They say that the eye is the window to the soul. As a shoe lover, I have often found some satisfaction in changing that phrase just a wee bit to The eye is the window to the sole… this is a long standing internal joke of mine. Maybe you can’t judge books, or people, by their covers, or shoes! But I think that shoes can tell you a lot about someone. As a born and raised ranch girl, I definitely understand the function of the proper shoe to get the job done. An individual’s choice of footwear can reveal more than their fashion sense. Choice of footwear can reveal much about their priorities, their taste, and even their capacity for common sense choices.
If it is true that the hallmark of a cowboy is practicality, then the hallmark of a rancher must be functionality. For a lifestyle that keeps you on your feet, (and sometimes your toes, your head, your face, your knees, your rear, or your nose….) you have to know the right shoes to help you get the job done.
The quintessential ranch shoe is definitely the boot genre. You can never have too many boots! (Think; Imelda Marcos and her shoe collection). Your boots serve the dual purpose of both function and when worn properly, fashion. (But that is more of a side perk. Ranch fashion is not really priority except in the case of extreme cowboy fashion couture).
- The cowboy boot. We’ve all seen em. Cowboys wear them because the narrower toe of the boot makes it easier for them to quickly slip their foot out of a stirrup when urgent circumstances warrant a quick dis-mount. The cowboy boot’s high heel helps in preventing the dreaded push-though of a foot penetrating the stirrup and resulting in the nightmarish event of foot entrapment when thrown from a run-away horse!
The tall shaft of the boot helps to protect a cowboy’s legs from branches, trail brush, rattle snakes, cactus thorns and ex-girl friends who are prone to having spastic outbursts at the most inconvenient of times. Most importantly the cowboy boot is the essential accessory to match the cowboy hat in the balanced and properly attired cowboy diva. Wait! Did I say “cowboy DIVA?
- The muck boot. This boot is a ranchers bread and butter. Waterproof and tall but never tall enough, it will protect the rancher from getting soaking wet feet while he is about his chores. And we might as well just say it; muck is a more gentile word for what most ranches are really covered in; If you choose to ranch then you probably won’t have a choice about whether that super fine, all natural, totally organic substance proliferates on your turf. But you will have the option of whether or not you want to let your own hide marinade in it. Just saying, it’s your choice. Remember though, the muck boot is never tall enough to fully protect from those moments when you have entered NECK-high…..manure.
- The wading boot. This boot is very similar in basic function to the muck boot. It is waterproof and intended for traversing through moist environments. However, the wading boot is designed for fisherman who like to wade into the river from the banks. Wading boots are worn with a pair of giant rubbery overalls, also waterproof, with little waterproof feet at the bottom that fit into, you guessed it, the waterproof wading boots. Wading boots are specially designed to allow a firmer traction for the crazy old farts who have made it their pass time to walk on slimy river rocks while flailing their arms and clutching long pointed objects with sharp, barbed hooks at the ends. So obviously, it’s a smart investment….
- The Chaco. I suppose I should first admit to my personal bias, which will be made ever so clear to you in this section. Of all the water sport shoes in the world, none come close to the Chaco in function, and quality build. And might I add, It is an open toed shoe with a thick sole and broad straps that secure to your foot with a single cinch. This shoe is the trademark of river guides, like myself, who spend so much time out in river water and under the intense heat of the sun that they begin to forget why other people have need or desire of other footwear. You will identify river guides and river sportsmen by the tan lines on their feet.
Chaco shoes have a distinct zigzag webbing pattern that leaves a brilliantly lit race track right on top of your foot. It’s radical, man. The Chaco foot tan is a sign of a mature and tenured river sportsman and is to be nurtured, preserved and prominently displayed to the less seasoned river folk. The most senior of river guides, (not senior by age, but by experience), make a sort of metamorphosis with their Chaco shoes. Over time, not only do they lose all memory of other footwear, they also begin to believe that the Chaco has coalesced and amalgamated with their bodies. Such hybrid beings can be recognized in the great northwest, usually during snow storms, trekking great distances with only a pair of Chaco shoes on their feet.
- The Go-to-town Boot This is also the boot known as the “Sunday go-to-meeting” boot. These are the polished, cleaned and manure free, more stylish and fashionable boots that you sequester and preserve for those moments when respect for the occasion calls for your best offering. This is also the moment to let the inner call for cowboy fashion find expression. Wrap your nicest silk wild rag around your neck, with a silver concho slide, find that saucer plate sized belt buckle, that sequined leather vest, and the perfectly formed Stetson hat. Now, finish off the extreme cowboy wardrobe with that alligator skin pair of knee-high pointy-toed full-size heeled cowboy boots! Whooo – EEEeeee! Looking sharp! Looking for love!
