Zipper boots make our lives a little simpler because they're easier to get on/off than plain tall boots. But, they're not any easier to shop for because fit is vital to keeping zippers, well, zipped.
Stock zipper boots cost less than customs, and you don't have to wait as long to start using them. And there are key differences from their non-zippered brethren, which can make a difference in this specialized purchase.
Will The Zippers Break?
It's not "will" but "when." The only real disadvantage for zipper boots over plain ones is that the zipper creates an inherent weakness. Sooner or later the zipper is going to give way.
"It's the Murphy's Law of boots," said Lisa Goretta, who owns The Paddock Saddlery in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. "The zipper will break at the least opportune time."
If you inspect the zippers regularly, you can anticipate the inevitable and replace them. When that day comes, replace both zippers because the factors that cause the wear operate against both boots. If a break happens at a show, the fallback plan is a roll of black duct tape or black Vetrap, now standard items in show kits (brown tape if your boots are brown, of course).
Patti Swan of Dover Saddlery said zipper boots wore out faster when first introduced but are lasting longer now: "You should have a realistic expectation, however. Zipper boots won't last as long as regular boots."
The style of zipper can vary, from coil types to fine plastic teeth, large metal teeth and luggage-types. Sturdier teeth are found as you go up in price. It's fair to expect your zippers to hold two to four years of daily use with correct care. The key elements besides zipper design are fit and care.
Fit affects zipper strain and isn't just a size issue. It's also the softness/stiffness of the leather, allowing or preventing the boot to easily wrap your leg.
Natasha Tarasov, owner of The Horse Connection tack shop in Bedford, N.Y., said that a zipper will last longer if a boot is looser: "But looser also defeats the purpose of the boot in the first place. If the zipper is going to go because the boot is too tight, it will go quickly."
Zippers can be found on both dress boots (no laces, used especially by dressage riders) and field boots (ankle laces, used especially by hunter/jumper riders). Tarasov said dress boots tend to be stiffer than field boots and that the softer leather in field boots makes them easier to fit. She said she sells more customs in dressage boots than in field boots.
Tack-shop owners said they don't see riders caring for the zippers on their boots properly, and when dirt accumulates in the zipper, it will break. It's that simple.