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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been having trouble keeping my leg elongated when cantering. My instructor forces me to make me stirrups longer than I like, and because of this I'm having trouble keeping my legs long enough when cantering to where I can keep the ball of my feet in the stirrups, heels down without my foot slipping too far back in the stirrups. Yesterday I was so exasperated with this that I asked my instructor if I really needed my stirrups this long, and she insisted that I must keep them as long as she made me have them and told me that I like them too short and that when I make them as short as I'd like I'm not using my legs properly since they're not long enough. But then I have trouble, like I said, keeping my feet in the proper position in the stirrups.

Do you guys have any tips to help me out here? And why is it so important anyways to keep my stirrups longer even if I don't like them that way? I get that having your legs scrunched up too much would cause your position to be incorrect, but if the length I like is short and I'm able to keep my feet in the proper position better that way, why can't I just do that?
 

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I have the same issue. Don’t stress it as it will come with time. Not sure about changing the stirrup length so weird. All my amazing instructor does is remind me chest out, shoulders back and imagine that this lengthens your legs long into the stirrup heels down. It works. As you make yourself sit taller think about lengthening. Making the stirrups longer you will struggle more. My instructor gives me exercises on my horse where I take my feet out of the stirrups and at a walk I’ve got to stretch my legs to the ground.
Another method is GET A NEW INSTRUCTOR🤣 this one doesn’t sound to helpful or encouraging. It’s taken me about 4 instructors to find one who is patient and thinks outside the square to meet my learning style and help get me over my fears and anxieties as a green rider who had some nasty riding injuries resulting in surgery. Good luck and keep us posted.
 

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Stirrupless work would be my initial recommendation, even at just a walk if you are less experienced. Also, instead of thinking of keeping your heels down, which creates muscle tension in the leg, think of keeping your toes up. And it is ESSENTIAL to stretch hamstrings and your Achilles tendons/calf muscles before riding.
 

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Honestly as someone who spent several years losing their stirrups in canter it's much better to practice stirrupless than with too-long stirrups. They just distract me. Cantering stirrupless is actually very easy - far easier than trot. To help ease the transition when learning I might suggest what I was taught: walk, sitting trot in a corner and straight into canter. This is because MY horse is very bouncy. The entire canter was spent not worrying too much about steering and more on keeping my lower body relaxed. I would habitually lift my knees. I was very safe but I gripped entirely wrong. On another horse I basically went stirrupless and sitting-trot the entire one hour lesson (group).

And stretches. If you are like me and have tight calves and hips you won't get far very fast unless you a) ride at minimum twice a week or b) make up for it by doing daily stretches as mentioned by @Spanish Rider. I will be the first to admit I was lazy in the beginning but it takes far more outside of being in the saddle to help you get better in it. Unless of course riding is your full time profession coz they just "cheat" :p :p

Lastly tap the top of your head while rubbing your stomach anti-clockwise. Cantering while keeping my leg long gave me that exact same strange feeling. Of being split into two. It's just like learning playing piano and how to use left and right hands independently. Riding is the same. But it's much harder because you have to deal with your hands, your seat, your head position, your leg... then do it at funny gaits. For me personally "separating" my legs from my body was the hardest. For some it might be keeping their hands neutral. Others, the way they sit. You're not alone in your crux. BTW you pay for your lessons. You should be allowed 100% to ask to try something different that you think might better suit you.

Good luck!
 

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I"m assuming you are riding dressage, right?


I think your instructor is WRONG to think that giving your stirrups that are way too long will help you achieve a long leg. Better to take them away, totally.
No, riding with stirrups too long is one of the MOST common things that amature dressage riders do to mess up their riding quality.


I remember reading a really great article, years back, in "Dressage Today" (I used to subscribe to that magazine), by rider Heather Blitz, where she described exactly what happens when you have stirrups that are too long. She described it in detail, and I cannot remember all of it, but basically because you are 'fishing' for your stirrups, you will often roll forward onto your 'fork', which puts you in a 'weak' position where you are easily pulled out of balance by your horse. It is harder for you to get your horse in front of your leg, and you may end up pulling downward on the reins to balance yourself.
(oh , how I wish I could find that article! Ms. Blitz wrote it so beautifully!)


Anyway, your leg should have a roughly 90 to 95 degree angle of opening behind the knee. With very long stirrups, that opening becomes way too open. You leg becomes of no help to you, and in fact, becomes a literal 'drag' on your body as you reach with your toe for your stirrup.


