Getting new boots is very exciting -- and can be painful!
Those of you who know me, know that I re-condition saddles, treat new tack to prepare for use, as well as measure and fit custom boots. With all that, I am also very interested in how leather behaves over time and what we can do to be sure it stays strong and supple.
The state of boots: Most fine leather boots are now being made with softer leather and are meant for a stretch-to-fit allowance and incorporating "the drop." Boots are also being made in leaner silouhettes and with zippers in back, side or wrap around. Break-in isn't nearly as bad as it what once was, but still ouchy, particularly behind the heel/ankle and behind the knee.
The best way to break in new boots -- bar none -- involves water.
Are you surprised? With the assumption that boots were properly fit and/or measured, my recommendation is to put boots on -- zip part way up if very tight -- and spray yourself with warm water (just the boots actually). The whole boot -- inside and out -- can be sprayed with water. Once wet, the leather can begin to give, so start doing some subtle squats.
NOTE: zippers are the weakest, most vulnerable part of the boot and should be cared for carefully. Most important consideration for zipper health is to be sure nothing gets stuck in it -- particularly socks. My preference is to employ 2 simple tools: a brass zip-it (like a stud chain with a hook) and your own index finger. Put your finger between the back of the zipper and your leg and use your outside hand to pull the zip-it.
Keep the top inch or two of the boots unzipped to keep the top from buckling until the drop occurs. Walk around the house or elsewhere for a few wearings, performing the same water trick. An alternative is to take the boots by the foot and either spray or submerge inside and outside of boots and then put on. Wear as long as possible, best until they dry (about 3+ hours).
So, what about the blisters and rubs Some of this is unavoidable, but there is a major breakthrough that we sell in The Equestrian's Concierge -- the EquiFit Gel Band. It's simply a gel-ish tube that has an elastic outer fabric that looks very much like an ACE bandage. Not cute, but amazingly effective.
So, back to the actual break in. One last thing that is pretty important to properly break in the boots: managing the drop. So this is about being mindful of where the wrinkles go. As the boots begin to drop, the bruise on the back of your knee fades because the boot has become about 1" shorter. The rub on the back of your heel, however, gets worse because now the wrinkles are forming and jabbing you. Decide where you want the wrinkles, you certainly don't want them on your shin - you want them around the ankle (as low as possible). So put them there, they have to go somewhere. Push the leather with your hands to how you want the drop to be.
So that should do it. Be careful on the boots' first ride -- they'll feel stiff and slippery so you won't be in your most secure seat. This'll no doubt be the day your horse decides to spook and run off... I can't help you with that.....
Let us know what you think.
Ashley@EquestrianConcierge.com • @OutfittedByEQ • #OutfittedByEQ • Facebook.com/EquestrianConcierge
Ashley Matchett Woods is the owner of The Equestrian’s Concierge at Sonoma Horse Park in Northern California. EQ offers expert measuring, repair, and care of fine leather boots.