Riding without stirrups is probably one of the best things we can do to improve our riding skills. It helps to clean up equitation, strengthen the legs and core, improve the seat, and increase confidence. It hurts, but it is worth it. When I was a kid, I was frequently tortured by my trainers with no stirrup lessons. I remember being made to post the trot without stirrups around and around and around the arena. I thought those lessons would never end. My legs burned so badly that I wanted to cry, but I just kept going because horse people never cried back then! Once I reached adulthood, trainers did not torture me quite as much; and when I worked as a trainer I did not have anyone to make me drop my irons. It was not because I no longer needed it, but simply that adult riders are often not pushed as hard as kids, and trainers must be self-motivated to improve. I still always have ridden without stirrups from time to time because the benefits are far greater than the discomfort, and no matter good we get there is always room for improvement.
My lower leg gets a little loose, and my position can get a little too forward, at times. Riding without stirrups helps me to keep my equitation in check. It also helps me to stay solid over the jumps.
Chance does not always move off of my leg well, and can be a little sloppy with his body. Dropping my stirrups allows me to really get a feel for what his body is doing, and better communicate with him. It also helps me to have a better seat when I have my feet in the irons. Like many hunter riders, I can have the tendency to hover in the saddle; and on a hot, sensitive horse this can cause problems. When my shoulder gets ahead of him, he wants to go faster and gets a little strung out. I must use my seat to settle him; for he also does not like to be pulled on. Sitting in the saddle helps me to find better distances, and he stays quieter and more balanced.
As for increasing rider confidence, riding without stirrups is amazing – especially on a hot, sensitive horse. I learn to trust my own body. When I ride around without stirrups, I feel more solid when I have them and I know that I am capable of staying on. It seems silly, but sometimes we can forget that we know how to stay on our horses. Dropping our stirrups can remind us that it takes a lot more than a little spook or half buck to throw us off!
I am trying to drop my stirrups once a week, even for just five minutes. I am also trying to post the trot some while I do it – which is oh so painful. I have already felt improvement in my riding. What do you say, will you join me in dropping the irons?!
Have a great weekend everyone!