Have you ever heard of no-stirrup November? In recent years, November has become the month when many riders take off their stirrups for a good cause. Real moment of fear, even of suffering for some, while for others, it is a pure moment of happiness ... riding without stirrups is a must in the practice of equestrian sports. In this article we share our tips to survive your sessions without stirrups.
Working without stirrups is for riders of all levels. Tedious work, and not without efforts for the rider, it has significant advantages on the position and balance of the latter but that's not all 😉
Riding without stirrups allows riders to reach another level of sensation, balance and flexibility in the saddle and this practice can be used to effectively solve a variety of problems at any level.
Training without stirrups will help the rider to become aware of his biomechanics as well as that of his horse. It will teach him to maintain a sense of balance, strengthen his core strength and legs, and improve his feeling of the horse beneath him. This sensation develops by learning to ride in rhythm and with the movements of the horse. If you can maintain your position without stirrups for a long time, it will be even easier to stay in position with stirrups.
Finally, this practice will allow you to improve your connection and communication with your horse.
Be careful however to perform your sessions without stirrups in the best conditions otherwise it can quickly turn into a nightmare and have harmful consequences on you and your horse.
2.1. Do not drop your stirrups before the end of the warm-up
Before dropping your stirrups, warm up your horse. Work at all paces to capture your horse's attention and refine your body position while your feet are still safe. Work at both hands on straight lines, circles of different sizes, serpentines - everything you need to be confident and ready, and to keep your horse focused on you and what you want to work on. In addition, when riding without stirrups, make sure that the back muscles of your horse are warm enough to support this exercise. It is better to wait until the end of the warm-up to drop them off.
2.2. Favor short sessions and put your stirrups back after
There is not need to sit the trot for an hour. It is better to favor short sessions and perform a 10-minute exercise with a good position than a one-hour session hanging to the reins. The key to success is repetition and perseverance. Do not forget to put back your stirrups at the end of the exercise.
2.3. Sit properly in your saddle
The best is to cross the stirrups in front of the saddle. Thus, neither the rider nor the horse will be disturbed and you can put them back quickly at the slightest problem or loss of balance. Sit on your buttocks as much as possible while pulling your shoulders back to engage your pelvis forward. The shocks of the pace are thus softened, the belly pushing forward at each stride.
2.4. Find your balance
To do this, open your hands keeping elbows to the body and make your pelvis work. Remember to put your legs down (we ban the toad position 🙂 ). The same applies for your heels (as if you had stirrups) and it will help you put the legs down. Do not squeeze your knees. Also be careful not to cling onto your horse's mouth if you are not comfortable. Finally, the balance is worked by obliging yourself to hold by a judicious distribution of the weight of the body, on one buttock or the other.
Do not hesitate to put a stirrup leather around the neck of the horse or hold the mane while finding your place.
2.5. Look far ahead
This will help you to correctly distribute the weight of your body and you will avoid any loss of balance. A distant look ensures a straight and lively back.
2.6. Breathe deeply
Remember to breathe deeply, and especially to exhale, which will avoid stitches. Good oxygenation of the muscles will allow you to work perfectly, and if you are a little distressed, focus on your breathing to think of something else. Above all, we must not forget that the more we tighten, the more we risk falling.
2.7. Get lunged
If you're really uncomfortable at the beginning, think about getting lunged. This way, you will not need to worry about the pace of your horse or the path. Be careful though, this must be done on an experienced horse and with the help of a knowledgeable instructor.
Our application is full of exercises. Here is a small selection to adapt without stirrups of course 🙂
3.1. Improving your site and the attention paid to your horse
This exercise is to build the rider’s core strength and balance. It also helps riders stay in control no matter what circumstances they face. Finally it will allow the horse to turn around the rider’s leg and stay round and collected.
1️⃣ Start on the right lead and make a couple of circles on the poles to get your horse use to the system.
2️⃣ Get out of the circle by going over the pole in the middle (right side of the letter V) which will lead you to go to the other circle while simultaneously changing to the left lead. Start the circle with the ground pole at 3am. Stay on the left circle for a while, equally as much time as you gave the right lead.
3️⃣ Then again go to the other middle pole (left side of the letter V). Switch leads, go to the right lead again and change circle starting with the ground pole at 9am.... and so on. Keep doing this exercise until it’s done correctly and smoothly.
Sit up straight and make sure you always anticipate your actions. Look where you are going. Looking at the center of the circle will help you naturally place your aids. If you have trouble doing this exercise without the stirrups, start doing it 2 or 3 times with your stirrups on and remove them when you feel comfortable.
3.2. Working on availability and responsiveness
This is a jumping gymnastics exercise to teach the rider to take quick but non-aggressive reaction to shorter strides. Thus, you will be more in control. This is an excellent strength training exercise; it will allow horses to use their back muscles, which will make them rounder. They will finally learn to respond faster to the rider’s cues.
Start by doing the exercise with your stirrups on and remove them when you feel comfortable enough.
1️⃣ Start by coming over this line at canter. Make sure to keep your horse straight. Always start with a comfortable height especially for the first 3 verticals (about 70/80 cm) to get your horse used to the device. The first time, do not hesitate to remove the ground pole. Once the device is mastered, put it back at 5 short strides (20-21 meters).
2️⃣ Gradually increase the height of the verticals as you go along with the exercise. Increase it ONLY if your horse and you are comfortable and do the exercise easily.
Keep your horse straight in the lines and let him execute good relaxed jumps. Once you crossed the last vertical, come back quickly, sit up straight and place your 5 short strides. Do not forget to look away. This is a good exercise for horses who need to gain agility in combinations. Be careful though, the exercise can be difficult on larger heights. Be vigilant and attentive.
3.3. Working the transitions on a serpentine
This exercise helps to improve the accuracy of inter-gait transitions. The difficulty here is to keep a precise and regular trail performing the transitions without hitting them.
Again, start this exercise with your stirrups on and remove them once comfortable.
1️⃣ Start by riding the 4-loop serpentine in order to get used to the trail.
2️⃣ Once the path is under control, start the transitions each time you pass the middle line. Start the serpentine at walk. At the end of the first loop, ask for a trot depart. Then at the end of the second loop, go back to walk and so on.
3️⃣ Start the serpentine at the trot then canter at the end of the first loop, trot at the end of the second loop and so on.
Do not forget to change leads! Be careful with the path, the loops must be of equal size.
What about you? What are your favorite exercises to do without stirrups?
See you soon for a new article,
The Seaver team