Heels Down and Don’t Forget the Pads!

There is an art to breaking in new boots. I am reminded of this as I break in a pair of tall Doc Marten’s today, their first walk from the bus. I forgot my blister pads. Dammit. I should know better.

You see, this art is equal parts patience and tolerance to pain. Both are necessary to walk through the first few weeks of pinches, blisters and stiffness new boots require. I’ve done my fair share of breaking in leather riding boots, and I have a distinct challenge.

I’m short.

Like, midget short. Tall boots have, historically, not come in my leg length, unless I go full custom. Which I have, and since having kids, do not fit into anymore. *cue sobbing and incalculable woe*

Every pair of tall leather riding boots I have ever owned have required me to be creative in my endeavours not to grind my heels and calves to a pulp, or lace the back and inside of my knees with criss-crossed ribbons of blood. I have used gauze padding, gaffer tape, Vaseline, hot water soaks, and the almighty panty liner.

Yes, really. Panty liners.

My very first pair of tall leather boots were on sale at Horse World for $100. A steal! My feet had stopped growing, so my father relented and I practically danced out of the store, jubilant to finally be joining the “grown up” ranks of riders sporting classy, professional looking boots. No more rubber Aigle’s for me! Clanking in the box beside them were my new boot pulls too, because back in the day, we didn’t have fancy zippers and spandex gussets. You pulled those suckers on, and yes, pulled them off too, sometimes getting sweatier doing that than when you were riding.

We worked for our sleek calf-line and tailored ankle, dammit. This was why, if a rider was in the ER for a suspected broken ankle, you would hear them say (paraphrased) “you will cut those boots off over my cold, dead body. Give me a biting stick and pull it off, dammit, I don’t want to break in a new pair mid-season”.

Yup. The struggle was real, yo.

The first ride in my new grown up boots, I was so excited, I don’t think I even noticed the river of blood running into my breeches as I rode. It wasn’t until I pulled them off that I saw the back and side of my knees, completely red. Upon peeling my breeches off, the horror hit, and then the pain as air met wound. Blood blisters the size of Manhattan (not really, but picture it, for dramatic effect) were oozing, pulsating, and generally looking like someone decided to take a cheese shredder and run it over my skin a few times.

My very first experience breaking in leather boots. How cool! How awesome! Why had no one warned me of the Defcon-4 level of pain I was now enduring?

Since Google did not exist yet, I looked to my books and fellow crazy horse people for advice. “Ride through the pain”, “Bandage and tape felt to the tops until they relax”, “Hot water soak them to relax quicker” was all sound advice. My Pony Club commissioner, Kim, gave me advice that I took to heart. She simply said “Tampax pads on the knee, pull on the breeches, and you’re good to go.”.

In absence of felt, and because I needed something to absorb grossness from the back of my knees, I dutifully taped some hastily bought panty liners to my open wounds, gauzed them in place, and pulled the boots back on the next day, wincing, maybe crying a little, and walking like a stiff-legged marionette. I’ll admit my horse’s feet didn’t get picked that day. I couldn’t bend my leg!

But, I was badass. I was going to ride through the pain! Grr! Argh! Also? I refused to ever wear my rubber riding boots ever again. They were so childish. I was an accomplished teen rider, yo! I was also stubborn as a mule… Even with the tears and the days on end of not being able to sit properly in chairs. (edit: I did so wear them again, for a couple of days to let the blisters heal)

Those first leather boots did eventually relax, and became absolutely wonderful. The scars healed, with only a tiny remnant on the inside of my left knee. It gets opened back up each time I break in a new pair. Battle scars. Stories.

Once, using this method to break in boots, I rode a dressage test with Always taped to my legs inside my breeches, and white no-stick gauze with white electrical tape pasted to the outside. No blood seeped through, and I even remember I scored a 7 on my free walk (our first mark above 5 that didn’t have a remark of “stiff/above bit”!). This was a small miracle, because I was riding my anti-dressage Appaloosa who decided to impersonate a vertically challenged giraffe as soon as she saw a white-fenced rectangle. Even in the free walk. She would periscope, looking around as if lions were everywhere.

Once, in lieu of a pantyliner, I grabbed some Animalintex to pad out the backs (overtop of my breeches), because I needed something quickly and had forgotten to pad the outside of the knee. White fluff floated out from behind my legs for the entire lesson, baffling my instructor.

I’ve soaked in the bathtub with my boots on (reading Horse Sport for classical dramatic flair, whilst sipping wine) to get the leather to relax quickly. I have used heated “magic bags” to warm the leather and stretch the toe box out, and I have worn riding boots around the house for days on end to break them in before ever swinging a leg over. (my boyfriend at the time, he didn’t mind so much *wink*).

I bought my first pair of tall boots in a long time, this summer. I had been using paddock boots and half chaps, but missing the stability a tall boot gave the leg. I was not looking forward to the breaking in process, envisioning hobbling into work, bandages on the back of my knees, blisters taped up, gaffer tape, and weird looks.

So when the saleswoman looked at me and said “what length do you want? I assume a short?” I nearly kissed her. I tried them on, and yes, even the “short” was tall on me, but I wasn’t immobile. They were stiff, but not so stiff I couldn’t immediately zip them up and do some air squats. Wild. The first couple of rides were stiff, and I was sure I waddled a bit. But there is one difference with these as compared to all the other boots I have ever broken in (even my customs)…

Not one panty liner was needed.