One thing all ranchers and cowboys hold dear are their traditions, especially those that uphold the Western culture. One such tradition is that of putting their old boots up on fence posts.
A pair of boots for every horse
Some cowboys say the tradition is upheld for the horses in their lives. When a rancher or cowboy “breaks” a horse, he is training it for the work it can expect on a ranch. This is an important part of the horse’s development and can determine the horse’s attitude and idiosyncrasies until the end of its days. If the cowboy establishes a strong bond with the horse, he might choose the horse as his daily workhorse. Should the horse ever be sold or die, the cowboy will sacrifice a pair of boots to the fence in respect.
A pair of boots for every hand
Many ranchers invite other workers to live with them on the ranch and help out in exchange for food, housing and a small stipend. These workers are called hired hands. A good hired hand is loyal, dedicated and practically a member of the rancher's family. When the hired hand moves on or dies, the rancher may put a pair of boots up in his memory. In most cases, if the hired hand dies, the hand’s boots will be the ones up on the fence.
The rancher is in
Back before the days of electricity or telephones, ranchers would hang their boots on the fence to let visitors know they were home and the workday was over.
Ranchers hang their boots for their horses, their men and for the boots themselves. A rancher grows very attached to his boots. A good pair of boots can last three to five years, and a rancher wears that same pair every day. When the boots are worn out and past repair, ranchers will put them on the fence alongside all the other worn-out pairs.
Tradition compels them
Although some ranchers know exactly why they put their boots on the fence, many are doing it out of a sense of tradition. According to them, all ranchers put boots on their fences and they always will. Questioning a rancher about his traditions is like questioning why we decorate an evergreen tree every December; we just do.