Asking how to get a pair of riding boots to shine like black glass will instantly inspire debate among horse-folk, as everyone has a different technique.
Regular attention to cleaning and polishing will prolong the life of your boots and preserve their shine. Regardless of discipline, clean, polished boots will make a good impression both in and out of the saddle.
A black glass mirror-shine (as seen on the jackboots of the Household Cavalry) requires a smooth shell of wax to be built up on the leather before “bobbing” (polishing) and “finishing off”. This technique fills the pores of the leather and smooths over the normal irregularities on the leather’s surface. It is a well-known fact that each pair of jackboots can take up to 50 hours labour. They are waxed with beeswax and a blowtorch is used to force the wax into the boot to harden them, then layers and layers of polish, spit and water are applied to get the mirror-shine.
It is possible however, to achieve a show ring shine without excessive elbow grease. Here’s an adapted version that’s easy to try at home on standard leather boots:
• A Sylvette or fine polishing cloth
• A pair of ladies nylon tights (trust me on this!)
• A couple of tins of shoe polish (Kiwi Parade Gloss is best), one for brush polishing and one for “bobbing”
• Two good bristled shoe brushes, one labeled “on” and the other, “off”
• An old toothbrush
• An old wet rag
1. Start with a clean and dry riding boot. Remove excess dirt and dried mud from your boots – use a wet rag if needed – and use the toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies where the leather meets the sole (welts), or round any lace eyelets. Don’t forget to clean the sole too.
2. Apply a good quantity of polish from your brush polishing tin using the “on” brush
(TIP: make sure your polish is warm – I like to heat it gently on the Aga)
3. Leave to dry (5 minutes is usually sufficient)
4. Using your ‘Off’ brush, polish the shoe vigorously until a nice shine appears.
5. Repeat steps 1 – 4.
6. Roll the tights into a ball and buff vigorously.
To achieve a high-shine, follow the steps above and then:
7. Dampen your Sylvette or fine polishing cloth in cold water and then dip it into your bobbing polish.
8. Apply to one section of your boot at a time, rubbing in circles, slowly building up thin, even layers. Reapply polish when the polishing cloth starts to looks grey or blue-ish.
9. As you continue to apply polish and water you will begin to see a dull shine.
10. As the polish builds up the leather will start to shine. At this point, the secret is to reduce the amount of polish you’re using and enlarge the circles. This is called “finishing off” and requires a little practice at first to avoid smearing.
By now, your boots should be gleaming. If you wear spurs, don’t forget to pull some polish along your spurs straps and buff up any steel work (Sprenger Diamond Paste is great for cleaning spurs and stirrups). If you’re at a show, a great tip is to ask your groom (or patient friend) to wipe down the soles of your boots after mounting. Nothing ruins clean and tidy turnout like exposed muddy soles.