I have committed myself to not one, but TWO No Stirrup November Challenges. And I must tell you, I am loving it! But that’s because the challenges have only been going on for about 6 days. Ask me again in a week. Then we will see how much I am loving it. I have been able to stay consistent with my scheduled plan of riding. But that hasn’t been too difficult because I have only had a handful of rides so far. But I am happy that I have been able to do it, and I thought it might be helpful to share some benefits of riding without stirrups for you.
A few years ago, if you would have asked me about the benefits of going sans stirrups, I would not have been able to give you any. Before I started participating in challenges like these, I didn’t really think about it. I never thought about it really. Well that is until I actually made a point to start doing it, intentionally.
And while last year most of my rides were without even the benefit of a saddle, this year I am riding with it. But riding bareback definitely has benefits too. But that really isn’t an option with Plezant. But I can tell you that losing my stirrups for even just a portion of my rides makes me feel more balanced, relaxed, and I feel my position does improve.
The Benefits of Riding Without Stirrups
So in no particular order, here are a few of the benefits you can gain by dropping those stirrups, even if it is just for a little bit of each ride.
Finding Your Balance
When you don’t have your stirrups to rely on, your body compensates by getting balanced. And if you are in a balanced seat, it will be easier for you to go with the rhythm of your horse.
From a walk, trot, and even canter you can be balanced on your horse all without the security of your stirrups. The canter is really good for balance, and actually, it is easier to go with the rhythm of your horse in a canter than it is in the trot, without stirrups that is. But the transitions can be tricky!
If you have never ridden without stirrups (or bareback) give it a try. You don’t have to get fancy and cross your stirrups just yet. Simply kick your feet out of the stirrups and take a lap or two around the ring without your stirrups. Just to see what it feels like.
Pay attention to how your body changes to compensate when you no longer have your stirrups to rely on. And yes, you can do this in western tack too.
Once you feel comfortable at the walk, try the trot. And once you are feeling balanced at the trot (and are very brave) give it a go at the canter. But remember, going in canter is easier, it’s just the downward transition you have to prepare for.
Legs of Steel
Oh yeah, this is why I like riding without stirrups! I’m sure you have seen the riders that their lower leg is like stuck to their horse’s sides. They are so perfect. This is what equitation dreams are made of. Their legs do not move through any transition of gaits. They appear to be permanently fixed, and never move. This is what I want my lower leg to be like.
It is pure perfection to watch a rider like this. And getting to this point can be encouraged by riding without stirrups. The balance comes first as well as control of the legs. And when you are riding without stirrups, you are actively using the muscles in a different way than you do with your stirrups.
Just make sure to remember not to grip with your knees, or thighs for that matter. But rely on the strength of your legs to compliment your balance while in the saddle will help to keep your lower leg quiet. Meaning, your lower leg doesn’t move all over the place while you are riding.
Improving Your Core
When you ride without stirrups, not only do you improve your leg strength, but you improve your abdominal muscles, as well as your back. These are your core muscles, or the muscles in the middle (or core) of your body.
Think of your spine, this is the core of your body right? And the core muscles you use while riding are in your belly, mid and lower back as well as your upper back and shoulders, and the muscles of your hips.
I can give you a good example of helping gain muscle strength, and improving an area from horseback riding, your hip flexors. Off and on I have had pain in my outer hip area. And at first, I thought maybe I had arthritis. Thankfully, I didn’t. But my hip flexors were weak and aggravated. Especially on my right side for some reason.
I got some exercises to do, and the pain got better. But then about 6 months later, it came back. I printed out the exercises again, but I also started riding more. And since riding with more intention I noticed that the pain in my hip got less and less. So by riding, I have been able to improve the strength of my hips! I would have never known unless I was having pain in the first place. And riding seemed to be the exercise that helped the most for me.
But this is just one example. Riding without stirrups helps you to engage all your core muscles. And if you haven’t done this before, start slowly and build up the time you ride without stirrups. Interval training works great!
Build Your Confidence
If you have had your confidence shaken from a fall, or a spook, I don’t have to tell you how your confidence can be shattered in an instant. And sometimes it take a long time to regain that level of confidence again. But I can also tell you that once you are able to balance in the tack, and have an idea of what your body is doing on top of your horse, your confidence begins to come back.
And this can be achieved simply from dropping your stirrups.
It may seem scary at first, but after you do it over and over again, you get comfortable with it. Last year this was me with riding bareback. Two years ago, I couldn’t tell you the last time I rode bareback. I could tell you when I rode without stirrups however. My riding instructor made me do it at every lesson, and I dreaded it. But after riding bareback, simply to try something different, the stirrup-less work was much easier. So for you, the act of going without your stirrups for a portion of every ride just might make a difference.
I know for myself, my confidence was restored simply from riding bareback. I believed in myself. I knew I could do it. All because I wanted to try something different. And last year, with Frisby I found I would rather ride bareback than in the tack. I can feel really feel my horse, and it helps me to concentrate and focus during my ride.
Improve Your Skills
As equestrians, we all want to be better riders. We compare ourselves to the staged photos we see on social media. We think we aren’t good enough, or we don’t have the best horse, tack, or whatever. But doing something about our own riding and focusing on ourselves is what is important.
This is when social media is a real downer. But by participating in a No Stirrups November challenge, and doing it for yourself, and improving your own skills I think you will be happy with your results. That is, if you commit to it!
The Benefits of Riding Without Stirrups
I don’t have the body I once did, nor the strength or balance. But I’m working on it. I am looking at myself to be a better rider instead of comparing myself to others. Which is why I am having so much fun during these challenges. I can see an improvement in myself. I am riding more. I am spending quality time with my horse. I am proud of myself for what I have accomplished so far.
And while I do watch the videos and see the perfect riders with their super quiet legs, I do understand that isn’t where I am yet, and that’s ok. What is important is I am happy. And these No Stirrups November challenges have helped me a lot. Which is why I really enjoy doing them.
Are you convinced yet? I’m not asking you to go bareback, or even remove your stirrups from your saddle. Just drop your stirrups, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Just try, give it a go. I think you might like it, I know I do.