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Question of the Week: The Long and Short of English Stirrups

My stirrups never feel like they're the right length. How do I fix this?

20-Jul-10

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The stirrups on an English saddle can take adjusting to over timeQ: I’ve ridden western for years and just bought an English saddle so I can enjoy riding both styles. But I can’t get comfortable with the length of the stirrups on my English saddle. They either feel too long or too short, and sometimes they feel uneven. How do I fix this problem?

A: Even though the basics of western and English riding are the same, the difference in stirrup length can take some getting used to, especially if you’re switching back and forth. Not only do your muscles get conditioned to a certain feel, but an English saddle’s construction and shorter stirrup length alters your seat to a more forward position. Eventually, though, you’ll feel at home in both saddles.

The tried and true method of finding the correct length in an English saddle is to sit in the deepest part of your saddle (that’s directly behind the pommel) and allow your legs to relax and hang down, against your horse’s sides. The bar of the stirrup iron (the step where you rest the ball of your foot) should bump against your ankle bone. To make sure your stirrups are even, have a friend stand directly in front of your horse’s shoulders and eyeball the irons from head-on. If necessary, carefully punch a new hole in the stirrup leather to align your irons evenly, however, don’t go overboard. Too many holes will cause your leathers to stretch, once again making one longer than the other.

Finally, if your stirrups start out even but begin to feel uneven as you ride, check the tightness of your girth. A loose girth can cause your saddle to shift to one side. Plus, if you habitually place more weight in one iron than the other, your saddle will tilt toward that side. That can also give you the sensation that your stirrups are uneven. Ironically, lots of work without stirrups will help you adjust to your new English saddle. As you rely less and less on your stirrups for security, their length will become less of an issue.

--Cindy Hale

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Question of the Week: The Long and Short of English Stirrups

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Reader Comments

Briana    Honey Brook, PA

11/17/2013 11:45:08 AM

Thanks :)

Sammy    Wasilla, AK

6/22/2013 1:32:05 PM

Wow! I have this problem all the time! its great to know ow to fix it!

Jane    San Franscico, CA

1/4/2012 6:45:19 PM

I had this same problem but when I was just flatting around the arena I had my stirrups a little bit longer, but when I jump I shorten my stirrups a hole or two. If they still uneven try tightening up your girth. You can also try to punch new holes into your stirrup leathers to make them feel more even.

betty    longview, IL

10/21/2010 2:02:37 PM

This is good advice, but it creates a problem. English leathers (the ones made OUT of leather) stretch. Most people mount on the near (left hand) side of the horse, and that leather stretches first. After awhile your left stirrup leather will become longer and uneven. Most English riders simply switch sides of the stirrups and their leathers. Another thing to do is to often mount your horse on the off, or right hand side, to keep your leathers even. Be sure to train your horse to do this, since they physically need to understand all skills on each side of their body. The only reason that we mount on the left side is that soldiers (from the Romans on) carried a sword inside a scabbard which hung on the left side of their belt. It was impossible to mount the horse from the right hand side with the scabbard, and even more difficult since they mounted/rode without any stirrups (a Mongolian invention.)
In addition, the comment about measuring from your armpit to the stirrup bar is correct, as well as using your ankle bone to fit just above the stirrup, as a standard, average length. Please remember that the arm measurement does not work on a Western saddle, and that there are other saddles that people ride where this adjustment will not help you. My DH and I ride McClellan saddles, and I cannot measure my stirrup length by using my arm.

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