Struggling with balance?
It might be your stirrups.
I’ve taught countless students who improved dramatically with a simple stirrup adjustment.
So keep reading to find out how to get it just right.
I have shared a few helpful videos in the post, but towards the bottom of the page there is a video by Amelia that sums up much of what I share in the article.
Why Proper Stirrup Length Matters
Stirrup length isn’t just a detail; it’s a basic element that impacts your riding posture, your balance and your horse’s comfort.
In this section, we’ll unpack why getting it right is so important for a safe and effective ride.
The Importance of Balance
The right stirrup length is vital for keeping your balance in check. If you’ve ever felt like you’re tipping forward or backward in the saddle, your stirrups might just be the reason.
You want to aim for that ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment. (I like to imagine building blocks where each part stacks over the other.)
Too long, and you’ll find yourself reaching for the stirrups with your toes, throwing off that alignment and causing you to ride heel-up.
This messes with your stability and makes it hard to stay secure.
Nailing the Position
A correct and effective riding position is easier to maintain with the right stirrup length.
Aids and Communication
Let’s talk leg aids. In dressage, you’ll need longer stirrups for the longer saddle flaps and more upright position.
In jumping, shorter stirrups are the way to go, for better balance over the jumps.
This isn’t just a style thing; it’s about the right length for clear communication and balance with your horse for the activity you are doing.
Your leg aids are your direct line to your horse, so don’t make it harder to communicate with the wrong stirrup length.
Comfort for Both Rider and Horse
Your comfort matters, but so does your horse’s.
Believe it or not, the length of your stirrups affects your horse’s comfort too.
You will ride in better balance which means less bouncing and landing softer on the horses back.
If needed a shorter stirrup length can lighten your seat, putting more weight into your legs and making it easier for the horse to use its back.
This is super beneficial for young or restarted horses, or those a bit tight over the back (but don’t ride a horse in pain).
Too Long, Too Short: What Happens?
If you’ve ridden with too long stirrups, you probably know the struggle of clearing the saddle’s pommel in a rising trot.
You’re basically just standing on the balls of your feet and this can also result in a loose, swinging lower leg, especially in a jump or close contact saddle. Often this results in using the reins for balance.
On the flip side, a too-short stirrup disrupts your leg’s effectiveness and can even throw you into a chair seat position (though keep in mind different things can cause chair seat position).
This means you sit further back in the saddle, putting more weight on the weaker part of the horse’s back. It’s uncomfortable for you and the horse, and your muscles tire quickly.
The Goldilocks Zone
Aim for stirrups that feel “just right.” When you get them to a point that they feel they are, you’ll notice it’s easier to maintain posture and engage your lower legs properly.
More on how to measure the correct length for general riding soon. Keep in mind your Goldilocks zone may differ depending on horse width, and loose or tight your legs are.
Basics of English Stirrup Anatomy
This section is just so you know the names of the parts involved with the stirrups. We will go over the terms along with some brief descriptions so you know what they are.
This is mainly for the beginners who are new to horse tack, but it can be a review for any rider.
What Makes Up a Stirrup: Key Parts
- Stirrup: Stirrups are the part of your saddle that holds your feet while you’re riding. They hang down from the saddle by straps called stirrup leathers. Your stirrups are more than just foot holders; they help you control your horse and keep your balance. They also make it easier to do specific riding styles like endurance riding, jumping or dressage (sticking to english riding in this post).
- Stirrup Leather: Stirrup leathers are very important. These are the straps that connect your stirrups to the saddle. You can adjust them to fit your leg length just right. They come in different lengths and materials. For example, some are made from full leather, while others are nylon wrapped in leather or synthetic material all together.
- Stirrup Bar: Attached securely to the saddle’s tree located under a little flap on the sides of the pommel, this solid metal piece is where the stirrup leathers hang from. It acts like a fulcrum, balancing your body weight.
- Stirrup Iron: The actual part where you put your foot is called the stirrup iron. This is usually a loop with a flat base where your foot rests. These also come in a bunch of types like classic Fillis irons, quick-release irons, and more.
- Tread: The flat part of the stirrup iron where your foot goes. Treads often have textured designs to keep your foot from slipping. This can be swapped out.
- Stirrup Pad: This is another name for a type of tread. Some stirrups have a pad for extra comfort and shock absorption, usually made of rubber or synthetic material.
- Stirrup Keeper: A small loop or strap on the saddle keeps excess stirrup leather from getting in the way.
Types of Stirrup Irons
- Traditional Fillis Irons: These are the durable, stainless-steel classics.
- Quick-Release Irons: Designed with safety in mind, these have a breakaway feature for falls.
- Flexible & Composite Irons: These are lightweight and comfy, great for riders who want a little more give in their stirrup.
How To Adjust The Stirrup Length
In order to get the right stirrup length first you need to actually know how to adjust the stirrup leathers. I shared a couple YouTube videos to help you understand a little bit better and have some visuals.
Adjust the Leather
Take the end strap of the leather and pull it down to reveal the buckle. Shift the buckle to adjust the stirrup length. Pick a hole and remember the number.
Video On Adjusting Stirrups On The Ground
Here is a video that demonstrates adjusting the stirrups, along with getting a baseline length from the ground.
On The Horse
You can either put your leg over the front of the saddle while adjusting or move your leg back out of the way.
I find it easier to put your leg in front of the saddle but you will want to have someone hold your horse if you are not experienced.
Video On Adjusting Stirrups In The Saddle
Here is a video that demonstrates adjusting the stirrups safely while you are mounted on the horse.
If the leathers don’t have enough holes for a shorter length:
- Undo the buckle and twist the leather around the stirrup iron.
- Bring it back up and secure it in the top hole or one down.
How To MeASURE cORRECT sTIRRUP lENGTH
Great, you’ve learned the stirrup basics and how to adjust them. Now let’s get into making sure they’re the perfect length for you.
Before You Begin
- Secure Your Horse: Make sure your horse is secure, whether someone is holding the reins or they are tied safely.
- Check the Saddle: Ensure your saddle is on correctly and evenly on the horse’s back.
Different Ways to Measure
Let’s go over the two main ways to measure. First on the ground and then in the saddle.
The Arm-Length Method
- On the Ground: Before you mount the horse, stand next to it.
- Arm’s Length: Extend your arm with your fingers to the stirrup bar and grasp the stirrup with your other hand. Pull it taut alongside your arm. The stirrup should ideally reach your armpit. (Some people do fists instead of open hand with extended fingers. Do fits for shorter length and open hand for slightly longer.)
- Why This Works: Using your arm length gets you close to the right stirrup length. Fine-tune once you’re on the horse, especially if your arm and leg lengths differ. Have longer or shorter arms vs legs is normal, which is why it is only an estimate.
The Ankle-Bone Method
- Mounted: Once you’re in the saddle, let your feet hang out of the stirrups.
- Alignment: The bottom of the stirrup should align with your ankle bone.
- Adjust: If it doesn’t align, adjust the stirrup length one hole at a time. You may find your stirrups are uneven with this method. If so it may end up being your legs are uneven which often comes from your pelvis being unlevel or tightness. You may need some chiropractic help and stretching exercises.
Fine-Tuning Your Stirrup Length
- Regular Checks: Leathers stretch over time. Keep an eye on it and adjust as needed. Usually the stirrup you put more weight in gets stretched longer and the holes become uneven.
- Different Horses: If you switch between a wide-bodied horse and a slender one, you’ll need to change the length. Usually you would have to shorten your stirrups with a narrower horse coming from a wider horse.
- Type of Riding: Planning to jump? Go for shorter stirrups. Engaging in dressage? You will need longer stirrups.
- Get Help: It’s good to have someone, like a friend or instructor, when you are a beginner to adjust the stirrups for you while you are mounted on the horse.
Closer Look At Stirrup Length Mistakes
Taking a closer look at stirrup length mistakes is key to better, safer riding.
Let’s talk about what goes wrong when your stirrups are too short or uneven, and how to fix it.
The Problem with Short Stirrups
Short stirrups put you in a tight, tense position. You’ll fatigue quickly because your leg muscles have to work harder. The extra tension in your legs isn’t fun for your horse, either.
Issues with Short Stirrups:
- High Center of Gravity: With short stirrups, you rise too much during a trot. That makes you unsteady and easier to tip over.
- Stressful for Horse: When your stirrups are too short, your weight is shifted to the back, putting extra stress on weaker parts of your horse’s back. Imagine carrying a backpack all wrong—it’s no fun for you or the horse.
- Locked Position: Short stirrups can lead to ‘locked’ knees and less effective leg aids. Your leg becomes less fluid, meaning you can’t communicate as well with your horse.
Solutions for Short Stirrups:
- Take Baby Steps: Don’t go lowering your stirrups by five holes at once. Start with one hole and feel the difference.
- Armpit Rule (quick review): Here’s a quick pre-ride check. Lift the stirrup with your fist or fingers outstretched at the stirrup bar so that its base touches your armpit. If it’s much shorter, it’s likely too short for riding.
Remember, riding with stirrups that are too short can also force you into a chair seat, making both you and your horse work harder than necessary.
