Losing stirrups - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 08:12 AM Thread Starter
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Losing stirrups


A problem I've had for a while now is that whenever I'm cantering, I lose my stirrups. It happens every time, and it was never a big deal really because I wasn't going to fall off and my instructor didn't seem particularly concerned. But recently I've started losing them in trot as well, which is worrying because apparently, I'm not improving.

I don't have a good photo, but from what I understand I'm losing them because I'm gripping with my knees? I think? And in the photo, I think you can see a bit of that. I know it's not very helpful, sorry.

Anyway, my question is if there any exercises I can do it improve this? I asked my dad and he just said to practice cantering more, but I don't think that will work if it hasn't by now.

Also the reins were loose cos I was cooling him down. I don't ride like that normally.
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post #2 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 08:49 AM
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First of all, it looks as though you needn’t try raising your stirrups – a common response employed by many riders who lose their stirrups.

I’ve found most riders who lose their stirrups do so because they tighten their muscles in one form or another. This may take the form of gripping with the knees. It may also take the form of trying to hold on with their heels; this action also throws the rider off balance.

The most effective solution does not come so much through exercise as through relaxation. The advice often given to “just practice more” may appear to work because many riders begin to relax more as their experience grows. Remember however: practice in itself does not “make perfect”. Improvement comes through “correct” practice.

As you ride, try to release all unnecessary tension from your muscles. Releasing tension in the muscles above your waist allows your muscles to respond quickly and almost effortlessly to the movements of your horse while your bones support your weight. Think “balance”, not “muscular effort”. Releasing unnecessary tension in the muscles around your shoulders and elbows helps allow your hands to gently follow the actions of your horse’s head while the rest of your body is doing other things.

As you release tension in the muscles below your waist, gravity is allowed to draw your legs downward. This, in turn, holds your legs against the horse’s side without muscular effort. It holds your feet in the stirrups. It draws your heels lower than your toes.

Your non-tense muscles can more effortlessly react to the movements of your horse allowing you to freely follow the horse’s movements. Then, you will begin to feel an increased joy in riding “with” your horse.
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post #3 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 08:55 AM
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You are both riding off your knee and raising the heel when you use your legs. Even just walking and cooling out, your heels should be down.

To fix it, it'll all be about releasing the legs and letting the muscles become long.

Crossing your stirrups and letting your legs hang long. Wiggle the toes, do ankle circles. Leg swings forward and back from the hip. This will be very doable at the walk. Trot and canter will depend on your seat. Just because you can stay on without stirrups diesnt mean you are sitting correctly during it. I'm guessing the times that you lose your stirrups, you are still gripping and pinching.

Ask your instructor if you can spend some time on the lunge line to develop your seat. A good lunge lesson will have your instructor controlling the horses gait and pace, you will have your stirrups crossed and the reins knotted/twisted up. You can hold the front of the saddle if needed, and focus on letting the legs be long. This way, you can let the legs stretch and hang without worrying about steering, speed, or bouncing off the side.

After doing good no stirrup work, your stirrups should feel much shorter. Keep that feeling. It's your muscles being long.

Another thing is two pointing at all gaits. You want all your weight to sink down into your stirrups, through your heels. You heels will be both your anchor and suspension. Don't force them down, that creates more issues, just let the tension flow down your leg and out your heel.

You can consciously ride with your knee a little off the saddle. That prevents you from pinching. When you leg is more solid, let the knee come back flat. When using your leg, don't lift the heel(easier said then done). Squeeze the calves together and down. Dont think about cueing with the heel at all. If your horse is ignoring that(as many do, which forces the rider to compensate by using the heels), back up your ask with a crop or whip behind the leg. You can also turn your heels out more, rolling your calves from the flat part to the edges creating a psuedo-spur effect. Return the leg to neutral immediately after. It becomes so much easier to keep the leg long and effective if the horse is moving off the leg.

You can also raise your stirrups one hole. There's no point in riding with long stirrups just beacuse that's where they should be. Shorten the stirrup to the point where you are secure, work on the leg, then lower it as needed. You aren't going to develop the leg if you are reaching and fishing for stirrups for most of the ride. You can have short muscles in long stirrups, and you can have long muscles in short stirrups.

