Reflecting On A Month Without Stirrups


stirrupsNovember has been, most profoundly associated with men refusing to shave their faces for the whole month of November resulting in what may be, the largest number of somewhat irritated and unhappy women we have all year. Since I am not the sort to “join in” by refusing to shave my legs, I decided to jump into the equestrian trend of, “No Stirrups November”. While November is over, I think this post will give us something to both reflect on, and work towards.

My golden rule for a full month without stirrups:

Stirrups come completely off the saddle and stay in my apartment.

This may seem aggressive, however, if temptation is removed, the work begins.

A fellow blogger, Terise Cole, recently published a post reviewing the Pros and Cons to losing your stirrups for the full month of November. I strongly encourage you to take a look at her post if you have an extra minute. If you’re short on time, this just about sums up the big points on her list;

Pros:

Strengthens Leg

Improve Position/Equitation

Improves Balance

Cons:

Rider Muscle Soreness

Horse Muscle Soreness [through the back]

Inconsistency

I fully agree with what she says, and for this post, I’d like to dive into a bit more detail.

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Before we start, I’d like to tell you my first true experience without my stirrups. I was thirteen years old and had been accepted into the Ethel Walker School for their middle school program in 8th-grade. However, because of my riding level, I rode with the high school time and competed in the IEA shows. My trainer was Linda Langmeier and I drew a horse for my flat class that had trouble with its leads. I was so nervous that I ended up cantering around the entire flat class on the wrong lead. Upon exiting the show ring, a 7-year-old McKayla Langmeier (this years’ Maclay winner), told me exactly what I had done wrong. For the rest of the month, the entire equestrian team at Ethel Walker School had to relinquish their stirrups; all because of me. Needless to say, we all got very good at no stirrup work by the end of it and I certainly learned my lesson.

It’s important to note that we were a rare group of girls in a rigid, competitive program, who all wanted to compete and win. If there was pain, if we fell, if we struggled, it just meant we were getting better; stronger; and more capable of winning.

That first month that I rode without stirrups checked all of Terise’s boxes in the pro column, and many of the cons as well.

My legs were stronger – so much so that I was a better rider without stirrups than I was with them. I began to sit deeper and connect better with my horse – the distances to our fences began working out better and our flat work improved immensely.

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During an interview with the Chronicle of the Horse, George Morris explains,

The primary benefit is to develop your seat. Also, it improves what I call the ability to “stick” to a horse. In the classical riding schools of Europe, riders were required to ride without stirrups for the first three years they were there.

I know that I can absolutely feel a greater connection to my horse when riding without stirrups and many times, am a more effective rider.

This year, I kept up my tradition by removing my stirrups for the entire month. However, towards the end, I began to develop a bruised tailbone and realized that my rides were becoming shorter. It got to the point where I was working harder than my horse was. Here is where Terise’s, “con column”, started to appear. Both my horse and I were getting sore muscles and having inconsistent rides.

With November in the rearview mirror, I believe that a key theme has begun to take shape; balance. Balance is so important in life, in love, in business, and with horses. Remember, riding is both physically and intellectually challenging. While riding without stirrups is extremely helpful to improve yourself as a rider, doing it once a week is much better than pushing your body too far and becoming ineffective.

I’m not one to skip out on a challenge or miss out on the fun, so I will continue to improve my no stirrup work, in a balanced way, and prepare for next November!

George Morris’ Recommendation:

I ride without stirrups once a week, and that’s what I recommend for riders of all levels. Start with 15 or 20 minutes at a time and build up. I ride for a full session of at least 45 minutes once a week.

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