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Your Position

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Your Balance

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Your stirrup length

Approximately 690 words article

The correct stirrup length is very important. When your stirrups are the correct length you can fully utilise the dip and spring function of the joints in your legs. This will be felt particularly in trot but also in canter.

In the diagram below of a rider rising to the trot you can see that as the seat leaves the saddle the heel drops slightly. This is what should happen as the weight of the rider transfers from the seat to the feet. This cannot happen if the stirrups are too long.

Riders tend to ride with their stirrups too long rather than too short. This is often because they want their legs to look as long as possible. As you can see in the picture below the rider’s heels are rising as her seat is rising because her stirrups are not short enough to simultaneously allow her heels to drop slightly as her seat leaves the saddle. You can also see that she is loosing her balance and relying on her reins for stability.

The correct stirrup length helps you to ride as well as possible by allowing you to have just the right amount of bend in your joints.

So how can you tell if your stirrups are the correct length for you? As already mentioned, when they are too long your heels will not be able to dip slightly as you rise. You will also not be able to clear the pommel of the saddle, therefore you will either hit it each time you rise or you will not be able to swing your hips forward far enough (in rising trot).

In sitting trot and canter the stirrups will either ‘clatter’ around on your feet or you will lose them altogether. Your lower legs (in rising trot, sitting trot and canter) will be ‘disengaged’ at this point because as soon as the heel comes higher than the toe the lower leg ‘disengages’. At this point the rider is standing on ‘tip toe’ (or rather the balls of the feet) and is in a very precarious position.

Stirrups that are too short are much less common because a rider tires more quickly when they are too short. The muscles in the legs have to work a bit harder and the joints ache quite quickly due to being too constricted. So riders tend to self regulate stirrups that are too short.

When your stirrups are just right you will feel much more comfortable and secure. You should be able to rise to the trot for quite a period of time without feeling tired (once you are riding fit) and without pain occurring (especially in the outside of the ankle joint).

As a general rule of thumb the bottom of your stirrup irons should be level with your ankle bones when you take your feet out of the stirrups. Another (even more) general rule of thumb that you can use before you even mount is to put your knuckles to the stirrup bar (the metal bar that the stirrup leather threads on to) and with your other hand lift the stirrup iron itself and see if the base of it reaches to your arm pit. Both of these methods give you a ‘ball park’ figure. To get a more accurate result try standing in your stirrups while your horse is either stationary or walking, let your heels drop slightly and your seat should be able to clear the pommel (front) of the saddle.

If you suspect that your stirrups are too long (they often are) experiment with taking them up just one hole at a time and see what a difference it makes to the engagement of your lower leg in particular.

Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position and Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance cover the importance of the engagement of the lower leg and how to achieve it. Start reading these books now (for free) by clicking the titles above.

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