WRITTEN BY: Madison Durchslag
Whether you do Hunters, Jumpers, Eventing, Dressage, or anything in between no stirrup work can be a game-changer for your riding. In case you have never heard of this exercise, it is riding without your stirrups (as the name implies). You can cross your stirrups over the pommel of the saddle, remove them from the saddle, or simply just leave them be in their normal place (keep in mind the noise and movement of the stirrups clanking can spook certain horses).
What no stirrup work helps the most with is building strength. Since you no longer have your stirrups to keep you on the horse, you must engage your legs much more than you normally would, strengthening your legs. It also builds up the muscles in your core. Because you don't have the same stability in the saddle that you did when you had stirrups, it forces you to use your abdominal muscles to keep you centered on the horse, so it is also a great exercise to improve posture and balance. Those are just some of the benefits of no stirrup riding, most people will also find other ways, big and small, that their riding has improved from this exercise.
No stirrup riding isn't easy if it was people wouldn't see such transformative results. Keep in mind that you don't let your legs dangle off the side of the saddle, keep your legs in the position that it would be if the stirrups were there. It's best to start easy. Doing some light walk/trot work is a great way to start, and then adding onto that with cantering and jumping as you get more comfortable and confident without stirrups. When I do no stirrup work, I like to do a lap of walking, a few laps of alternating between sitting trot, posting trot, and leg yielding, then I give myself a walk break then do a few laps of cantering, during that I practice extending the canter and collecting it, and occasionally jumping with a trainer present. I would consult with your trainer to figure out a plan that works for you. Keep in mind that the plan will be evolving as you get better without your irons.
You also need to listen to your body. If you felt that your no stirrup lesson was easy, you weren't pushing yourself hard enough. If you can't walk for multiple days, maybe you pushed a little too hard. If you did it right then your legs should burn a little after the lesson, and you should be slightly sore the next day. Another tip for beginners is to not try and do multiple days of no stirrups in a row, give yourself breaks in between. Again listen to your body if it's been two days and your body feels up to the challenge, go ahead, if you need a week in the beginning, that's also fine.
You need to manage expectations, especially at the beginning. In theory, no stirrup work doesn't sound that hard, and people usually overestimate their abilities at the start, then become discouraged or embarrassed when they don't meet their initial goals. If this happens don't give up! honestly, no stirrup work is the hardest at the start, your body hurts and you don't see much progress the first few times you do it, but if you stick it out through the initial "purge", as I call it, you will see results.
I’ve been incorporating no stirrup work into my training for a year and these are some of the results I saw. The first picture is me a year ago, and the second is from a few weeks ago.
The first thing I noticed was that since my core was stronger I didn't throw my shoulders at the jump to keep me in place. I also noticed that since my leg was stronger, I didn't need to turn my heels out as much to get a response from my horse. There are so many more things I could list that no stirrup work improved, and it’s important to mention that some of the progress I saw was just from more time in the saddle, but no stirrup work has made such a difference in my riding and I hope it helps improve yours as well.
Here are some links to other articles on No Stirrup work that I highly recommend you check out: