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Look Ma, No Stirrups!

By Sharon Biggs

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Hunters and dressage riders often don't see eye to eye, but surprisingly in this case we do. Rising trot without stirrups is a fine thing—if and only if, a rider has mastered basic position. This is because riding without stirrups is meant to increase the rider's balance. Scott Hofstetter, top hunter rider, coach and judge from Ocala, Fla., points out that in the Medal and Maclay classes, riders are asked to jump a course without stirrups to show that they have good balance. So for someone who lacks good balance, working without stirrups is exhausting and difficult. Unbalanced riders will compensate and balance on the horse's mouth and/or grip tightly with their legs. Therefore, make sure you can check off the following before you cross your stirrups over:

  • Do you have good hands?
  • Can you balance without using your hands?
  • Do you have a steady, well-balanced seat?

When you do ride without stirrups, make sure that you stretch your leg down as much as possible. "I try to get a student to make their legs look like a dressage rider's-long, relaxed and wrapped around the horse's barrel," says Scott. Riding with scrunched-up legs will actually cause you to grip and hold on with your leg, rather than rely upon your seat for balance.

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