A long leg has more to do with how the energy and weight go down into a supporting leg, than how far down the horse's barrel your leg reaches.
 

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I'd do some no-stirrup work to help you with this, at the walk/trot first. It will help you a lot more when you have stirrups. Just breathe too, try not to think about your position too much because that will cause you to tense up & grip with your knees.

I have longer stirrups now, & I actually like it a lot better. At first, it was tough to get used to. But after awhile it feels right...shorter stirrups don't feel good anymore!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I"m assuming you are riding dressage, right?
No, actually, I am riding in a jump saddle. That's also why I get so frustrated that I have to keep my stirrups so long- this isn't dressage I'm trying to do here. But yet she keeps forcing me to have dressage-length stirrups when I'm trying to learn how to jump, or so it feels that way to me.
 

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There should be around a 90 degree angle behind your calf, knee, thigh angle with the jumping saddle. The stirrups, when at rest beside your foot should hit your ankle bone. Another measure is standing up in the saddle and having adequate space between your crotch and the saddle.

If this is a jumping lesson, and your stirrups are longer than that then something is wrong. I agree that working without stirrups is always beneficial

Riding equitation you may have a longer length to show off your leg.
 

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Oh, that's odd. Well, could you post some videos of your riding ? I wonder what this instructor is seeing that she is trying to 'counter'?
 

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OP stated that she is riding in a "jump saddle". However, if she is having problems with cantering, I am assuming that she is still working on hunt seat equitation, not jumping per se.

@OctoberEquestrian , it is very common in hunt seat classes to work on basic equitation with longer stirrups in order to develop proper leg position. This is not merely for the sake of aesthetics, but for your own stability and safety as you develop your seat and inner thigh muscles. Plus, your leg stretches and lengthens during warm-up and your pelvis opens, so what sometimes seems 'too short' at the start of class often starts to feel 'just right' when you are warmed up.

In college jumper classes, we used to do the warm-up with stirrups at tip-to-pit arm's length, then shortening stirrups by two holes before starting the jumps. It is easier (and safer) to ride in two-point and jump with a long, stretched leg.


No worries! The great thing about riding is that everything gets easier with practice. We're all still learning and improving.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
OP stated that she is riding in a "jump saddle". However, if she is having problems with cantering, I am assuming that she is still working on hunt seat equitation, not jumping per se.
Well, I am getting to jump one small crossrail most lessons, so I am doing some actual jumping, but nothing too high. And like I said, it's only one crossrail I'm going over, I've only gone over a line of jumps a few times. So I do jump, but it's minimal as I'm still very much a beginner (I've only been riding for a little over a year and a half, and I'm also an adult beginner as I'm 25 years old, just to give you some context on all this).

@OctoberEquestrian , it is very common in hunt seat classes to work on basic equitation with longer stirrups in order to develop proper leg position. This is not merely for the sake of aesthetics, but for your own stability and safety as you develop your seat and inner thigh muscles. Plus, your leg stretches and lengthens during warm-up and your pelvis opens, so what sometimes seems 'too short' at the start of class often starts to feel 'just right' when you are warmed up.

In college jumper classes, we used to do the warm-up with stirrups at tip-to-pit arm's length, then shortening stirrups by two holes before starting the jumps. It is easier (and safer) to ride in two-point and jump with a long, stretched leg.


No worries! The great thing about riding is that everything gets easier with practice. We're all still learning and improving.
Thanks for your advice here, that makes sense.
 

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Twenty-five? I'm twice your age! But, seriously, you learn differently at each age, and all ages have their advantages/disadvantages. When learning as a kid, I was fearless, flexible and willing to try anything. As you get older, you gain in strength and start to better understand the mechanics of riding. Intuition and instincts develop with years in the saddle, as does communication with horses. Older riders rely on these the skills when our strength starts to wane.

At 25, you're strong and comprehend the mechanics, but you don't have the benefit of having developed that independent seat during your most flexible years, so it might take a bit longer but it WILL come. I myself just changed to Dressage 18 months ago, and sometimes I feel like I'm starting all over again! But you really never stop learning with horses, no matter how long you ride.

Enjoy you journey!
 

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As Spanish Rider said "In college jumper classes, we used to do the warm-up with stirrups at tip-to-pit arm's length, then shortening stirrups by two holes before starting the jumps. It is easier (and safer) to ride in two-point and jump with a long, stretched leg."


