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How to Ride Without Stirrups

How to Ride Without Stirrups How to Dressage


Many riders view riding without stirrups as unnecessary torture!

However, gritting your teeth once a week or so and taking your irons away can really help to improve your riding.

Read on to find out how.

Why ride without stirrups?

In order for the horse to work efficiently, you must be an even load for him to carry.

Dressage asks that the horse is straight, works in balance and is supple through his back.  This is something that he will struggle with if his rider is not sitting evenly on top of him.

Riding without stirrups, provided the environment is safe, is an excellent way to check your balance and ensure you are allowing the horse to move freely underneath you.

Removing your stirrups allows you to find the deepest part of the saddle with your seat by lengthening the leg.  A deep seat enables you to sit in a more secure balance, whilst a longer leg allows you to give more subtle aids to your horse.

Your leg should be loosely wrapped around the horse with no tension or clamping.  If you clamp your upper leg tightly around the horse, you’ll stop the hind leg energy from traveling through to the bridle.

If you grip up with your knees, you will pivot forward onto your fork and your lower leg will come off.

You need to be able to communicate with your horse by using the subtle aids of your weight, back, seat, legs, and hand. This ability is referred to as having an ‘independent seat’.

If your balance is compromised, your signals can become very muddled and difficult for the horse to understand.

How to ride without stirrups

Make sure you are in a safe environment and that your horse is calm before you do any work without stirrups.

If you have someone to help you, lungeing can be a great way to concentrate on your position, without having to worry about what your horse is doing.

Begin by crossing your stirrups, right stirrup over your horse’s left shoulder, then left over right – they should be placed in front of the saddle, across the horse’s withers.

TIP: Slide the buckles down slightly so that they won’t dig into your thighs.

Walk your horse around the school, and try to make sure that you can feel both seat bones.

Sit up tall, look where you are going, and open your shoulders.

Take your whole leg away from the saddle, opening your hip and allowing your leg to hang long and loose.  You may need to hold the front of the saddle for this, but make sure you always pull up, rather than pushing down.  This will help to pull your seat deeper, instead of pushing it back.

Repeat this exercise until you feel that you have found the deepest part of the saddle and your legs are relaxed.

When you are comfortable in walk, you can start your trot work.

You may find initially that your legs start to grip up.  If this happens, either go back to walk, or take your reins in one hand, place two fingers of your free hand under the pommel, and pull up slightly.  This will allow you to have the confidence to relax into the trot.

Don’t do too much trot work if you feel you are tensing up.  Go back to walk, repeat the leg stretching exercises then try again.

The object of the exercise is that you can stay in balance, whilst your leg is free to communicate the subtle aids to the horse.

In conclusion

When it comes to working without stirrups to improve your seat, perseverance and practicing little and often is the key to success.

You will be surprised at how short your stirrups feel when you take them back, and you may even find that you eventually need to drop them a hole or two.

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  1. I love no stirrup work but find I’m not very stable if the horse speeds up or takes an unexpected turn – yikes! How can I stay with the horse in these moments?

    1. Hello and thank you for your question.

      Ideally, it would be best for you to practice your no-stirrup work on a quiet horse on the lunge. That way, you don’t have to worry about the horse speeding or turning unexpectedly. This will give you the chance to work on your own balance and independent seat which will make you better equipped for riding no-stirrups off the lunge.

      Alternatively, if that’s not an option, then you can put a neck strap on your horse which you can use to help balance yourself should the horse turn or speed up.

      Hope that helps.
      HTD x

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