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Rodeo Brings Out Boots

Cowboy boots at the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Cowboy boots at the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

In some areas of the western United States, cowboy boots, hats, and belts are still popular even as the percentage of people who actually work on ranches and farms declines in relation to those who live and work in cities and suburbs. One place to see lots of cowboy boots is the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, an event where cowboys compete in riding and roping.

There are boots by the thousands at the show from very small, to very large.

Most boot-wearing fans of rodeos, the sporting events where cowboys compete in riding and roping, say they favor this type of footwear for the comfort.

Real cowboys favor high boots for protection and they like pointed toes because they fit better in the stirrups.

People looking for both fashion and comfort have expanded the market. Lawyers and business executives in Houston are often seen in cowboy boots year round.

At the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, those looking for some nice new boots have lots of options including M.L. Leddy's, a Texas-based company that has made boots for everyone from Elvis Presley to U.S. presidents.

The average price of a pair of their boots is $1,600. General Manager Mark Dunlap says most customers can easily afford it.

"Those who are in a higher income bracket certainly are a big part of our customers, but I will tell you, we sell a lot of cowboys cowboy boots," noted Dunlap.

Dunlap says the secret to a comfortable boot is arch support that extends from the high heel to the sole.

"Once we get a boot on you and we get that arch support set properly, everything else kind of follows," added Dunlap.

He says the steel support shown in this cutaway boot is key, but the leathers used, the construction of the heel, and other details also make a boot comfortable and durable.

For custom-made boots, the process starts with detailed measurements of both feet, since often there are differences between one foot and the other.

M.L. Leddy's skilled bootmakers use the materials the customer wants. One pair of alligator-skin boots costs $10,000. Dunlap says people choose exotic skins for a variety of reasons.

"A calf skin, for example, is a smooth-finished leather, very tough leather, but it can scuff and scratch. Ostrich, elephant, leathers of that type, have a very durable finish to them, so they can withstand a lot more punishment," Dunlap explained.

Another thing for customers to consider is the decoration of the boot tops.

"As far as the detail in the tops - hand-tooled tops, inlaid tops, monogram tops, hand-stitched tops - we do them all and it's just up to the imagination of the buyer," Dunlap said.

In the end, it may be all about imagining yourself as a cowboy.