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How Long Should Your Stirrups Be?

How Long Should Your Stirrups Be How to dressage

Every dressage rider aspires to have the classical long ‘dressage leg’, but this simply isn’t possible or practical for everyone.

So, how long should your stirrups be?

Read on to find out more.

Consider your horse

The first consideration when setting your ideal stirrup length is your horse.

If you’re riding a youngster or a horse that’s recently been re-started, you should ride with a slightly shorter stirrup length.  This is because a shorter stirrup allows you to lighten your seat, enabling the horse to use his back more easily.

For this reason, horses that have a tendency to be tight over the back often benefit from being ridden in a lighter seat, so you might want to consider keeping your stirrups a little shorter if your horse fits this description.

Rider ability

At the start of their dressage career, many riders immediately drop their stirrups by a couple of holes, thinking that they need to do so in order to ‘look the part’.

However, dropping your stirrups too soon could mean that you are forced to grip with your knees or thighs in order to keep your balance.

This position automatically de-stabilizes your seat, brings your lower leg away from your horse, and encourages you to tip forwards and point your toes down.  You might even find yourself using the reins for balance; not good!

In order to lengthen your leg comfortably and effectively, you’ll need to work on developing your strength, suppleness, and a truly independent seat.

Rider anatomy

Another very important consideration when it comes to stirrup length is the anatomy of the individual rider concerned.

All too often, riders are instructed to fix their legs so that their shoulder, hip, and heel are all perfectly aligned, and although this is the correct position for dressage, it can be extremely difficult for those whose own conformation won’t allow it!

The best strategy is to work on the principle that the tip of your toe should be directly in front of your knee.  This allows you to achieve a comfortable and effective knee angle without pitching forward, leaning backwards or destabilizing your seat.

Are your stirrups the right length?

When trying to decide if you currently have your stirrups the right length, consider the following:

  • In rising trot, do you feel that you are standing at the top of the rise? The angle of your hip should be completely open at this point in the movement.  If you feel that you are somehow inhibited, look at your position and stirrup length; you could be riding a hole too short.
  • Are you able to comfortably swing your hips open in sitting trot and canter? If you find that you need to lean forward in order to be able to follow the horse’s movement, you are probably riding too short.
  • Do you find that your stirrup irons slide off the balls of your feet or that your feet sometimes rattle around in your irons as soon as you put your horse into trot or canter? This is a clear indication that you are trying to ride too long.
  • Do you have trouble keeping your heels down comfortably without losing your stirrups or do you have a tendency to point your toes down? Try shortening your leathers by one hole; you’re probably riding too long.

In conclusion

When deciding if your stirrups are the right length, the most important considerations are your horse’s comfort and your own effectiveness as a rider.

Never be tempted to try to ride with longer stirrups just so that you look more like a dressage rider!

It is possible to gradually lengthen your leg, but this takes much time and practice, and no dressage judge will mark you down just because you ride a little shorter than the perfect ‘dressage leg’ stereotype!

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