The month of November is here. Days are getting shorter, trees are losing their leaves, and equestrians everywhere are riding without stirrups as part of the N0-stirrup November challenge.
The benefits to riding without stirrups are numerous. As you ride without stirrups your strength and balanced will improve. You will develop a more secure position in the saddle. Your posture will improve. You will learn to develop a correct leg position without relying on the stirrup to hold your leg in place. You will learn how to more effectively communicate with your horse using your seat and leg aids. Your confidence in the saddle will improve as you learn to trust in your balance. You will develop an independent seat which will make it easier for you to communicate with your horse and make it easier for him to do what you are asking. The more balanced you become, the easier it is for the horse to carry you and the less strain it puts on his body. You will feel a sense of accomplishment and suddenly things that once seemed so difficult will become easier.
Riders in the Spanish Riding School ride without stirrups for three years to develop a deep, secure seat and proper alignment in the saddle. I encourage all of my students to spend regular time riding without stirrups. However, there are some things to consider before deciding to undertake this challenge.
The first is safety. If you are a beginner who has not yet developed the strength and coordination to stay balanced and secure in the saddle with stirrups then you are not yet ready to ride without them. Learning to ride is a skill that takes a long time to develop and there is no shame in keeping your stirrups until you are a stronger rider. Also if you are going to be riding a horse that is green or has behavioral issues, or if you are going trail riding or trailering to a new arena or trying a new skill for the first time then it is probably best to keep your stirrups.
The next thing to consider is the well being of your horse. When you first take away your stirrups you are likely to have moments where you lose your balance and move around excessively in the saddle. This is a normal part of the learning process but it can make some horses nervous so use caution when introducing no-stirrup work. This extra bouncing can be particularly hard on horses that have a weak back and can even be painful for them. Do not attempt to ride without stirrups until your horse has learned to carry himself in a balanced, relaxed position with his haunches engaged, his back round, and his head down. A rounded back is able to absorb the pressure from the rider. When the horse’s back is hollow that pressure goes straight to the horse’s spine and causes pain.
Don’t be afraid to ease into it and set realistic goals and restrictions for yourself. If you are new to riding without stirrups you may want to take some lessons to get you started. Lunge lessons are a particularly great way to become comfortable riding without stirrups. A steady, reliable school horse can provide a wonderful learning experience. There is more to riding without stirrups than simply removing the stirrups. You must ensure that you are maintaining a correct position in the saddle, without tensing up or having a death grip with your legs. When done incorrectly you risk developing bad habits that can be difficult to correct. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Whatever you decide to do this November, make sure that you have fun and enjoy the time that you have with your horse!
To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!