Treccani Milano Investigates the Riding Boot: From 12000 BCE to 2015 Posted on 16 Nov 11:24

Riding boots have evolved from a long line of boot styles dating back to the 12000-15000 B.C.E. But first let us discuss the basics before we get in to historical bit.


Equestrian Rider on a mare, Treccani Milano blog

The term 'boot' has a very broad definition described as footwear covering the entire foot and lower leg; usually, but not limited to, leather. Simple enough. But for those in the 18th Century it was not so easy. More about that further on.

The first historical record of boots took place as mentioned above in a cave painting found in Spain as early as 12,000 and 15,000 B.C.E. The painting shows a man in boots made of animal hide, while a woman is depicted wearing boots made of the fur.

Pharaoh Khnumhotep (2140-1785 B.C.E.) is said to have some buried with his embalmed body in Egypt. You may be surprised to know that boots were also found in an Egyptian Pharaoh's tomb. While Egypt has a sweltering climate one could imagine they would become helpful in wartime. 

The next civilization to catch on to the boot craze was the Scythians of about 1000 B.C.E. A spin off from the Greek people. Their boots were simple untanned leather with the fur turned inside for warmth. From historical records they appeared to be more like bags than the boot design we know today. They had also sewn leather thongs to hold them on.

Inuit Kamiks, a forbearer to the riding boot, Treccani Milano riding boot history

The latter style also seems characteristic of many arctic natives. The Inuit are fairly well-known for their Kamiks. It is an efficient use of their resources and they take great pride in using caribou hide or sealskin; a big staple of their diet. Kamiks proved very effective as they were naturally water resistant. The boots began to take on more style as they were sewn together to create more of a moccasin shape. They also created a style of stitching with sinews (a piece of tough fibrous tissue uniting muscle; a tendon or ligament) to ensure no leakage within the stitches. (See above).

From the ancient world, making its' way into the medieval times the riding boot was a symbol of power and military prowess. Many kings and Roman emperors are said to have ornamental boots covered in jewels and diamonds to show off their wealth and superiority. This became a big indicator of wealth as most of the general population was barefoot or had crude sandals.

The first real forerunner to the riding boot design appeared in the ninth century. It was called huese and was made of soft leather and took more of a shoe shape.

The boot then began to quickly evolve changing every few centuries or so. In the twelfth to fourteenth centuries there was the estivaux, a short soft boot that gained more popularity than those that came before it.

Versailles sixteenth century boots style, History of riding boots blog

The sixteenth century saw even more changes. With the first real stylistic differences since the beginning of the boot craze. They created high boots of soft perfumed leather and were worn to meet upper stocks. These would soon develop into the wide, floppy cavalier styles of the first half of the seventeenth century. This change marks the first drastic move towards the boots we use today. (See above)

These boots were fashioned to be very soft, slouchy boots with an elaborate boot hosen (socks) with lace trim flaring outwards to fold over the boots.

This is where the riding boot comes into existence. The high tops and great care to quality of leather was found to be quite helpful when on horseback as it protected the legs while being jostled around. And thus found its creation in a militaristic origin.

However as the boot became more of a fashion statement with various luxurious hosen available it was popular for all classes by 1815. The first appearance of boots for walking and daytime activities was spurred by a suggestion made in a fashion periodical.

The riding boot had its first royal approval when J. Sparkes presented Queen Victoria with her first pair of boots in 1837. The boots were elasticized and easy to slip on and off. Before this they had many laces to do up. If it was good for Queen Victoria it was good for all and the riding boot market exploded.

1860s balmoral riding boot, Treccani Milano boot blog

The elastic style held popularity until the 1860's when Balmorals (front lace in satin or coloured leather) became the "in" thing for more sophisticated outings. (See above).

Horseback riding became a very common past-time for eighteenth century noblewomen. It was a suitable way to display their figures in closely-tailored habits as they rode side-saddle through the London parks or across the lands belonging to country houses. 

To them horseback riding was at once a chance to show off your skill in connection to the horse, socialization and perhaps even courtship. You can see how learning to ride and do it well was quite important. It was also a big fashion statement as to what kind of boot they were showing off; as riding horseback was the only time in the eighteenth century in which a noble lady could show off her ankle.

The styles consisted mostly of practical leather, and laced securely up the front. They would have protected the foot (and those thin stockings) and offered a sure footing in the stirrup.

Vittoria Caramel Calfskin riding boot by Treccani Milano

Now fast forward to the present day and you have many top quality companies sharing their riding boot designs with the world. While the average boot has branched off to include riding boots, rainy day boots, winter boots, leather boots for everyday wear etc., Treccani Milano is trying to keep that authentic riding boot design alive.

The traditional English riding boot is made of a smooth leather, cowhide or pigskin, and for those traditional riders this is a must. Other materials include vinyl and leather.

The classic style again is high on the leg, as it started out centuries ago, that prevents the saddle leather from pinching the rider's lower leg. It also boasts a sturdy toe and has a distinct heel to prevent the foot from sliding off the stirrup, as well as a textured sole to further curve any slippage that could lead in falling from the saddle.

Now the modern riding boot  has a surprisingly lower heel, which means the level of expertise involved in keeping your feet in the stirrup is increased tenfold. 


Rider on horse with riding boots, Treccani Milano blog post

For the casual rider a well-worn show boot is most common. While there has been an increase in new boot designs taking after athletic or hiking shoes resulting in space age synthetics and breathable materials to create what essentially is a "tennis shoe with a heel." 

While as we saw earlier the riding boot can have many shapes and can be made with many materials. Today the most common material is patent leather. However this may change as Jodhpur boots are changing it up again with a design for saddle seat horse show classes.This type of event is held after 6:00 pm and requires formal attire to be worn. Thus a more formal look is necessary.

That is the complete history of the riding boot, from low-cut pointed toes to lace-ups to slip-ons and now a combination of new and old traditions.