The tester: Equestrian-journalist Sushil Dulai Wenholz has ridden most of her life and has written about boots for two decades. "I still get a little thrill every time I open up a new boot box to see what's inside," she says. "So I was excited to try these boots and discover each pair's unique attributes. I tested them all on a variety of terrain ─ grass, packed dirt, concrete, sand, rocky trails, uphill and down, in water and through the mud."
The Ariat Terrain H20
Description: Ariat International, Inc., designed the Ariat Terrain leather boots with endurance riders in mind, incorporating its ATS technology for fatigue-reducing support and cushion, plus its Duratread outsole for durability and flexibility. The manufacturer says the boots' outsoles will last up to four times longer than traditional rubber outsoles, and are highly resistant to manure and acidic waste. The Ariat Terrain is available in copper, in women's half sizes 5.5-10 and 11, in medium and wide widths; and men's half sizes 7-12 and 13, in medium and wide widths.
Test results: These boots felt broken in from the start. The leather and outsole alike were sturdy, yet flexible. There was plenty of cushion under my foot, and I really liked the arch support provided by the orthotics built into the footbed.
These are attractive boots, and I had no qualms wearing them with a pair of jeans for a day at the office. My feet were still feeling good when I went riding that evening. I found that the soles gave me plenty of grip in the stirrup and even a little extra spring under the ball of my foot ─ an unexpected bonus that's probably attributable to the gel pad in the boot's forefoot.
Another day, I hiked with the boots on one of my favorite trails. The boots don't have particularly deep treads, yet they managed the rocks, mud, and differing grades quite well.
The boot shaft comes up just to the top of my ankle bone, providing support. The boot was stable, even on loose footing and rocks.
These boots feature waterproof leather, a waterproof membrane lining, and seam-sealed construction. So I was glad, if hardly surprised, to find that I could wade in the creek
all I wanted without feeling a drop of moisture on my feet.
All in all, I found these boots to be enjoyable to spend the day in—on the trail, around the barn, and even around the office.
The Justin Chukka
Description: The Justin Chukka from Justin Boots features a removable EVA orthotic insert for cushioning and a thermal-plastic rubber outsole. It comes up a little higher on the leg than a traditional chukka, stopping just above the ankle bone.
While a traditional style calls for two eyelets and a low to no heel, this one adds two hooks above the bottom eyelets, a third eyelet at the top of the ankle, and a slightly more substantial heel for security in the stirrups. The chukka is available in a variety of colors, in women's sizes 4-10, in medium width; and men's sizes 6-11, 12, and 13 in medium width.
Test results: When you think of a chukka, you think of a loafer-type ankle boot. True to that spirit, these boots felt almost like slippers when I pulled them on. The footbed is soft and spacious ─ it reminded me a little of a flannel-lined moccasin. The leather is likewise soft and supple, with no break-in period required.
For my tastes, the boots seemed a little "grippy" around the ankle when laced snugly, but that's just personal preference ─ some people would appreciate that trait, and the boot did stay securely in place.
Compared to other hiking and riding boots, these are a style apart. They have a much more urban look and would be perfectly at home with jeans, khakis, and other casual wear. You could easily wear them out on the town without anyone knowing you've just been (or are on your way to) the barn.
I love the leather laces, which add a little rustic feel and also stay tightly tied ─ while I often have to double-knot boot laces to keep them from coming undone while riding or hiking, these stayed snug with a single knot.
The boots have a lot of tread, another trait that sets them apart from the usual chukka, but that's appropriate for hitting the trail horseback or on foot. They had sufficient grip in the stirrup, although I wouldn't mind just a bit more. However, they surprised me when I hit the trail on foot by providing more traction in slippery spots than I'd expected.
The boots maintained their slipper-like comfort in active use, but the thick outsole protected my foot well enough from rocks and roots.
A note of caution: The manufacturer doesn't claim that these boots are waterproof ─ and they aren't. They'll handle mud, wet grass, and a shallow puddle, but I wouldn't push them past that if you want to keep your feet dry.
Nonetheless, if you're looking for comfortable riding and walking boots with some uptown style, these would easily fill the bill.
Roper Original Horseshoe
Description: Roper Original Horseshoes, from Roper Footwear & Apparel, are "shoe boots" that reach right to the ankle. They have just enough heel (9/16-inch) for safety in the saddle and a nonmarking outsole. Their comfort features include a soft-support inner sole, and molded foam supports at the ball, toe and heel. In addition, they boast a forged steel shank for support and stability. Roper Horseshoes are available in four shades of brown, with or without removable kiltie, in women's sizes 5-11 and men's sizes 7-14.
Test results: Ever since Roper came out with its first Horseshoe, I've thought this was a fun, versatile take on riding-appropriate footwear. They're a little bit tennis shoe, a little bit lace-up roper, and a little bit casual hiker. Add the kiltie, and you add some subtle Western attitude, too. (Plus, I love that each pair comes with three interchangeable sets of kilties.)
Like many all-leather boots, these were a little stiff on Day 1, which I particularly felt at the toe break-over and around my ankle. With a little wear, I'm sure these they'll supple up, though.
Even from the start, the boots had a nicely cushioned footbed, and each pair
comes with an additional set of insoles, in case you need a snugger fit or additional cushioning. The size 8 pair I wore fit well without the additional insoles, so I didn't test those.
I enjoyed riding in these boots. They provided good stability in the stirrup and never interfered with my aids.
On the ground, they didn't have enough traction to handle a muddy slope nor as much structure as you'd get from a true hiking boot. But they handled basic terrain challenges ─ such as uneven grades and loose footing ─ just fine and stayed comfortable on my feet even on hard surfaces, like concrete and packed dirt.
These are nice-looking boots that would match well with a variety of casual wear. I'd enjoy wearing them for riding and barn chores, or around the campsite and on walks. And I'd feel totally at ease keeping them on to meet up with friends for lunch on the town and an afternoon of shopping.