Do you ride without stirrups on a regular basis? It has been 7 years since I began riding without stirrups, with one exception – when I go down the trail and spend a significant amount of time posting and two-point. This began as a pact with a good friend of mine to encourage one another to better our balance in the saddle and so we had a semi-official “removal of the stirrups” occasion and from then on my stirrups hand from their leathers off the saddle rack in my tack room.
The benefits of riding without stirrups go beyond the traditional hour long longe lesson. There are a number of subtleties present communicating to the horse with your hands, legs and seat and by separating the aids (i.e. hands without legs, legs without hands) you clarify to the horse your exact intentions as well as simplifying the work you do. Riding without stirrups immediately makes evident just how much you balance on the stirrups and the reins just the same as riding with one rein gives away how much you are correcting your one hand aid with the other hand.
Have you ever known a rider, or been one yourself, who has had an awkward moment on their horse resulting in losing a stirrup and either directly or through trying to regain their lost stirrup they come unseated and end up on the ground? I’ve witnessed it and nearly made it there myself before. Relying on the stirrups can put you in a dangerous position and in order to move on to more advanced riding it is important to remove as many obstacles and chances for failure or injury as possible. The same for removing as many distractions as you can which can impede communication with the horse. What does it say to the horse when we struggle to maintain or regain our foot’s placement in the stirrup during a ride or press into them side to side to maintain our position in the middle of the saddle?
I was riding Jobi last night, ponying Aligarh with Jason aboard when I began thinking about this out of the blue. At some point I recall realizing that riding with stirrups now feels more awkward than riding without, a large reason why I only reach for them when I’m faced with a 12 mile trail ride consistently largely of trotting. An honest confession – although I have the capability of posting and two-point sans stirrups I am not self-loathing enough to force myself to do long periods of either unless necessary.
I was also thinking about the initial trepidation I felt with the thought, “I won’t have my stirrups to fall back on for security,” in 2005.
What might your thoughts or reservations be if you were faced with the idea of never riding with stirrups again? Do you think that you would be more willing to do it if some circumstance were different (if you were a teenager, if you had a quieter horse, if you rode in an enclosed area only, etc)? I’m not sure I would have been so open minded to relinquishing my stirrups were I faced with the decision today vs seven years ago – but then again I also had a fellow friend and rider to keep me motivated in doing so in the beginning. Love to hear your thoughts…