When mounting and, especially, dismounting, the slick, treadless leather sole of the boot allowed easy insertion and removal of the foot into the stirrup of the Western saddle. The original toe was rounded and a bit narrowed at the toe to make it easier to insert. While an extremely pointed toe is a modern stylization appearing in the 1940s, it adds no practical benefit, and can be uncomfortable in a working boot.
While in the saddle, the tall heel minimized the risk of the foot sliding forward through the stirrup, which could be life threatening if it happened and the rider were to be unseated. There was often considerable risk that a cowboy would fall from a horse, both because he often had to ride young, unpredictable horses, but also because he had to do challenging ranch work in difficult terrain, that often meant that he could accidentally become unseated by a quick-moving horse. If a rider fell from a horse but had a boot get caught in the stirrup, there arose a very great risk that the horse could panic and run off, dragging the cowboy, causing severe injury and possible death.
The tall leather shaft of the boot helped to hold the boot in place in the absence of lacing. The tall shaft, comfortably loose fit, and lack of lacing all were additional features that helped prevent a cowboy from being dragged since his body weight could pull his foot out of the boot if he fell off while the boot remained stuck in the stirrup. While mounted, the shaft also protected the lower leg and ankle from rubbing on the stirrup leathers, as well as fending off brush and thorns, particularly if also worn with chaps or chinks. While dismounted, the shaft helped protect the leg and foot from rocks, brush, thorns, and rattlesnakes. In wet weather or creek crossings, the high tops helped prevent the boot from filling with mud and water.
The modern roper style boot with a low heel and shorter shaft emerged from the traditional design in response to the needs of modern rodeo, particularly calf roping, where the cowboy had to run to tie the calf as well as to ride. The lower shaft resulted in a less expensive boot, but also allowed the boot to be more easily removed. A laceup design for roper boots became popular as it prevented the boot from falling off too easily and provided more ankle support when on foot, though the lacer also has safety issues because it will not fall off if a rider is hung up in a stirrup, and, lacking a smooth upper, the lacings themselves may make it easier for the boot to become caught in the stirrup in the first place.
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