How to Break In Boots

“We have a rule that you never wear new boots right before a competition,” says Paola Pimienta, who takes part in escaramuza, an equestrian event for women in the tradition of Mexican rodeo (charrería) that predates America’s cowboy culture. “At first you kind of feel like a duck because they’re so stiff.” New boots, with leather soles, are slippery. To gain traction, scour them with sandpaper; Pimienta uses scissors or a knife to make scratches all over the soles.

Breaking in leather boots begins with getting the right fit. If a boot is too small back-to-front or too narrow in width, no amount of breaking-in can make them comfortable. Your toe should never press up against the boot’s front end. Also consider how the boot fits against the calf, too: There should be two fingers between the leather of the shoe and your leg. You may have to get boots with a wider calf size — or, as Pimienta’s sister does, use wraps, Band-Aids or long socks to try to prevent blisters from forming around the calves. But if a boot is too big, your feet will be sliding around with every step, leading to friction and blisters.

Once you find the right size, wear thick socks or multiple pairs to stretch the leather slightly. Pressure, heat and moisture will soften new leather. Walk around the house in your boots, then work while wearing them. For Pimienta, that can include trudging through the mud, galloping sidesaddle, practicing synchronized routines on horseback with her escaramuza team, which consists of eight women.

If you don’t work at a ranch, go slow. Wear your new boots for only a few hours, and keep your old ones nearby as a backup; don’t wear new boots several days in a row. When off your feet, work the leather by bending the boot at the ankle and where the ball of the foot hits. Pimienta holds on to broken-in boots for as long as possible. “I use them until there’s a hole, or until at least I start feeling water getting into them,” Pimienta says. “Once you have them to the mold of your foot, it’s so hard to let them go.”

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