The 3 F's of Tall Boots

January 31, 2024 53 view(s)

The 3Fs of Tall Boots

Are you a rider who always wears tall boots because anything else just feels odd? I do, especially after making a transition to a stiffer outer leg “dressage” boot many years ago. Tall riding boots are an important part of your equipment that can impact how your horse interprets your leg aids; how you make contact the sides of your horse; provides protection from pinching from the stirrup leather; even your position and balance your boots are too small, too big or too tall!


How can you make a purchase that is perfect when you aren’t a stock size or build? What if you are “tack shop challenged” and must shop and buy online? What happens when you hear that scary phrase “I’m sorry, you need “customs”?  Read on to learn about my “3 F’s of fitting tall boots: Function, Fit & Fashion.


It is the first question I ask…. what kind of riding do you do and what are you buying the boots for? Every discipline has its little quirks, so I need to know if you are a Fox Hunter? Hunters (the flat only vs over fences)?  Show Jumping? Eventing? Dressage? Polo? Will these be worn for lessons, competition, or a combination of the two? Knowing this answer helps me to steer the rider to brands and styles most appropriate for their niche in our wide variety of ways to enjoy horse-sports!


I will admit that one of my favorite tasks is helping a child moving up into tall boots, because I love to see young riders moving up through ranks and the excitement that comes from getting their very first pair of show tall boots. The traditional “rite of passage” at approximately age 12 signaled the move up from the short stirrup division. Today that line is a little blurry as I regularly work with kids who are in a childs size 3 or 4-7. Already they are all sorts of heights and sizes, which brings me to the second F: FIT   

How do you like your boots to fit? The Fit is the 2nd part of the puzzle. Life was made much easier when the miracle of full-length boot zippers came to be. Really tall, not tall enough to bother the back of your knee, loose, snug or skintight or with plenty of room to flex your ankle, many individual preferences can be satisfied while remaining in the “stock sized” boot category. The challenge now is selecting a boot that is trim (with or without laced ankle) but not so trim that the area between the ankle and the bottom of the calf muscle fits neither so tight you cannot zip up the boot not so loose that the calf and especially the boot top are not too loose.

Don’t forget your feet! The basic criteria are:  comfortable to stand or walk (these aren’t hiking boots or flip flops);  do not cramp your toes and are long and wide enough to allow at least a medium weight sock (especially if your feet are still growing); as the current trend is for a European somewhat square toe, I like to find the widest part of the foot and be sure it matches the widest part of the boot. If the boot is too far forward, the rider will want to put the stirrup iron too close to their toe which can make you “lose your irons “. If the boot is too large that ball of the foot will be too far back, making the balance point too close to the heel of the boot. Either way, a safety issue has been created. 

Let’s talk about finding the important measurements plus a few tricks for correct fit before moving on to fashion.



Make it easy on yourself but having someone else take the measurements: sit a chair (or tack trunk) that allows you to have your knee bent at about a 90 degree angle. You can measure with a tape in inches or centimeters and convert to whatever the size chart shows (2.54 centimeters = 1 inch). If you do not have a soft tape you can use a length of ribbon, (string or baling twine) and compare that to a ruler. Check out the video at the end of this blog for more details.

The minimum measurements are at the widest part of the calf, the top of the lower leg just at the bend in the knee (here is the important time for the 90 degree bend) just at the bottom of the knee cap. (see companion video). From this point measure straight down to the floor. From that measure you will need to add for drop (wrinkling of the ankle) of the boot that varies a little bit depending upon the style. A dressage boot with a stiffened outside leg/back stiffener with a soft ankle add approx. 1/2”, typical leather tall boot approx. ¾” and for very soft leather 1”. In the break-in period a heel lift (below left) can relieve pressure from the back of your knee. Do note that if you chronically stand in a crooked stance, your boot break-in process may reflect that (see below right). 

These next few photos show a young rider in her first pair of tall boots. She is not done growing however now, as confirmed by having her sit in a saddle appropriate for her discipline, both the fit for the leg and the height of the boots are very appropriate. 

If you decide that a custom boot is necessary because the stock boot size chart is not close to your own (calf width or height OR proportion) I can help in store or remotely FaceTime is a wonderful tool!  Custom boots additionally cover our third and final “F”  is for Fashion!

Look again at the photo with tape marks above (not yet including the feet) at the heel, ankle (10 cm from floor) plus 15 cm, 20 cm, widest part of the calf and top (both circumference and height before the drop). I take these measurements to recreate what you leg looks like for the technician bootmaker. Custom boot fashions have exploded for every discipline (the hunter division being the most conservative…  although the color story of brown for schooling purposes is quite strong). If you are considering custom boots I encourage you to take advantage of Big Dee’s Custom Boot Event running February  15 – 19th in store although I am happy to help you successfully work out your order via Facetime! With a custom boot you can create your custom look for show or schooling. “The sky is the limit” as just these few samples show.  


Make sure at the end of the day, you love your boots!

Check out our detailed video on tall boot fitting below. You can also call 800-321-2142 to schedule an in-person boot fitting at our Streetsboro, Ohio showroom!

CLICK HERE to shop our great selection of "off the shelf" tall boots 

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