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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have kind of a weird problem. My leg position is much better WITHOUT stirrups than with. It's much more secure, steady, on the horse, and in the right place when I drop my stirrups. However, once I pick up my stirrups, it's disastrous. My leg swings at the canter, comes off the horse while rising at the posting trot, and tries to go behind me. Also, when I squeeze the horse's sides with my calf, my heels come up.

Has anyone else dealt with this, and what did you do to fix it? What could be causing this?

Also, I unfortunately can only ride once a week at the moment (though I'm looking to change that) and don't have access to a horse to practice on outside of lessons. Are there any leg strength building exercises that can be done from home?

Thank you!
 

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This is not an uncommon problem at all.
When riding with stirrups you are probably relying to much on your stirrups which in turn makes you grip upwards.

Whether riding with or without stirrups, place your hand under your thigh from behind and pull all the clubbed to the back. This places your leg flat against the saddle with your knee flat against the saddle, your toe pointing forward and your lower leg against the horse's side.
 

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Many riders sense that they ride better with their feet out of the stirrups. This is because their legs hang as they should, beneath their bodies.

The difference these riders feel when they put their feet in the stirrups is often caused by saddle design. Stirrups of many saddles – English as well as Western designs – carry the rider’s feet too far forward. Check your saddle to see if this is your problem.

If the problem is not in saddle design, consider stirrup length. Are the stirrups long enough to allow good leg extension or do they make your legs bend excessively?

How do you hold your legs when your feet are in the stirrups as opposed to when they are out of the stirrups? Are you pushing down on the stirrups rather than just letting gravity hold your feet to the stirrups? Do you clamp your legs to your horse’s sides rather than just letting gravity hold them there?
 

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Standing in the stirrups.

Stirrups stay steady due to gravity. If we put weight in the stirrup while our center of gravity is directly above the stirrup, then they are even steadier. If they move around, then our weight must not be above them, but either behind or ahead. If the stirrup is below your center of gravity, the only direction you can push it is down - and the saddle won't allow that!

The exception is if we grip with our knees. Then our knees, gripping in one position of the saddle, allow our lower leg to pivot around regardless of where our weight is centered.

Standing in the stirrups teaches two things: To adjust your body's position to stay balanced above the stirrup, and no gripping with the knee. Three things, because you also have to learn to anticipate balance & momentum changes by your horse and how to compensate for them.

No stirrup work, which is widely praised, teaches the opposite. Without a stirrup, the lower leg can't do much to help or harm you, and we learn to ride from the knee up: thighs and seat. Xenophon famously wrote "When mounted, the rider should sit on the horse not as if he were sitting in a chair, but as if he were standing with his legs apart." People then say that means keeping a vertical line from ear - shoulder - hip - heel. They talk about how, if your horse disappeared, would you land on your feet.

Please understand: I'm a self-taught backyard rider. Not a judge, instructor, and certainly not a prize-winning anything. But a horse moves around, not always because we asked him to and not always as we anticipate. I think of it more like riding a surfboard:


If you want to stay stable on a shifting surface, you crouch and try to stay above your feet. Good stirrup work on a horse is similar. Of course, many approaches to riding emphasize seat instead of stirrups. And a person may NEED to ride an excited horse without stirrups, so both need to be practiced. But our best position when using stirrups is to stay above them.

Xenophon didn't have stirrups, but stirrups make what he taught even more effective. I would rephrase it as "When mounted, the rider should sit on the horse not as if he were sitting in a chair, but as if he were standing in the stirrups with his legs apart." Please take this advice with a big steaming cup of FWIW because I'm a backyard rider of Craigslist horses. I will say this has worked well for me when riding spooky Craigslist horses. But I'm no instructor.
 

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What style of saddle are you riding in? Sometimes saddles, especially jump saddles, are NOT well balanced for flat work, and the stirrup bars are placed too far forward. You may be fighting the stirrup placement to try to stay in balance.

Have someone take pictures of you from the side on. Where is your leg when the stirrups leathers hang straight down? If you have to be in chair seat to make that happen, then you're fighting your saddle.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
This is not an uncommon problem at all.
When riding with stirrups you are probably relying to much on your stirrups which in turn makes you grip upwards.

Whether riding with or without stirrups, place your hand under your thigh from behind and pull all the clubbed to the back. This places your leg flat against the saddle with your knee flat against the saddle, your toe pointing forward and your lower leg against the horse's side.
I definitely think I rely on my stirrups too much, now that I think about it.

What do you mean by pull all the clubbed to the back? I'd like to try this!

Thank you!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Many riders sense that they ride better with their feet out of the stirrups. This is because their legs hang as they should, beneath their bodies.

The difference these riders feel when they put their feet in the stirrups is often caused by saddle design. Stirrups of many saddles – English as well as Western designs – carry the rider’s feet too far forward. Check your saddle to see if this is your problem.

If the problem is not in saddle design, consider stirrup length. Are the stirrups long enough to allow good leg extension or do they make your legs bend excessively?

