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Your stirrup length - what is too long, too short, just right?

Jul 15, 2021

The correct stirrup length is very important and will help you greatly with your position and balance when riding. When your stirrups are the correct length, you can fully utilise the dip and spring function of the joints in your legs (rider biomechanics in action). This will be particularly felt in trot but also in canter.

You can see that as the seat leaves the saddle, the heels drop slightly. This is what should happen as the weight of the rider transfers from the seat to the feet. This cannot happen if the stirrups are too long.


Your stirrups - when are they too long?

Many riders tend to ride with their stirrups too long rather than too short. This can be because they want their legs to look as long as possible.

In the second diagram, the heels rise as the seat rises (in a rising trot), which is incorrect. This is because the stirrups are not short enough to allow the heels to drop slightly at the same time as the seat leaves the saddle.

If your stirrups are too long, you will also be unable to clear the saddle's pommel (in rising trot). Therefore you will either hit it each time you rise, or you will be unable to swing your hips far forward enough.

Your lower legs (in rising trot, sitting trot and canter) will be 'disengaged' when your heel is higher than your toe because as soon as the heel comes higher than the toe, the lower leg 'disengages'.

When your heel is higher than your toe, you are standing on 'tip-toe' (or rather the balls of your feet), and you are in a very precarious position.

You will also lose your balance more easily and tend to rely on the reins for stability.

In sitting trot and canter, the stirrups will either 'clatter' around on your feet, or you will lose them altogether.



How can you learn more about rider biomechanics?

Sign up for this FREE 23-page PDF checklist 10 Common Position and Balance Checks for Riders. Start learning how to be the best rider you can be.



Your stirrups - when are they too short?

If the stirrups are too short several things tend to happen:

The rider will tend to sit further back in the saddle; this can put too much weight on the weaker part of the horse's back (the back gets weaker the further it goes from the withers).

The rider will tend to rise too high in rising trot; this means that their centre of gravity will be too high when they are at the top of the rise, making them less secure.

The rider will tend to tire more quickly, making it more difficult for their horse to carry them.

Stirrups that are too short are much less common because a rider tires more quickly when they are too short.

The muscles in the legs have to work a bit harder, and the joints ache quite quickly due to being too constricted. So riders tend to self-regulate stirrups that are too short.


Your stirrups – when are they 'just right'?

When your stirrups are just right you will feel more comfortable and secure. You should be able to rise to the trot for quite a long time without feeling tired (once you are riding fit) and without pain occurring (especially outside the ankle joint).

Your thigh should be at about 45 degrees to upright (for riding ‘on the flat,’ i.e. not jumping).

Possibly slightly less (40 degrees) for a very experienced rider.

The correct stirrup length helps you ride as well as possible by allowing you to have the right amount of bend in your joints.

So how can you tell if your stirrups are the correct length for you?

As a general rule of thumb, the bottom of your stirrup irons should be level with your ankle bones when you take your feet out of the stirrups.

Another (even more) general rule of thumb that you can use before you mount is to put your knuckles on the stirrup bar (the metal bar that the stirrup leather threads onto) and, with your other hand, lift the stirrup iron itself and see if the base of it reaches to your armpit.

Both of these methods give you a ‘ball park’ figure.

To get a more accurate result, when mounted, try standing in your stirrups while your horse is either stationary or walking, let your heels drop slightly, and your seat should be able to just clear the pommel (front) of the saddle.

You will need to re-evaluate when you start to trot.

If you suspect that your stirrups are too long (they often are), experiment with taking them up just one hole at a time and see what a difference it makes to the engagement of your lower leg in particular.



Learning about how to keep your lower legs ‘engaged’ underneath you, improving the stability of your lower legs, and improving your position and balance are at the heart of The Horse Rider’s Mechanic books and Horse Rider's Mechanic online course



How can you learn more about rider biomechanics?

Sign up for this FREE 23-page PDF checklist 10 Common Position and Balance Checks for Riders. Start learning how to be the best rider you can be.


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