Ropers are a specific, and somewhat modern, design of Western boots that were created (and so named) to help rodeo cowboys rope calves in competition. The “calf roping” event requires cowboys to ride their horses after a calf to rope it, then dismount and run down the taut rope to restrain the calf. This event goes far more smoothly with the shorter heels of a roper-style boot.
Similar in style to English riding boots, ropers have the lowest heel height of all western boots, usually just over one inch (a heel this low is often referred to as a “walking heel”). The heel is typically squared off, with a 90-degree angle formed between the heel and boot sole. These Western boots also have the lowest overall height, with the shaft height being several inches above the ankle. Also, most roper boots have a rounded toe and flexible sole for a more comfortable fit.
Many ropers are lace-up boots, which provide a great fit and ankle support, but can cause problems if used as riding boots (such as being dragged if thrown from the saddle).
My Boots say they’re Ropers but have pointy toes.
The “roper” boot style should not be confused with the “Roper” brand, a leading manufacturer of all types of Western boots.
For people who are not so into cowboy boots, a roper cowboy boot is a confusing subject. “Ropers” as cowboys call them are low-heeled boots. Some of them are almost flat and have no heels at all. Most ropers have a rounded toe and look very plain. Most of the time they are used as work boots.
Justin Boots originally gave the roper its name. According to history, this style was introduced in the 1950s. Before that rodeo calf ropers wore tennis shoes, but hardcore cowboys didn’t think that wearing tennis shoes would do the rodeo image any good. The Rodeo Cowboys Association later decided that all contestants must wear cowboy attire. The association contacted John Justin, Sr. and suggested that the boot manufacturer make a certain type of boots for ropers. This is how ropers were born.
Today, Justin still produces these Roper Boots.
What are Roper Boots?
Notice the low, squared-off heel on this roper-style cowboy boot.
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 (or “lacer”) for roper boots became popular as it prevented the boot from falling off too easily and provided more ankle support when on foot.
Decoration varied widely. Early boots were cowhide leather pieced together with single rows of top stitching, but as custom boots were made, cowboys asked for decorative stitching, cutouts in the high tops, and different materials. The interaction of wild west shows and, later, western movies influenced styles that working cowboys at times adopted.
Modern western boots are available in all colors and can be made from just about every animal whose skin can be made into leather, including exotic materials such as alligator and ostrich.
So what’s your style? Are you a fan of ropers? Or do you prefer something flashier, like a pointed toe?