

Conditioning Tips for Breaking in English Riding Boots

The next step involves applying plenty of leather conditioner to the boots, focusing on areas that need to become flexible. Be sure to apply the conditioner to the inside surface of the boots as well as the outside, unless the inner liner is synthetic.

Once the boots are well-oiled, inside and out, put them on over a pair of old socks and riding breeches you don’t mind staining. If your boots are very tight in some areas, consider applying protective moleskin to those areas of skin to help prevent blisters. If you’re in a hurry and have no moleskin, you can apply a protective layer of petroleum jelly instead – but this doesn’t protect as well as moleskin does.

With the boots on your feet, begin the process of breaking in. If they are very stiff, you may find you’re only able to walk around a bit. After walking, it’s time for more exercises. Here are a few to try:

  • Stand on the edge of a stair with your toes pointing toward the risers. Drop your heels gently over the edge of the stair, mimicking the heels down position you take when in the saddle. Do this several times, perhaps alternating with more walking and some other exercises.
  • The next tip for breaking in new English riding boots is a bit odd – but it works wonders on the leather. Carefully, so as not to scratch your new boots, ride a bicycle around. The motions you make while pedaling mimic those you make when riding your horse.
  • Don’t have a bike? Lie on your back and make pedaling motions with your feet while wearing your boots. Focus on flexing your calves, feet, and ankles.

If you’re feeling brave, you can do what riders have been doing for centuries: Fill the inside of your boots with warm water and dip the outsides in water as well. The point is to dampen, not completely soak your boots, so dip and fill for just a few seconds. Dump out the water, then wear them until they are dry, doing some exercises in the meantime. This is very uncomfortable, and you’re likely to get blisters even if you’ve taken precautions.

Once your English riding boots have been broken in well enough to begin riding in them, keep up with the conditioning and stretching. Not up to the task of breaking in those new boots yourself? If you have a professional cobbler in your area, bring your boots in to have them stretched. Once they’re comfortable, remember to keep them well-waterproofed, oiled, and polished so they last for years to come. The process of breaking in English riding boots is labor-intensive and not something most people feel like repeating.