Working around horses requires proper footwear, but all boots aren't appropriate for all tasks. Farms can actually be harsh environments for clothing, especially boots, and you need boots that can not only keep you safe but hold up no matter what horse-related tasks you're doing. Whether you are starting riding lessons, going off to horse camp or starting a job at a horse farm, you'll need at least three types of boots.
Whether you are taking lessons, trail riding or riding in horse shows, all riding boots should have a defined heel. The heel stops your foot from sliding through the stirrup, which can be dangerous. Although you should ride with the ball of your foot on the stirrup, beginners often place their feet too far forward so that the stirrup is underneath the arch. A defined heel helps keep the foot from sliding in any further, which can result in severe ankle injuries if you slide off the horse.
Riding boots also have hard soles to reduce stress on the feet while riding, and the correct amount of grip to enable you to re-position your foot without your foot sliding off the stirrup. While some hiking or work boots can be used for riding, some are too wide to fit in the stirrup. Whether you use ankle- or knee-high boots is a matter of personal preference, but beginners may find ankle boots more comfortable.
Cleaning stalls is a major part of daily life on a horse farm, and when you spend hours doing it every day, you'll need a pair of muck boots. These boots are designed for spending hours on your feet in damp muck and manure. They are flat-soled to prevent fatigue and have thick, textured rubber soles for traction on wet surfaces. Muck boots will keep your feet dry and usually have a nub on the back of the heel so that you can remove them without touching them with your hands. Additionally, they are flexible but rigid, so you can step into them without having to hold them in place or pull them up. Most importantly, they hold up to the acids in manure and urine, won't get damaged like leather will, and release manure easily when you are ready to clean them.
Lightweight rubber boots are invaluable for all kinds of tasks such as fetching horses in wet pastures, bathing horses, hosing out trailers and watering the arena. There are many messy jobs where you need to keep your feet and legs dry but don't necessarily need heavy-duty work boots, and rubber boots can be extremely comfortable after riding or cleaning stalls all day. Some rubber boots do have defined heels and can be used for riding. However, the body of the boot might not be durable enough to provide protection if a horse steps on your foot while you are grooming or leading it.
Of course, there are other types of boots for specific tasks or types of riding, such as those for shows, and some boots that claim to be dual-purpose. However, the most important factor is safety. Ride only in boots designed for riding, and preserve your riding boots by wearing muck boots for shoveling manure. If your rubber boots don't have steel toes or shanks, always use caution – or put on other boots – when working directly with horses.