This is how the instructor here does warm ups. Then shorten for jumping or lengthen even more for flat work.
 

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Riding while standing in the stirrups teaches you to let the weight flow PAST the knee and into the stirrup. That teaches one to use the stirrups. Don't know how jumping is taught now, but the "American Military Seat" taught:
"...For hacking and normal training of the horse, when he is not to be schooled in jumping, the rule for the length of the stirrup straps is as follows: Being seated as described above, with the legs hanging down in a natural position by the horse's sides and the feet out of the stirrups, the treads of the stirrups should hang even with the center of the large bones on the inner sides of the ankle joints. This is a general rule...

...For the beginner, it is well to have the stirrups a little on the long side, rather than too short, as this permits, and almost forces the rider to work the thighs and knees well down around the horse, and thus overcome the usual instinctive tendency to raise the knees, which makes the seat unstable and weakens the grip of the knee and calves. It is the ability to grip with the calves of the legs, and to a much lesser extent with the knees and thighs, that provides the strength of seat through which a good rider stays with his horse when difficulties, such as shying, plunging, stumbling, bucking or jumping arise. No matter how much the stirrups are shortened, it must be understood that the stirrup-straps, when the seat is correct, always remain vertical, and that as a result of shorter stirrups, the knees, though raised, go very little farther to the front....as the stirrups are shortened, the seat and buttocks are necessarily pushed farther back on the cantle. This demands more forward inclination of the body from the hips..."
I'm a western rider who learned by reading the forward seat ideas of Littauer and the US Cavalry manual. Then practicing them. Littauer described the forward seat as "stirrup-centric" instead of "seat-centric". It is important to learn to let the weight flow past the knee uninterrupted, on into the lower leg and heel. A shorter stirrup could be used after learning this. Here was the Cavalry's recommendation in a picture:




Once soldiers were comfortable with this, stirrups could be shortened for jumping, although they taught shorter stirrups were not needed until the jumps were over 3-3.5 feet. I don't jump so won't speak to that. But notice this fellow isn't using very short stirrups :rofl::

 

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I worked on all sorts of stuff, all sorts of lessons, yes those all helped. Do you know what really got my legs in position, made me pick up the right diagonal every time, know what diagonal I am on every time, riding without stirrups. Riding without stirrups for an hour, brutal but it works. How badly do you want it?
 

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I worked on all sorts of stuff, all sorts of lessons, yes those all helped. Do you know what really got my legs in position, made me pick up the right diagonal every time, know what diagonal I am on every time, riding without stirrups. Riding without stirrups for an hour, brutal but it works. How badly do you want it?
This!! I used to feel so unbalanced and out of sorts when I rode without stirrups. And I would HURT for days after.

Now it's second-nature and actually feels EASY. I actually LIKE it.

Drilling no-stirrups sitting trot and rising trot is now one of my favourite activities, and if you had told me that three years ago I think I would have cried.
 

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I agree that no stirrup work could really benefit your riding. Personally, I prefer to warm up stirrupless (walk, trot and canter) every ride. It tones the correct muscles and helps loosen others. Maybe that is something your instructor could incorporate into your lessons? Has your instructor mentioned why she is asking you to jump with long stirrups? how long are they in relation to your ankle?
 

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Just wanted to say that stirrupless work, which I love and consider essential, is not necessarily safe on every horse or for every rider. That is a decision for your instructor to make based on your riding level and the horse's behaviour.

In changing to dressage and a different horse, I assumed that we would be warming up without stirrups, something that I have done my whole life. However, my new trainer told me to never ride this new horse without stirrups, which I thought was odd but did not question. A few weeks in, this PRE stallion challenged me and popped a levade out of nowhere, turning on his hinds in a half circle. If it had not been for the stirrups, there is no way I would have stayed in the saddle. I will never question my new trainer's judgement again!
 

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Just wanted to say that stirrupless work, which I love and consider essential, is not necessarily safe on every horse or for every rider. That is a decision for your instructor to make based on your riding level and the horse's behaviour.

In changing to dressage and a different horse, I assumed that we would be warming up without stirrups, something that I have done my whole life. However, my new trainer told me to never ride this new horse without stirrups, which I thought was odd but did not question. A few weeks in, this PRE stallion challenged me and popped a levade out of nowhere, turning on his hinds in a half circle. If it had not been for the stirrups, there is no way I would have stayed in the saddle. I will never question my new trainer's judgement again!

Woah! That must have been quite the shock!
 
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