Q. I just purchased my first pair of tall boots and I don't know how to properly care for them. Do you have any tips?
A. To prolong your boots' life and preserve the shine, you'll need to use special care. Riding boots are made out of "polished" or "finished" leather, which is different from the type of leather used to make saddles, bridles and work boots. Many regular leather-care products, such as saddle soap, are too harsh for boot leather. Some contain oils, which can cause stretching and leave a residue that permanently dulls the finish. So stick to oil-free leather cleaners, conditioners and creams/polishes made specifically for boots. These are available through most tack shops and boot manufacturers.
Keep your boots as clean and dry as possible. This is obviously no simple task, given the naturally dirty conditions of barn floors, pastures and arenas. But mud, manure and water can deteriorate the seams and stitching and dry out the leather. Sweat is especially hard on boots because the salt in it draws moisture out of the leather, leaving it brittle, hard and prone to cracking. Here are some ways to combat these processes:
In wet and muddy conditions, protect your boots with rubber overshoes or galoshes.
As soon as possible after every ride, wipe the dirt and sweat off your boots with a damp cloth or sponge.
To avoid scratching the fine surface, always use soft sponges, cloths and brushes (horsehair bristles are the best) in gentle motions on your boots. Never scrub!
Use as little soap as possible to clean your boots. If plain water doesn't lift off all of the dirt and sweat, use a soft, damp cloth or sponge to apply boot-leather cleaner or a mild oil-free detergent, such as castile soap. Lather well and then rinse thoroughly, using just enough water to remove the soap and dirt, but not so much that you soak the boots.
To soften any dry areas, apply a thin layer of boot leather conditioner while the leather is still wet.
Store your boots in a well-ventilated room, away from direct sunlight or other sources of heat.
Occasional polishing is good for preserving the finish, but don't overdo it. Excessive polishing over time leaves a gummy, sticky build-up. Allow your clean boots to fully air dry before applying a thin layer of polish or cream. Once this is dry, restore the original shine by buffing with a horsehair-bristled brush.
To maintain the shape of your boots, place boot trees (also available through most tack and boot shops) in them while the leather is still damp from cleaning.
If a boot develops any cracks or sole problems, contact the manufacturer or another qualified boot repairer immediately. Patches, upper replacements and resoling can extend the lifespan of well-used boots significantly.
Expert saddler Jim Robeson, based near Rochester, New York, developed an interest in crafting and repairing leather 40 years ago as a teenager riding at a busy hunter/jumper barn. Mostly self-taught, he eventually started his own business, which offered custom tack as well as repair work. He is now a member of the Workshop Services team for the New Canaan, Connecticut, branch of Beval Saddlery, Ltd.