On a cautionary note, do not EVER, I repeat, do not EVER wear those slick soled slip-on shiny street shoes, hiding in the back of your closet, while entering the local rural combo gas station and public eatery. I did that once and was embarrassingly singled out for ridicule by my neighbors standing in line at the gas station. “Look! Thems’ is street shoes! Well, I never…..and so on….” Street shoes can spell trouble for fashion challenged ranchers when they replace the go-to-town boot for the trip to church.
- The woodsman’s Boot These are the fully laced calf-high tall boot with laced in tongue protectors. These are the boots of wildland fire fighters, foresters, mountain men and the like. They cost a weeks salary, and you have them rebuilt rather than ordering a new pair of these hand-made gems. When you are on the trail, or side-hill on a forested mountain you need the thick lugged vibram soles to help you stay upright in the vertical terrain. When you get the hybridized smoother soled laced boot going, you have the ideal mountain man’s combo horse riding, mule skinning, mountain boot. These boots stay firm on the foot whether you are in the saddle or on the ground. Put your plaid shirt on, your wildland brush pants with suspenders, your Carhart vest, your most soiled and tattered felt cowboy hat, and finish it off with your Whites brand lace-to-toe smoke jumper boots and you are a properly dressed mountain rancher!
The Mud Room The ranch shoe also must have a shoe habitat. Commonly the shoe habitat comes in the form of a mud room, boot room, or shoe room that is strategically placed at the entrance to the ranch-house. The strategy of the mud room is to trap as much of the in-bound ranch dirt in the confines of an entrance passageway that leads to the inner sanctum of the more clean ranch-house. The boots come off at the mud room (or shoe room) when entering the home, and they get put back on prior to leaving the ranch-house. The selection of the proper boot comes synchronously with the choice of an appropriate glove. The boot room is the space where the rancher evaluates the pending chores of the moment and selects the most appropriate footwear for the tasks at hand. Are you planning on mucking a stall? Choose the muck boot. Are you riding a trail? Choose the cowboy boot or the woodsman’s boot. Are you working the ditch-line? Choose either the muck boot or the wading boots. Are you delivering a newborn colt? Find your sanitary decontamination suit with hermetically sealed wrap-over shoe covers. You get the idea! Protect your feet! The fastest way to disable a rancher is to remove function of his anatomical foundation for work: his feet.
These are some of the most common types of footwear that ranchers use. We do have fall backs such as old tennis shoes and slip on shoes for balmy summer days and lower maintenance chores, too. But the reality is that there still is no shoe that is completely mother-nature-proof. There is also not a single do-it-all shoe that can survive every possible eventuality while still holding your spurs securely to your heal.
While you may be armed with an impressive array of shovels, tractors, ATVs, animals whose backs are suitable for riding, snow mobiles, and even the most waterproof shoes known to humankind, nothing can stop mother nature from, well, mucking things up. Picture this: you, the rancher, have just dolled up for a day out on the town. You have dawned your clean, “city clothes’, showered and groomed, and even charged your cell phone, which gets little use. Your truck is parked at the end of the driveway, ready to take you away for a day that is absent of muck, falling trees, breaking equipment, hell bent farm animals, and other joys of ranch life. You step out the door and freeze. Between you and your chariot of freedom lies three inches of watery mud and debris that came down the night before in a nearly biblical rain storm. There is NO way to get to the car without getting mud on something…. Your dilemma is to decide what section of your shoe, or someone else’s, will be sacrificed to the mud. But that’s not all. Even if you miraculously make it to the car without smudging your clean clothes and shoes, and have only minimal debris on the bottom of your shoes, you still have to find a way to get the debris off the bottom of your shoes before you let it get into your car…. Oh and I forgot to mention, the pack of ranch dogs are greeting you happily, by jumping up and onto you while smothering you in dog love and dog-hair and dog mud. Your little children are trailing behind you, looking overwhelmed and literally sinking, slowly, into the swamp that was once your carport. If your ranch karma is particularly bad on any given day, you might also find yourself racing through the mud in your cowboy-finest while dodging the in-bound walnut rockets hurled by the overhead squadron of angry tree squirrels.
I feel the need to verify that this account is not an exaggeration of the struggle that cleanliness can be for a rancher. Mother Nature has no sense of humor. Or, maybe she does…. There was that one time when dad did a 360 tumble over the cliff with the tractor and fell 200 feet down to the river bar….. Never mind. That’s a story for another time. As I was saying, functionality is the backbone of ranch life. Every particle of the living, breathing mechanism that is a dude ranch must contribute in some way to the life and longevity of the whole. And if a rancher is the captain and steward of his land, then surely he needs the proper boots to help him sally forth to victory. (In this case, victory bears striking resemblance to mucking out stalls and rebuilding ditches…..) But every rancher knows, if you want to work a ranch, you need to have sole. And if your soles aren’t strong, you won’t make it through the day.