The Hassles of Long Stirrups
Long stirrups make it hard to maintain proper riding posture. Your legs will feel disconnected from your riding, causing balance issues.
- Rein Reliance: Unsteady because of long stirrups? Chances are, you’re yanking those reins for balance. Your horse doesn’t appreciate their face or mouth being a balancing aid.
- Pommel Bumps: Hitting the saddle’s pommel during a rising trot is more than awkward. It’s a surefire sign that your stirrups are too long.
- Small Adjustments: Similar to short stirrups, move them up one hole at a time and gauge how it feels.
- The Ankle Check: A quick way to check is by letting your feet dangle; the stirrup should be aligned with your ankle bone.
Long stirrups not only make you wobble, but they also make you resort to pulling the reins for balance. This isn’t a comfortable situation for you or your horse. By being mindful of your stirrup length, you’re already on the path to a more secure and effective ride.
The Chaos of Uneven Stirrups
Uneven stirrups might look like a minor issue, but they’re a recipe for trouble. They mess up your balance and give your horse mixed signals.
- Bad Weight Distribution: It’s not just you—your horse feels the imbalance too.
- Muscle Imbalance: Over time, you risk developing muscular imbalances because of the skewed posture.
- Visual Double-Check: Before mounting, make sure both stirrups are at the same level.
- Trust Your Gut: If something feels off while riding, it likely is. Check the stirrups.
- Chiropractor: If you are the one who is uneven, you may benefit from working with a chiropractor, it may be coming from your pelvis being out of whack.
Tips for Everyone
- Alignment: Keep your ear, shoulder, hip, and heel in a straight line when seated.
- Discipline Matters: Jumping requires shorter stirrups; dressage or cutting, a bit longer.
- Regular Checks: New saddle? New stirrups? Time to re-measure!
Understanding and fixing stirrup length issues is crucial for a comfortable and effective ride. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be on the path to better, safer riding.
Video On Stirrups and Length
Amelia Newcomb’s video sums up much of what I shared in this post and even provides some extra insight and tips.
The length of your stirrups is no small thing; it’s about your comfort, safety, and how well you ride. Get it wrong, and you’re in for some awkward and even risky moments.
Get it right, and you’re setting yourself up for a smooth, secure ride.
To sum it up, the perfect stirrup length will help you nail your riding position. Whether it’s English or any other style, it matters. Too long and you’re losing control; too short, and you’re stressing both you and your horse.
Aim for the “Goldilocks Zone” where your stirrups are just right, lined up with your ankle bones.
So what can you do now?
Next time you saddle up, take a minute to check and adjust your stirrups. Use the arm-length method as a starting point, but remember to fine-tune. Keep an eye on how you feel and how your horse responds.
Before you go, ponder this: The right stirrup length is a simple adjustment, but it can be a game-changer for your riding experience.
Isn’t it worth that extra minute to get it right? Happy riding, everyone! 🐎
Stirrup Length FAQs: Your Top Questions Answered
What are the signs of incorrect stirrup length?
Signs of incorrect stirrup length include difficulty keeping your heels down and reaching for the stirrups with your toes, which indicates they’re too long.
If your knees are near your chest, they’re too short. Incorrect length can affect your balance, make riding harder, and even cause back pain.
How often should I check my stirrup length?
Check your stirrup length every time you ride. Different horses and saddles can affect the ideal length.
As you gain more experience, your preferred length may also change. A quick check can save you discomfort and improve your ride.
Is there a universal stirrup length for all types of riding?
Is there a universal stirrup length for all types of riding? No, there’s no universal stirrup length. Different riding styles like dressage and jumping require different lengths.
Even within the same style, you might adjust the length based on specific activities. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation.
What are the risks of riding with the wrong stirrup length?
Riding with the wrong length is a safety risk. Too long and you lose leg control. Too short and you become unstable.
This increases your chances of falling and can be unfair to your horse, potentially leading to long-term issues like joint pain for both of you.
What’s the best way to measure stirrup length?
Start with the “arm method”: hold the stirrup to your armpit and see if it aligns with your ankle.
Or mount your horse, let your legs hang, and check if the stirrup reaches your ankle bone. Fine-tune based on your comfort and riding discipline.
How do stirrup types affect length?
There was a study done, where riders tended to adjust their stirrup leathers to a shorter length when they switched to using flexible stirrups, and even more so with stirrups that were both flexible and rotatable.
This is in contrast to the longer length they were accustomed to with traditional stirrups—the kind that don’t bend or rotate known as fillis stirrups.
It seems that the additional movement allowed by the flexible and rotatable stirrups encourages riders to shorten the leathers for a better fit and greater control compared to the static nature of traditional stirrups.