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bsms 01-01-2011 12:11 PM

Question on stirrup position: ball of foot or mid-foot (home)
First, a bit of background: I took some riding lessons in my teens, and I was constantly told "Toes straight ahead/heels down". But I didn't have much spare money for riding, and then went into the military and didn't ride a horse for nearly 30 years. At 50, I bought a couple of horses for my wife & daughter and started riding again.

After a few months of riding like the Tin Man, I discovered that pointing my toes out allowed my stiff legs to relax and I could almost sit in the saddle. That was my first hint that what I was told 30 years ago might not be right. Toes ahead may be good, but a relaxed leg is better...and for a guy in his 50s, relaxing ANYTHING while on horseback is a challenge.

Since then (2 years), I've read a lot of books. I'm concluding that good riding doesn't have a lot of hard rules, but techniques that vary with the type riding, rider and horse involved. What works for someone in their teens may not be possible for someone learning in their 50s, and different types of riding (jumps, dressage, trails, etc) require different approaches.

I normally ride with either an English saddle or an Australian saddle, depending on what I plan to do and my confidence that day.

On an old thread I read the other day, someone had posted pictures of Australians riding - and everyone in the picture had their feet about as far forward in the stirrup as possible. I had read this was also done with cutting cattle. I did some reading on the Internet, and here is what I came up with (with all the reliability of Internet postings!): It is a common stirrup position for cutting, reining, campdrafting, polo and steeplechase. I also remember reading a book by George Morris that mentioned in passing that jumpers used to 'home' their stirrups but that it is now considered a bad habit.

Julie Goodnight posted: "Even though I teach students to ride with the stirrup on the ball of the foot, I tend to ride in the home position, particularly when riding Western. It's one of the rare times I will say "Do as I say, not as I do." For most riders, it is safest and most effective to ride with the stirrup on the ball of your foot.

For some disciplines, like cutting, working cow and even reining (my favorties!), riders like to have their foot all the way in the stirrup as an insurance policy against losing the stirrups. When the horse is moving dramatically and performing at high speed, it could be disastrous to lose a stirrup at the wrong moment. "

Question answered by Julie--where to put your foot. . . . | Facebook

Meanwhile, most everything else I've read says it is dangerous because you will get your foot caught in the stirrup if you fall...but who is more likely to fall than a steeplechase jockey? And it seems that the most violent riding is typically done with the foot rammed home. So my question:

Is it dangerous? If so, why is it common for rough riding? Are they accepting one danger because of greater concern for another? Unless you use a size 12 boot, is your foot really more likely to be caught in the stirrup?

I ask because I think one of my biggest faults is that I don't relax into the saddle, but stay tense (and above the saddle). If I feel nervous, I tend to stand up in the stirrups. Wouldn't it be better to ride deeper, with a longer leg, and maybe slip my feet forward a bit so I won't worry about losing the stirrup? And if I'm riding in an Australian saddle, wouldn't it make sense to ride it like...well, an Australian? I will never compete anywhere in any event and have no intention of ever trying to jump anything over 18". Our Arabians reserve the right to get 'concerned' at any time...what is best for staying in the saddle? Thoughts?

Arksly 01-01-2011 04:33 PM

I've always been taught to keep the stirrup at the ball of my foot (I ride dressage) as well. Some people's feet naturally turn outwards (like mine), making it painful to keep them straight. So what I would suggest is relax all of the muscles in your body as much as you can (sitting up of course) and just allow your feet to go where they feel most comfortable while trying to keep the stirrup on the ball of your foot.

The only reason I could see people having their feet in home position so they can brace against the stirrups to aid them in maintaining their position and not tipping forward.

I hope this all made sense.

tinyliny 01-01-2011 07:44 PM


I loved your post! And that you mentioned Julie Goodnight. She is an excellent teacher and you can learn a lot from her. Very grounded and no nonsense.

I think the reason that "toes forward" has been taught is that it influences the position of the rest of the leg, just as having one's thumbs on top when holding the reins isn't that way for the benefit of your thumb, but rather it indirectly causes your forearm bone to roll over and thus encourages your elbow to stay down and against your side, and THAT is really important to your overall seat and control fo the horse.

So, toes forward keeps the inside of your lower leg agains the horse (parallep with its' belly). This disallows the back of your calf to roll inward and contact the belly. So doing would encourage you to "grip up" with the back of your calf. That is all good and well if you are going over a jump, but even then you would have to do that but ALSO keep weight flowoing downward through the heels. Gripping up with the back of the calf causes you knee to come off of the saddle and your feet come back ward and thus you lose your stirrup. It's a long cascade of problems that can be avoided by keeping the toe pointed forward and the heel level or down, no up.

Men are shaped differently than women and it's more natural for them to ride in a chair seat (due to the lesser amoun their lower back can roll forward) But really riding with your legs straigth, the knee locked and stiff , lots of weight forced into the stirrup is NOT a good way to ride. You end up trying to sort of pin yourself between pressure against the stirrup from your feet and your butt pressing back against the cantle fo the saddle.
A lot of folks ride that way all the time. I can see doing it for a brief period of time in an emergency, but in reality, it makes you stiff from top to bottom, and a stiff body cannot really stay "with" the horse's motion. It will always be jolting along "behind" the motion.

Look at a fake jockey strapped on a horse, it will bobble and bounce along, whiplashing behind any sudden motion the horse does. I relaxed human can move with the motion, and thus not seperate from it. It's when your body gets "seperated" from the horse's motion that you will fall off!

I can see all of this in my mind's eye, can you? Hope my description is ok.

