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September 05, 2023
I encourage you to stop leaning on old, outdated teachings and take a deeper dive in to the technicalities of good horsemanship. Regarding stirrup length, there is a logical and natural place for your leg to hang off your horse's side. Except in extreme sports, it's not natural to pin your legs up so high you lose circulation and it's also not natural to hang them so low you lose contact with the stirrup as the horse speeds up or missteps.
The most common placement for a stirrup is for the pad of the stirrup (where your foot rests) to lay exactly at the bottom of your ankle bone when your foot is not in the stirrup. Try it. Top of the pad matches the bottom of your ankle bone.
That perfect length allows for your leg to sit naturally against the saddle with just enough weight on the pad to keep the stirrup at all speeds, including fast canter work, and also not too much weight in the stirrup to cause a lack of blood flow to your lower leg. To get your foot in the stirrup, you'll have to lift your toes ever so slightly and allow your heels to hang lower.
What about jumping? What about racing? What about western riding? Where should your stirrups be then?
Jumping is simple. From zero inches to about twenty-four inches of height from the ground, your stirrup length can remain at that natural comfortable place. As the jumps come up, your stirrups can come up too. It's nice to have the ability to get off the horses back for the extreme sports. Ironically, you can actually do extreme sports bareback, but it's often easier for the rider and horse in a saddle. Anything under twenty four inches is not considered "extreme." There are style coaches and judges that dictate form and beauty in a rider's position for a show, but rest assured, most of that is traditional, not specifically important. Feel free to be more natural for yourself and your horse.
Western riders often want their stirrups too low which makes it very difficult to post the trot without bouncing on the horse's back. It can be nice to sit back and gallop with your feet sticking out the front of your horse. I've done it. It's not uncomfortable. In fact, it's more comfortable. But only for me. The horse suffers from poor, un-athletic, riding styles that bounce against the natural movements instinctive to the horse. I usually encourage my western riders to find the right, natural length and stick to that. Better for you and the horse in the long run. Plus, you won't be losing your stirrups at every misstep.
Racing riders, at least, flat-track riders, prefer extremely short stirrups. I've breezed thoroughbreds on the track saddled and bareback. The science is pretty clear the horses perform the best with a light rider standing, and not interfering in any way with the movement of the back. It takes balance and skill to ride that way. It's also an extreme sport and you'll remember extreme sports may require different styles. In the meantime, you can rest assured you don't have to be extreme. You can simply be natural.
It's certainly not the most important topic in the world of horsemanship to talk about stirrup length. But... It's useful to encourage balance in everything we do, so with that. I wish you success in everything you choose. You won't get judgement from me, only encouragement to be the best you can for your horse and stay natural.
See you soon!
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