Riding Boots vs Cowboy Boots: What’s The Difference?

Riding Boots vs Cowboy Boots: What's The Difference?

In 2019, we thought of moving on to a new type of article, that of comparing different fashion trends, clothes and brands in order to learn more about them.

In some we will just be learning about the history and the rise to fashion of certain garments and styles, while in others, especially when it comes to brands, we will be looking at which of them would be the better choice.

We will start off this new segment with today’s piece, where a more in-depth look will be taken at riding boots, also known as the English tall boots, versus cowboy boots, commonly known as the western riding boots, in order to better understand their origin, purpose and role in fashion and the modern wardrobe.

1. Riding Boots

Riding Boots

A short history of the riding boot

The riding boot can be traced all the way back to the 10th century, when it was first designed for horseback riders that required proper shoes for safety and practicality while on the horse.

If you’ve ever ridden a horse, or come across one, you have seen the saddle and how it is built. The stirrup, that is the part where the foot goes on the saddle, requires proper grip in order to prevent the foot from moving back and forth, or slipping out.

It’s for that reason that the riding boot has a low, but prominent, heel that makes it easier for the foot to stay put on the stirrup, while at the same time not preventing it from quickly being taken out when dismounting from the horse.

The height of the boot was another key design feature, as it was made to be knee-high in order to protect the leg from the stiff sides of the saddle. The material it was made out of, which was leather, was an additional help in this regard as it bore all the friction and contact with the saddle.

Lastly, the toe of riding boots was originally very sturdy and rigid, which was made as a measure in case the rider got stepped on by the horse. Being so prominent, and slightly upturned, it also helped hold the foot on the stirrup.

Riding Boots As a Fashion Style

Gigi Hadid - Riding Boots

Image: pinterest.com

While their original purpose was that of safety, comfort and practicality, riding boots are now a stylish type of boot worn by men and women all around the world.

That is not to say that the traditional boot is not still used for its original purpose, because equestrian sports still require quality riding boots.

Since we mentioned them, it was precisely equestrian sports, such as polo and English horseback riding that helped bring the riding boot into the fashion world.

They are very comfortable to wear and quite versatile in style, which is what made them a style icon in the 1980’s, a trend that still continues in 2019.

During winter it is impossible not to come across tall riding boots, and nowadays they come in so many different designs, colors and materials.

Originally made of cowhide and other types of leather, nowadays you can find both genuine and artificial leather options, depending on what you prefer and how much you are willing to spend.

Coming in so many options and being versatile in styling is what continues to keep riding boots as the top choice of winter shoes among women. Styling them is really easy and we have written a piece precisely on this topic earlier this year. You can find it here.

The video below also gives helpful tips on styling the tall riding boot.

Pairings: Tall Boots

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2. Cowboy Boots

Cowboy Boots

A short history of the cowboy boot

The modern cowboy boots derive from the Wellington boots, which were originally worn by the Duke of Wellington, who modified his Hessian boots to be softer and shorter.

While we today associate the cowboy boot with the Wild West cowboys of old, because that is what we have seen in movies, things are a bit different.

The closest resembling boots to the cowboy boots were the ones worn by Spanish vaqueros, the cowboys of Spain. Originally they settled in Mexico and then Texas, which then made the cowboy boot’s style become popular in the northern parts of the American West.

They were traditionally made of cowhide leather and their design was modified in order to provide better comfort and protection from the harsh environment where the cowboys resided.

They are most famous for their Cuban heel, which is underslung and made of wood. The toe of the cowboy boot also tended to be more pointed rather than wide and round and the shaft was shorter than that of the original riding boot that it originated from.

The gentlemen in the video give a quick rundown of the cowboy boot and its use back in the day and in modern times, especially in the life of the ranchers and cowboys of today.

R.A. Dorwart – Classic Cowboy Boots

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Cowboy boots as a fashion style

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley - Cowboy Boots

Image: pinterest.com

The cowboy boot became a fashion trend mainly due to the 1900’s Hollywood movies that focused on the cowboy life, also known as Western movies, which showcased life on the ranch, saloons, ghost towns and tough as nails cowboys going through adventures.

Due to these movies growing in popularity at a very quick rate, it made those who loved them want to embody their heroes. Others just really liked the style and thus the cowboy boot became a fashion trend that is still popular today among men and women.

However, there isn’t “one” cowboy boot. The heel alone can come in 13 different types, depending on what the boot style is and what’s its purpose.

The embellishment, lacing and stitching details are also part of the different styles of cowboy boots, but these design details were not developed in the modern days, such as was the case for the riding boot, but they can be traced all the way back to the 1866, where the cowboy boot became more stylish and decorative.

Women’s and men’s cowboy boots vary, but one type that is distinctively for women is the high cowboy boot, which has a higher heel than the typical boots.

Women’s cowboy boots also come in a wider range of toe shapes and decorations, providing not only lots of options to choose from but also a perfect fit.

Styling cowboy boots is a bit tricky as it’s such a distinctive-looking design, but there is plenty of information and inspiration to be taken online. We particularly like the video below:


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3. Riding Boots vs Cowboy Boots – What’s the Difference?

A cowboy boot is so unique in style that it is nearly impossible to mistake it for any other type of boot and it differs greatly from a typical riding boot.


Design-wise, the riding boot has a typically straight-cut shaft, which also taller than that of a cowboy boot.

The cowboy boot shaft’s top is cut in different styles, the most typical one being the double-notched cut, with the V-notch on the front and back. The side straps are also a distinctive feature of this boot.


While we mentioned that a cowboy boot can come in 13 types of heels, the most typical one is the Cuban heel, which is underslung, whereas the riding boot has a flat, square-ish heel.

The height of the cowboy heel is also varied, as there are some designs that feature a considerably higher heel than the typical riding boot has.


The traditional style of the riding boot toe is rounded, leaning on being wider. That’s not often the case with a cowboy boot, which comes in different toe styles that can be cut straight, pointy, narrow-rounded or wide-rounded.

Decorative details

Apart from the overall design, the decorative aspect of the cowboy boot really set it apart from the riding boot, which tends to come in embellishments and different colors, but not in the detailed and meticulous stitching, lacing and colorfulness of the cowboy boot.


Lastly, another big difference is in the materials used. This difference is not just noticeable today, but ever since the original cowboy boots, different animal skins were used, such as elephant, snake, lizard, buffalo and even alligator, not solely limiting this boot to the typical cowhide leather.

The riding boot, on the other hand, was made of cowhide leather originally or other cattle and herd animals.

Nowadays they share a common material in some cases, which is the Faux leather.

Well, it’s all done! We hope you enjoyed your time with use and we will see you in the next one!

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