It’s #NoStirrupsNovember — 11 tips to make riding without stirrups easier

  • It’s November, which means riders around the country are ditching their stirrups in an attempt to improve their seat and general riding skills. While riding regularly without stirrups for short periods can help improve your balance, feel and position, it is not recommended that you spend long periods without stirrups as this can result in sore muscle for you – and your horse.

    So if you fancy joining the #NoStirrupsNovember movement without doing yourself or your horse a mischief, here are our top tips for making riding without stirrups that little bit easier for both of you…

    1. Stretch first

    “One of the best exercises to do before you ride without stirrups is to lie on your back with your right leg bent up. Take the sole of your right foot on the floor close to your bottom and place your left ankle across your right thigh. Then repeat on the other side,” says British young rider eventing coach Emma Fisher. “This exercise helps to open out your hip, groin and lower back.”

    2. Warm up and assess your horse

    Give yourself and your horse time to warm up with stirrups first. Then assess whether you horse feels like they will be able to cope with you riding without stirrups that day. If they are feeling a little fresh, or if they are weak or tight in their back, taking your stirrups away isn’t going to help either of you. Instead, you could start by adding in just a few strides of sitting trot at a time, before going back into rising trot. As soon as you feel your horse tighten or hollow their back, go rising, ride forward and ask them to lift their back. By building up gradually, and monitoring your horse’s reactions, over time you will both be physically ready to ride without stirrups for short periods. Remember to frequently check your horse’s back for any signs of discomfort along the way.

    3. Have the right equipment

    Cross the stirrups over in front of your saddle so they are not in your way and use a neckstrap or breastplate for extra stability.

    “If you are going to ride without stirrups it’s important to have a neckstrap so you have something to put your finger through if you lose your balance or your horse spooks,” rsays international event rider Ibby Macpherson.

    4. Ride in a safe environment

    Choose carefully where and when you do your riding without stirrups. An arena is a good option if you have one, or if  there are certain routes at hacking where you horse tends to be more relaxed, you could try there.

    “Be sensible. Don’t ride without stirrups when out on the road or in the middle of a field in the pouring rain on a horse who has just come back from a holiday,” continues Ibby.

    5. Canter may be easier than trot

    If you are able to ride a good walk to canter transition, you may find that’s easier than spending a lot of time in trot.

    “Canter is often easier than trot so start with that, get the feel for it and relax before changing to trot. It’s important not to go against the movement but to go with it,” says Emma.

    6. Look ahead

    “Look straight ahead and focus on certain points in the arena – don’t look down as your position will change. If you look ahead with your body tall and heels softly flexed, you will find the whole experience of riding with no stirrups easier,” advises international showjumper Yazmin Pinchen.

    7. Concentrate on your breathing

    “By thinking about your breathing, it stops your upper body getting rigid in anticipation and helps you to relax,” says Emma.

    8. Keep your shoulders back

    “Keep your upper body tall and really use your core muscles to help find balance and comfort. It’s not an easy exercise if you are not used to it so using your legs and core is really important,” adds Yazmin.

    9. Soft hands

    “Stay soft in the hand and don’t rely on them for balance, use your legs and engage your tummy instead,” says Yazmin. If you are feeling unbalanced then slip a finger into the neck strap or under the front of the saddle.

    10. Don’t grip with your legs

    “The more you tense, the harder riding without stirrups is so try to relax, sit deeper and move with the horse rather than against him,” adds Emma. “Try not to grip with your legs. Keep your knees and thighs relaxed, wrap your legs around your horse and ensure your toes are pointing forward,” says Ibby. “Engage your core and don’t brace against the movement, allow your body to go with it.”

    11. Have someone on the ground

    “Not only is having someone on the ground important from a safety perspective but it’s also useful to have someone watching you, reminding you of the basics like looking ahead, while letting you know if your position changes when you don’t have stirrups,” concludes Ibby.

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