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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After almost two years of riding, pretty constantly, I still sometimes lose stirrups. Lots of times I don't lose stirrups, but my foot shifts around a lot and bounces inside the stirrup. My legs are floppy and my feet don't sink in to the stirrups like they should. I don't think this is contributing to me falling off at the canter, but it sure isn't helping.

I've tried doing more stirrupless riding, really trying to think about where my seat bones are, trying to keep my leg still, and now riding Moonshine (who has a punishing, jackhammer trot, especially when she goes over ground poles). My instructor wants me to try riding one of her small ponies bareback. At the canter. She says he has a very smooth canter, and his barrel is small enough that I can pretty well wrap my legs around him. But I'm not sure this will get to the root of the problem. I don't WANT to be gripping with my lower legs, do I? Or maybe I do? I'm starting to get confused.

What do you guys think?
 

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Have you tried the "home" position?


...Position of Foot in Stirrup

After the stirrup has been adjusted so that the tread strikes the ankle bone, the foot is placed well home, so that the tread rests under the instep, and not against the ball of the foot. The almost universal habit of putting the ball of the foot on the tread is very faulty, and should only be done in schooling of a technical order, such as high school work and early training of a colt, where light touches of the spur are frequently needed. For cross-country work, polo, jumping, and other real riding, the foot belongs well home in the stirrup where it will not jar out at the least mishap, and endanger or momentarily incapacitate the rider. Moreover, unless the foot is pushed home, it is much more difficult to keep the proper position of the heel, ankle, and leg from the knee down, which is of fundamental importance in riding correctly...

...Feet

The toes turn out at an angle which is comfortable, and which allows the calves of the legs, particularly the inner portion just below the knees, to close against the horse. The feet will normally form an angle of between 20 and 45 degrees with the longer axis of the horse. This angle varies slightly with the length of the stirrup-straps, as well as with the conformation of the horse and rider.

Riding and Schooling Horses, Lt Col Harry Chamberlin
From 2011: Question on stirrup position: ball of foot or mid-foot (home)

 

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Bareback you'll figure out quickly what you need/need not to do :p You just have to ride lots more at the canter and sitting trot. I also struggled making my lower half independent and instructor suggested a different route. Every time I lost my stirrups in canter I had to find them without stopping. I had to learn to balance, steer etc while one foot in and trying to find the other. It was a hardcore lesson in multitasking and it was REALLY tiring. Of course I had plenty times I HAD to stop (and stopping on Katie without stirrups was terrifying). If I lost both stirrups (which were already pretty short for someone who wasn't jumping!) I found one at a time. Until a few weeks later when I could find find both and put them back on at the same time. Then it progressed to intentionally taking my feet out at sitting trot/canter count to X and put them back in. I was always always worst when we were going on the left lead. Katie didn't like left and I also wasn't very strong this way. Right? Super comfortable and easy. We did it a lot during sitting trot as well. Note: steering will go to pot. That's normal. But it was a fast track way to learn how to use my bottom half while maintaining my upper. Then one day it just clicked. I felt connected to my leg but in control. It was then I realise my lower leg shouldn't just be limply hanging there as if I had a severed spine but that I was using it in neutral gear. Steering? Don't worry. Toe out? Don't worry. Just simply work on feet out and in stirrups at sitting and canter first. Once I was independent I could then work on position etc. Learning to canter with one foot in and one foot out working to counterbalance that effect was also... interesting. Sometimes I get on even now when I am too lazy to change shoes and just cross my stirrups over and do all my ridden work without. Bareback I don't like to think of it as gripping. More like a gentle hug - but your bottom half still separate. It's so hard to explain you literally feel split in half. Pat your head and rub circles on your belly. Swap arms and do it again. It's a weird feeling. For me anyway....

My friend still really struggles with this still and it seems to be the biggest hurdle that a lot of newbies I know struggle to overcome. And it takes time and lots more riding than they can afford. Fortunately you can at least get the hours :p Go for bareback even if just for an experience!
 

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Riding bareback would help you a lot.

When doing so forget about legs in he correct place and heels down, push your legs forward and lean back. Sit on your pockets. This is not the correct way of riding but it will help you find a deeper seat and balance.

I think that you are inclined to over think things and try to hard. This can cause tension in your body. Riding bareback, as I suggested will get you more relaxed and balanced.

As children we would have trotting races bareback taking the horses to the fields. Our feet would be in front of the pony's shoulder and our shoulder blades inches from their rumps, wasn't a good position but we would belt along without moving!
 

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I suspect that you're probably lifting your legs unconsciously. I say this because it's a struggle I've had to deal with, so I know firsthand! Working without stirrups, and riding bareback, will help you a lot generally, but if you don't notice that your legs are shortening because there are no stirrups there TO lose, it might not address that particular problem.

So, when riding with stirrups... Don't think about keeping your feet in your stirrups. That's not where the problem is starting. Instead make sure you're not gripping *up*. You might not notice that it's a thing you're doing because it feels different from gripping *in*. But that's likely what the issue is. Keep your hip and knee joints long and open, and think of pushing your knees down and back.

I've also found this video's "stamp, stamp, stamp" method helpful in canter. By stepping down, you're keeping connection with your stirrups but also, most importantly, making an effort to lengthen your leg with every stride. You need to do it a bit exaggeratedly at first but once you feel what keeping that stirrup connection is like, you can dial it back a bit.