The picture isn't the best to judge, but I also suspect that saddle doesn't position you well. There's only so much you can do about that with lesson horses and their tack. I also find that half chaps(or tall boots) make it easier to keep the leg quiet and where you want it.
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post #4 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 08:58 AM
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Hello, and welcome to HF! How long have you been riding?

Losing stirrups is something that we've all been through and nothing to be worried about. Yes, it will improve, especially with time.

But, as you have already said, losing your stirrups often has to do with tension in the knees, leg, seat, etc. In the posting trot, it is also a sign of using the wrong muscles to post.

In your photo, your left leg is very toe-out, meaning that you are using the muscles at the back of your thigh instead of the inner thigh to post. However, perhaps this is just the photo or a transient change in your position, because your lower leg position in your profile pic is much better.

Either way, believe it or not, what I would recommend is that you do more stirrupless work. Do you do any at all? Of course, this also depends on how long you have been riding and your ability to balance, so you should discuss whether you are ready with your instructor. But, stirrupless work (even at just a walk) makes us use a longer leg and our inner thigh muscles, which give us stability in the saddle. With that added stability and longer leg, you will develop muscle memory that will improve your leg position when you pick up your stirrups again.

I rode at a New England college, and our team practices always began with 15 minutes or so of warm-up without stirrups. However, if your horse is a bit more active at the start of class, this is something you can do during cool-down.

You should also get into the habit of stretching your legs (touch those toes!) before every ride. I am surprised at how few riders stretch, as it is an easy way to improve your riding.

Have fun!
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post #5 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 01:29 PM
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I would agree with the others, in the photo it looks like your stirrups are too long. Your heels should always be down so that when you are cantering/posting, you have some room to rise before your toes part company with the stirrup, thus preventing them from slipping out.
If you've been riding at that length for awhile, it may feel strange at first to have them shorter so give it a ride or two to adjust, but I would suggest taking them up a notch at a time until your feet no longer come out.
When I bought my new saddle I had to take my stirrups up higher because my feet would come out at a canter too. It only took one notch but that solved the problem and after a ride or two I no longer noticed the difference.
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post #6 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 01:40 PM
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I have identified slightly weaker muscles on the outer surface of the thighs and hips as a cause in some people. I have no way of knowing if this is your issue (or part of it) without seeing you. But you likely cannot harm yourself by doing side kicks ( with even a 1-2# ankle weight) and squats. Some people benefit from do single leg stands, too.

Basic caution: If it hurts to do any of those - don't do them.

It's true it will likely get better even if you do nothing because you'll be building strength and balancing strength by riding.
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post #7 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by lilruffian View Post
I would agree with the others, in the photo it looks like your stirrups are too long.
Two out of three of the response posts so far have NOT recommended shortening the stirrups, but working on seat, relaxation etc. I think that's spot on. The problem isn't too-long stirrups, it's mostly about learning to relax and dissipate tension, and if a rider does that, the legs will drop.

A question for the OP: Are your soles especially slippery? That can happen, and be a bit unhelpful. Having sufficient friction between the sole and the stirrup reduces stirrup loss and makes things easier if you have to fish for them. Some riding boots soles are better than others in that respect. Ditto the stirrup tread inserts, which can get really worn.

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post #8 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 03:25 PM
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I agree with what has already been advised :) I recommend doing lots of stretches/ balance exercises when you warm up at the walk and no stirrup work is also a great way to improve. There are lots of exercises that should come up on youtube if you search. I've seen a few by yourridingsuccess that may help.

When warming up, I like to swing my legs back and forth in opposite directions, focusing on stretching the hip and psoas muscles. Then I focus on finding my seatbones, which I usually do by lifting my knee and leg up for a second and relaxing. I repeat this exercise for a bit as it also flexes the psoas muscle and your core. Then I like to do inner leg circles, from the hip, etc. There are lots of various exercises you can try, but the main focus is finding your center of balance and preparing (relaxing + toning) the muscles you need for a proper position.

I'd also recommend as much no stirrup work as you can handle. Lunge lessons are great for this, but you can also practice on your own walk, trot and canter. Rising trot without stirrups will particularly build leg strength for you and two point.
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post #9 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 05:36 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you! I'll give that a try :)
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post #10 of 31 Old 05-08-2019, 05:37 PM
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I too, had a problem with my feet sticking out. I had to stop thinking heels down, but rather toes up. Engaged my upper thigh better, which in turn brings your feet in.

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