I have been participating in not only one, but TWO No Stirrup November Challenges. And I must tell you, I wish I would have done this sooner. I really didn’t think about the benefits of riding without stirrups, until I actually made a point to start doing it. Intentionally.
And many of my rides have been without a saddle too. And then when I do put on my saddle, I can feel a difference. I feel more balanced, relaxed, and I feel my position has improved. Simply from riding bareback or without stirrups. I never thought that would be possible, but it is.
So I thought I would share some benefits to riding without stirrups (or a saddle) with you.
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.
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.
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 perfect! 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.
You don’t want to grip with your knees, or thighs for that matter. But relying on the strength of your legs to compliment your balance while in the saddle will help to keep your lower leg quiet. Meaning, it doesn’t move all over the place while you are riding.
Looking For 6 Pack Abs
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 starting my bareback rides 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 the bareback 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 of your core muscles. And if you haven’t done this before, start slow and build up the time you ride without stirrups. Interval training works great!
Level Up 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 sometime 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 it can happen simply from dropping your stirrups, or riding bareback.
It may seem scary at first, but after you do it over and over again, you get comfortable with it. 6 months ago, I couldn’t tell you the last time I rode bareback. I could tell you when I rode without stirrups. 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.
My confidence was restored. I believed in myself. I knew I could do it. All because I wanted to try something different. Now 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.
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 doing this challenge. 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 images, I realize that isn’t important. What is important is I am happy. And this No Stirrups November challenge has helped me soooo much! I only wish I would have done it sooner!
The only treatment for my PTSD which has been enormously effective has been equine therapy. I have been riding for well over 20 years and my 2 horses have accepted me and meet me at the gate every morning. Thank you for your wonderful articles and your understanding of horses.