A Cowboy Boot Overview
A cowboy boot is a term specific to a footwear style worn by cattle workers in the American West. It is a riding boot with a Cuban heel, a rounded or, since the 1940s, pointed toe, and a high shaft with no lacing. Most cowboy boots are made from cow leather, but many other leathers are also used.
While riding boots have been part of the equestrian experience for centuries, the cattle workers in the U.S. adopted the Wellington boot in the ante-bellum era. The Welling boot was a shorter, calvary oriented boot that was one of the first machine made mass produced boots. After the American Civil War, style elements became important (top stitching, geometric design, etc.) as did an under hung heel. The American style boot was produced by boot makers in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, including Charles Hyer of Kansas and H. J. Justin of Texas.
There are two basic standards for cowboy boots, the classic style and the roper.
Most elements of the classic style are rooted in practicality. The slick and treadless sole allows easy mounting and dismounting from the stirrup. The tall heel keeps the foot braced from sliding through the stirrup. The lack of lacing meant that, on a fall from a horse, the wrangler’s leg would come free and not get caught, which could result in severe injury. The high leather shaft protects the legs from brush (especially when worn with chaps), stirrup chafing, and it also provides depth while waking in shallow waters.
The exception is the pointed toe that is now common. This feature arose in the 1940s as a stylistic element and has no practical use.
The modern roper style has a shorter shaft that ends above the ankle and a lower squared off heel. This style came about in response to the needs of modern rodeo participants, especially calf-ropers. The contestants have to dismount and run to tie the animals that have roped and work against the clock. The roper style boot allows greater pedestrian freedom.