 

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I suspect that you're probably lifting your legs unconsciously. I say this because it's a struggle I've had to deal with, so I know firsthand! Working without stirrups, and riding bareback, will help you a lot generally, but if you don't notice that your legs are shortening because there are no stirrups there TO lose, it might not address that particular problem.

So, when riding with stirrups... Don't think about keeping your feet in your stirrups. That's not where the problem is starting. Instead make sure you're not gripping *up*. You might not notice that it's a thing you're doing because it feels different from gripping *in*. But that's likely what the issue is. Keep your hip and knee joints long and open, and think of pushing your knees down and back.

I've also found this video's "stamp, stamp, stamp" method helpful in canter. By stepping down, you're keeping connection with your stirrups but also, most importantly, making an effort to lengthen your leg with every stride. You need to do it a bit exaggeratedly at first but once you feel what keeping that stirrup connection is like, you can dial it back a bit.

https://youtu.be/a-mT82_p5no
I second this as it has helped me--and I've watched several cantering videos just to understand the mechanics of it. I'm not a good multitasker, and I don't ride as consistently as I'd like to so I always have to relearn things, and with school horses that need a lot of leg to keep the canter (aka just another thing to worry about). It's a lot to do in a 30 minute lesson and can definitely feel like a waste of time and money. Since you're riding consistently I highly recommend following the advice in this video! The stepping down in time with the gait is very helpful sitting or in two point.

You just have to be aware that you are not gripping when you step. It might be difficult to do as in English riding you have to maintain a still leg so until you get used to the seemingly opposite line of thought with 'still leg', 'applying the leg' and 'stepping down'...it's going to take time. You can work on a still leg and stepping down without losing your stirrups at a sitting trot. This will help your awareness. I am unsure if you should bareback though. I've heard people find it a bit more difficult to keep their feet in the stirrups after riding bareback as your legs are stretched longer out of the saddle. I'd focus on feeling the canter with the stirrups, at different lengths. Ditching them completely or doing bareback if it's a balance issue is just inciting a fall. In my opinion anyway.
 

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You just have to be aware that you are not gripping when you step. It might be difficult to do as in English riding you have to maintain a still leg so until you get used to the seemingly opposite line of thought with 'still leg', 'applying the leg' and 'stepping down'...it's going to take time. You can work on a still leg and stepping down without losing your stirrups at a sitting trot.
Agree with everything in your post, but I will say that I think people overemphasize a "still" leg. The leg should be still in that it shouldn't be swinging forward and back from the knee, as that shows that the rider is gripping with the knee and not letting the weight drop properly through the leg. But an effective leg actually moves a LOT. Less so in hunter/jumper where a rider is up out of the saddle, and the calf is on to support. But, if you look at some of the highest level dressage riders, that lower leg is bouncing and wiggling all over to help absorb the motion -- it's just NOT swinging forward and back, except when an aid is given. I think if a rider fixates too much a "still" leg, in the wrong sense, they're going to add a lot of unnecessary tension to their riding.

 

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Agree with everything in your post, but I will say that I think people overemphasize a "still" leg. The leg should be still in that it shouldn't be swinging forward and back from the knee, as that shows that the rider is gripping with the knee and not letting the weight drop properly through the leg. But an effective leg actually moves a LOT. Less so in hunter/jumper where a rider is up out of the saddle, and the calf is on to support. But, if you look at some of the highest level dressage riders, that lower leg is bouncing and wiggling all over to help absorb the motion -- it's just NOT swinging forward and back, except when an aid is given. I think if a rider fixates too much a "still" leg, in the wrong sense, they're going to add a lot of unnecessary tension to their riding.

https://youtu.be/DcDLLxgWa_Y
I can hardly breathe when watching Charlotte and Valegro; they are poetry in motion, the art of riding at its finest, beautiful, perfection. He just loves Dressage :love:


The leg should hang down softly to the knee, below the knee must be moveable, yet subtle when cueing the horse.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for the vidoes!
@SteadyOn I have seen that video before --maybe you posted it-- but it makes a lot more sense to me now than it did before.

I was really surprised how much that rider's lower leg moved. I guess if she's doing it, then yeah, maybe I shouldn't fixate on that.

I am thinking now that I'm still tensing when I canter, and maybe that's why I'm having problems. I know I FEEL a lot less tense, and I actually started breathing when I canter, which is a good thing, but I guess it's still there.

I did more stirrupless with Teddy today. Oh, he's so nice to ride. One thing that I noticed, though, is that when I let my legs get really long and loose, it sort of tilted me in a weird way. I felt better with my knees bent a little more. But not (I think) gripping. And yesterday I rode Moonshine again, and didn't even come close to losing a stirrup. I was really, really, really thinking about my feet.

I still have several months, hopefully, of cool weather, before I start riding less. I'm going to keep at it!
 

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My best advice to you is keep riding without stirrups. Lunge line work without reins and stirrups is the bomb! Eventually you will be doing this, it's all about balance. My vid riding bareback and balancing the pipe on the barrel, quite easy with practice:
 

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i tried this after 5 months of riding lessons (novice rider), I trotted and tried to do all kinds of figures. When I grabbed the horse with my legs I felt like I lost more of my balance and the horse felt like I wanted to go faster. I must say we were a very good combo. Lol.
 
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