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Stirrups: The Long and Short of It


One rider I judged last weekend kept losing one stirrup. Okay, not a news flash. But, here’s a question: If you keep losing a stirrup, wouldn’t you try to figure out a way to prevent it?

The length of stirrup leathers should allow the heel to drop lower than the toe. However, sometimes the thigh roll can make raising leathers to the correct length uncomfortable.

From Journalism 101: Don’t start an article with a question, because if the reader thinks “no,” then they will stop reading. Even if you answered “no,” to the stirrup question above, think about it a bit, because similar issues can affect that pesky rider score at the bottom of the tests.

I see three main reasons why someone might constantly lose their stirrups:

1. The stirrup leathers are too long, so the toes are lower than the heels.

2. Even if the leathers are the right length, the rider might be in the habit of rotating her heels up around her knee.

3. The rider might be gripping too hard with her thighs, so she loses elasticity below her knees.

It’s also possible that a rider who has no problem with this at home might lose her stirrups in the heat of battle at a show if she tenses up and curls her legs without realizing it.

I’d say that half the riders I see at Training and First Levels use stirrup leathers that are too long. It’s wrong to think that a longer leather will give you a longer leg, because when your toes are lower than your heels you contract the back of your leg. In this case, you would have a longer leg (and not lose your stirrups) if your leathers came up a hole or two so the back of your leg can stretch and your heel flex down.

In the case of the rider above, she was a capable rider entered in FEI classes, not Training Level. I was impressed with her aplomb when she lost her stirrup during the trot work because she didn’t fight to get it back. Her seat was fairly steady and supple. She finally got the stirrup back when the walk portion started. She was so matter-of-fact that I began to wonder if this was a regular occurrence, which led to my thoughts above.

She was also, well, not young. I have worked with a lot of older riders, and I generally find that raising the stirrup a hole (or two) can benefit the stability of senior riders.

One element we have to consider, if we raise our stirrups, is the fit of our upper leg on the saddle flap. If the flap is straight, rather than angled a bit, and the knee roll is large and solid, rather than smaller and foam-filled, it could force the leg back too much, especially if the rider has a long thigh. In that case, the rider simply can’t raise her stirrups. That’s one reason why you should always try a saddle you are testing girthed on the horse and with leathers attached. You simply don’t get the same feel in the saddle “horse” found in tack shops.

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