Did any of you take part in "No Stirrups November", or did it trot on by!?
Most of us have ridden without stirrups at some point, often unintentionally, but it can be something novices are nervous of and more experienced riders forget to practice. However, it's recommended that riders consciously try to engage in no-stirrup work at least once a week to help improve their riding.
So, yes, to begin with you can feel like a bag of spuds and look a bit ungainly but the results are worth it; it will improve your leg position and deepen your seat no end. And yes, because you're working different muscles you may ache a bit at first but if you introduce no-stirrup work slowly; mainly walking with a few gentle trots just 10 minutes a week, then you needn't get sore. Anyway, as they say, there's no gain without pain!
If you want a bit of extra security then put a neck-strap on your horse so if you do slip you can grab that rather than your horse's mouth.
It's actually really relaxing to release your legs from the shackles of the stirrups and stretch those legs out. First start with a few exercises to settle yourself in.
• Slowly lift both legs a few inches away from your horse’s sides and rotate your ankles in both directions.
• Then gently straighten your legs and move them slowly forwards and backwards - left forward, right back and then switch.
• Lastly, bring your knees up high onto the saddle, jockey style! Gently bring your legs up and down until you find those seat bones.
These exercises allow you to find your balance and relax into your position, and avoid tension in the leg, which is natural without stirrups.
• Then, before you set off, improve your leg position by grabbing the fleshy part of each inner thigh with your hands and scoop the fleshy part from under each leg towards the back of the saddle.
• Now, allow your legs to fall naturally by your horse’s side, whilst maintaining your foot position, heels down, but not forced, and toes forward.
You should feel as, if your horse were taken away from underneath you, then you would end up standing on your feet!
By doing the above leg exercises you will become more aware of your seat. Your position in the saddle will deepen as you relax the legs, allowing them to fall around your horse.
• As you walk on, sit up straight but try and release any areas of tension in your body; do a top to toe check; jaw, shoulders, chest, elbows, stomach, buttocks, thighs, calves and toes.
It helps to focus on breathing slowly and deeply into the lowest part of your stomach. And keep your head up and looking through your horses ears. As your seat deepens you will feel more secure and balanced in the saddle, and you will start to sit more effectively to the rhythms of your horses paces. It may surprise you to discover that sitting trot is actually easier without stirrups than with them!
Working without stirrups also helps both horse and rider to understand each other more clearly. When riding stirrup-less, there is no movement of your horse that goes unnoticed. You are aware of every step your horse makes which creates a greater connection. Becoming more aware of how your horse moves will then help you to understand how to use your aids more effectively. Regular no-stirrup work helps you to move together in sync as horse and rider. With a deeper seat and improved leg position, your horse will understand your signals more clearly, which in turn will build your confidence. After all, horse-riding is a partnership, built on trust.
All in all, no stirrup work may seem daunting at first but you'll soon see the benefits to your riding and your confidence. If you can ride without stirrups, you can do anything!
I'd love to know if you have found riding without stirrups to be helpful? Do you do it regularly? And please add any other tips you have.