How do you hold your legs when your feet are in the stirrups as opposed to when they are out of the stirrups? Are you pushing down on the stirrups rather than just letting gravity hold your feet to the stirrups? Do you clamp your legs to your horse’s sides rather than just letting gravity hold them there?
I unfortunately do this in both of my English saddles. The one I use the most was fitted to me years ago and I can get a really nice line from shoulders, to hips, to ankles at the walk when I'm practicing my position with it. I haven't seen myself ride in the second one to be able to tell.

I might need to check my stirrup length.

I do push down into the stirrups and clamp my legs to my horse's sides, which I need to work on!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Standing in the stirrups.

Stirrups stay steady due to gravity. If we put weight in the stirrup while our center of gravity is directly above the stirrup, then they are even steadier. If they move around, then our weight must not be above them, but either behind or ahead. If the stirrup is below your center of gravity, the only direction you can push it is down - and the saddle won't allow that!

The exception is if we grip with our knees. Then our knees, gripping in one position of the saddle, allow our lower leg to pivot around regardless of where our weight is centered.

Standing in the stirrups teaches two things: To adjust your body's position to stay balanced above the stirrup, and no gripping with the knee. Three things, because you also have to learn to anticipate balance & momentum changes by your horse and how to compensate for them.

No stirrup work, which is widely praised, teaches the opposite. Without a stirrup, the lower leg can't do much to help or harm you, and we learn to ride from the knee up: thighs and seat. Xenophon famously wrote "When mounted, the rider should sit on the horse not as if he were sitting in a chair, but as if he were standing with his legs apart." People then say that means keeping a vertical line from ear - shoulder - hip - heel. They talk about how, if your horse disappeared, would you land on your feet.

Please understand: I'm a self-taught backyard rider. Not a judge, instructor, and certainly not a prize-winning anything. But a horse moves around, not always because we asked him to and not always as we anticipate. I think of it more like riding a surfboard:


If you want to stay stable on a shifting surface, you crouch and try to stay above your feet. Good stirrup work on a horse is similar. Of course, many approaches to riding emphasize seat instead of stirrups. And a person may NEED to ride an excited horse without stirrups, so both need to be practiced. But our best position when using stirrups is to stay above them.

Xenophon didn't have stirrups, but stirrups make what he taught even more effective. I would rephrase it as "When mounted, the rider should sit on the horse not as if he were sitting in a chair, but as if he were standing in the stirrups with his legs apart." Please take this advice with a big steaming cup of FWIW because I'm a backyard rider of Craigslist horses. I will say this has worked well for me when riding spooky Craigslist horses. But I'm no instructor.
This is very helpful, thank you! I do tend to grip at the knee sometimes. I've been practicing my two-point at all gaits (I stil struggle at the walk to find that sweet spot and keep it for a long time, but I'm almost there!).
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
What style of saddle are you riding in? Sometimes saddles, especially jump saddles, are NOT well balanced for flat work, and the stirrup bars are placed too far forward. You may be fighting the stirrup placement to try to stay in balance.

Have someone take pictures of you from the side on. Where is your leg when the stirrups leathers hang straight down? If you have to be in chair seat to make that happen, then you're fighting your saddle.
I have two jump saddles (one is a Courbette similar in style to a Stübben Siegfried and the other is a flat Crosby), and unfortunately have these issues in both saddles. I've watched myself in the arena mirrors while warming up and cooling down at the walk in the arena and I get a nice, straight line from shoulder to hip to ankle in the Courbette (and my leg seems to hang where the stirrup leather is when I drop my stirrups), but haven't seen myself in the Crosby (it's a saddle I had for a previous horse that I only use when it fits a horse better than my Courbette).
 

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I ride better without stirrups (even my body position is better). I think most of us do bc it allows us to hug the horse and use our calves, and that is a good thing. My problem with stirrups is my ankles hurt particularly the left one. My ankle aches and becomes limp therefore I cannot continue my posting trot or lower leg moves a lot during the trot and canter. Due to my body conformation, my stirrups at my ankle bone level does not work as it's almost impossible for me to have contact with the side of the horse with my calves and my ankles go on a weird angle and the weight goes to my ankles instead of my heels. It's frustrating! One of the instructors said my femur bone is longer than normal and I should use longer stirrups to which has helped a bit. Also these are lesson saddles so I keep that in mind as well, the saddles have to fit you well too(besides the horse).
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I ride better without stirrups (even my body position is better). I think most of us do bc it allows us to hug the horse and use our calves, and that is a good thing. My problem with stirrups is my ankles hurt particularly the left one. My ankle aches and becomes limp therefore I cannot continue my posting trot or lower leg moves a lot during the trot and canter. Due to my body conformation, my stirrups at my ankle bone level does not work as it's almost impossible for me to have contact with the side of the horse with my calves and my ankles go on a weird angle and the weight goes to my ankles instead of my heels. It's frustrating! One of the instructors said my femur bone is longer than normal and I should use longer stirrups to which has helped a bit. Also these are lesson saddles so I keep that in mind as well, the saddles have to fit you well too(besides the horse).
I have been told I have a long femur as well, I was told that when I was shopping for my saddle years ago! I have also had a similar ankle pain. I might try lengthening my stirrups a bit, thanks!
 
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