However, totally agree with you that you will not ride like you might have 30 years ago. i think you have earned the right to adapt. Just, as you go along, experiment with how it feels to ride the way you want to, then totally drop all responsibility for putting your legs anytwhere and let them HANG down. Then, when they are hanging, feel the horse move under you, even his breathing, in and out will lift your legs up and down. Sit up really straigth and proud and
ride your seatbones only for a few steps. See how that feels. Does you horse move out any easier? Just try it for an experiement.

BJJ 01-01-2011 07:53 PM

Reading how different trainers do it is great but practicing it is all that worked for me! If you are riding for pleasure and not show, practice in the arena until you find a style that is right for you. Remember, since you may be using new muscles, you may get stiff and sore. My hubby and I went back to riding after he did 23 yrs in the military and we ride differently than we used to! I still ride with a cutting seat but only toes in the stirrup (years of working cattle and getting off and on). Now that I do pleasure riding, I had stirrup covers put on and ride with more of my foot in (still have a hang up with getting caught in the stirrup).

wild_spot 01-01-2011 08:31 PM

I am Australian :]

I am a firm believer in riding functionally as opposed to correctly. My body doesn't co-operate in ways that make it very hard for me to hold a 'correct' position - So instead, I work on having a functional position that doesn't hinder my horse and helps me stay secure in the saddle and still be able to apply my aids clearly and effectively.

Like you, my toes just don't point forward and if I try to force my heel down past level, the rest of my position goes out the window.

I ride in a lot of speed events as well as trail riding. And yep, when i'm galloping, I do tend to have the stirrup right back against the heel of my boot - And oh gosh yes does it help with losing your stirrups! Pictures aren't showing on this computer, but if you feel the urge, do a search and see some pictures i've posted of me riding - I generally look like a sack of potatoes but I stay on and generally do pretty well for myself.

Gizmo 01-02-2011 07:44 PM

I was taught to keep it in the ball of my foot. It was definately instilled in my head. I was trained english but now I ride western that is still how I ride with it on the ball of my foot. Maybe in some of the pics you saw of the rough riding stuff the stirrup slipped or something. That happens to me sometimes when I am going at a canter or gallop.
It could be dangerous to put your foot so far in the stirrup because if something happens your not going to be able to slip out of them as fast as if they were on the ball of your foot. One thing I can suggest is maybe stretching everything out before you get on your horse. It might help you loosen up and be more relaxed which will help with your leg positioning and such.

bsms 01-03-2011 03:56 PM

No, actually with some sports they teach to put the stirrup at mid foot. I've seen pictures of multiple Australian riders hanging around, and they all were relaxed - with their stirrup at mid foot.

I'm thinking - and I'm a new rider and don't know - that it is a trade-off: accepting perhaps more difficulty in getting the stirrup free during a fall in exchange for greater certainty that you won't lose a stirrup while riding hard. When I tried it the other day, it seemed easier to ride light in the stirrup and deeper in the seat.

My concern is this: Is it a fact or a myth that putting the stirrup at mid foot makes it more likely you'll get caught in a fall? If I'm riding in rough country - where a fall could be fatal anyways - might it be better to emphasize staying with the horse?

I'm asking, not advising. I am becoming more convinced that many things we are taught is based more on how it looks in the show ring than how it impacts function. For example, a chair seat provides greater security if your horse may bolt or go into a full bore emergency stop. It isn't good for dressage, but it can be good for trail riding a spooky horse.

I don't understand how a mid-foot position makes getting caught more likely. The one time I came off, my horse spooked. I got her stopped, tried to dismount, and halfway thru she reared, spun, and bolted in the opposite direction. A 5 point harness would not have kept me on.

There were bruises across my toes, and the only way to make the stirrup match the bruise was if my foot slid forward during the bolt, then came out with lots of force - but it DID come out. It isn't possible for my foot to go thru the stirrup without breaking it first, and even then it would be doubtful - so how likely is it that riding in a mid-foot position would increase my risk? If it doesn't, then I prefer it - easier to keep a light stirrup, but there if I want it. I just don't have enough experience to know...

wild_spot 01-03-2011 04:09 PM


My concern is this: Is it a fact or a myth that putting the stirrup at mid foot makes it more likely you'll get caught in a fall? If I'm riding in rough country - where a fall could be fatal anyways - might it be better to emphasize staying with the horse?

I think it's bollocks. As long as your heel doesn't go through the stirrup, there is nothing on your toe/mid foot to get caught, and your foot is generally bendy enough that it will come out from just about any angle. I have come of many times but never gotten a foot caught up.

This is me in the middle of a mounted games race showing where my foot normally finds itself:

Gizmo 01-03-2011 04:41 PM

I suppose that its up to you. I don't have problems with keeping my stirrup on the ball and I feel more comfortable and secure. But you know jockey manage to keep the stirrup on the ball of their toe and they are going VERY fast. So I don't know if that is a good excuse. I just don't want to see anyone get hurt and dragged because their foot just slipped right through.

Poseidon 01-03-2011 04:58 PM

I'm not sure I just lack coordination (Lord knows I do anyway..), but I have a terrible time trying to stay on the balls of my feet while riding. I also don't find it comfortable or secure at all. I feel a lot safer and balanced while riding mid-foot. And I ride western, so my riding boots have a decent sized heel on them, which ends up touching my stirrups all the time, like wild spot's. I have to ride mid-foot in the winter because I have Raynaud's and it affects my feet the worse. From the balls of my feet forward, there's not blood flow if I go outside for longer than 5 minutes (regardless of how many pairs of socks I have on). It's very difficult to balance on something you can't feel.

I also tore my right MCL two years ago, and it was misdiagnosed so it wasn't surgically fixed. It's a pain the butt most days, so riding technically correct..I would be in quite a bit of pain.

I dunno. That's just my two cents.

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