There are many reasons November is my most unfavorite month of the year. In Vermont, it means needing a flashlight to find the car when I get out of work. It means cold but no snow to play in. It means short days but just as much to do.
In our horsey world, this time of year also means No Stirrups November, a form of self-torture in the name of improvement. The thing is, as much as it may leave you hobbling around the next day, riding sans stirrups really IS an effective way to find a better feel and a more balanced seat.
In her classic book ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, Olympian Anne Kursinski discusses the importance of regularly schooling without stirrups, not only on the flat, but over jumps, too.
“Jumping without stirrups is an exercise I recommend for two reasons,” she says. “One, of course, is that it’s an insurance policy. Everybody loses a stirrup at least once or twice in a riding career; if it happens, you want to be able to continue riding without losing your position, your composure, or your chance at a ribbon if you’re in the show ring (where, in observance of Murphy’s Law, you just might be). But the other—and the really important reason—is what it does for your balance. Like riding your horse on the flat without stirrups, jumping without stirrups is a great way to solidify your balance, so that you never find yourself getting ahead of your horse and jumping up his neck.
“Don’t try jumping without stirrups before you’re ready, though,” Kursinski warns. “If the idea terrifies you, just continue with your regular work for a while longer. Eventually you’ll build the confidence to give it a try.
“A good way to begin is to go down a line using your stirrups, and then drop them after the last fence, so that you ride your turn or circle without irons. The moment you take your feet out of the irons, you’ll feel yourself riding more ‘with’ your horse, the best antidote in the world for riders who habitually want to make a move up the neck. Your hips and seat will relax and begin following his back better. Your legs will feel longer, and your lower leg will stay quieter at his side.
“Ride just the turn or circle without irons until you’ve established your balance enough that you feel secure. Then remove the stirrups from your saddle, so that they don’t bang your horse’s sides, and try a single fence without them. As you feel more confident, you can increase the number of fences.
“Start with a simple, straight line. Ride the line once with your stirrups and drop them as you land from the second fence. Immediately you’ll sink into the saddle and have a following seat. This really helps your balance. Circling after the fence will help you bring your horse together. Feel how much more effective you are when you’re sitting down on him this way. My horses usually go better when I ride without stirrups, because I naturally sit more correctly.
“When I jump a fence with the stirrups removed, my balance and my firm leg keep my position secure; I don’t need to lean on my horse’s mouth to pull me over the fence. My position looks the same with or without stirrups.
“Gradually work up from a single fence to a simple line and then to the more complicated ones. Finish by jumping a small course without stirrups, as riders in equitation classes are sometimes asked to do. The more you can feel that your balance and your ability to stay with your horse are all yours, not dependent on supports like stirrups and reins, the more secure and effective a rider you’ll be.”
ANNE KURSINKSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC has just been released in an updated edition with full-color photographs. Order it now from the TSB online bookstore, and you’ll receive 20% off plus free shipping in the US!
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