How to Do No Stirrup November the Right Way (and Keep Your Horse’s Back Happy)
Well, folks. It’s here. The photos of stirrup-less saddles and Instagram hashtags and general thigh-sore angst will start hitting your feeds in 5, 4, 3, 2…
No Stirrup November started with the best of intentions: riders aim to spend a month diligently improving their leg and seat by riding sans stirrups. But the question must be asked: Will riding every November day with your stirrups locked in your tack trunk turn you into a Maclay-ready wizard whose leg never slips? Or, will it make your horse a little annoyed, maybe a bit ring sour, or worse – back sore?
We tapped three top riders and trainers to get their honest thoughts on No Stirrup November. Turns out, there’s a right way, and a wrong way, to do this hellish month.
Sam Walker, Forest Hill Training Center in Caledon, Ontario
“I think No Stirrup November is a perfect way to improve rider balance and leg position while on the horse. It is an extremely difficult thing to master. Long term, it will help your riding improve tremendously!
That being said, there are a few things you must consider when starting the month of No Stirrup November. Starting with full lessons without stirrups right off the bat might not make for the most enjoyable experience for you and your horse!
A few things that I like to do when doing the No Stirrup November challenge are:
1. Start with interval training. Maybe 5 minutes without stirrups, and then 5 minutes with stirrups. Once you feel confident enough, then you may go for longer and longer as the month goes on.
2. Once you feel yourself maintaining proper balance without your stirrups, you can start jumping poles and get a feeling for what jumping without your stirrups should feel like.
3. As you learn to master proper balance while jumping poles on the ground, nearing the end of the month, you may feel confident enough to jump small jumps or even a course without stirrups. One of our favourite exercises to do at Forest Hill during No Stirrup November is to jump courses of poles without stirrups. Our students (and myself) notice a measurable difference once November is over!”
Missy Clark, North Run Stables in Warren, Vt.
“I think any work without stirrups is helpful, but it’s work which is focused on the rider.
I think if you’re focusing on the needs of your horse, working endlessly without stirrups probably isn’t conducive for the best outcome for your horse’s needs. Like everything in life, and especially with horses, moderation is the key! I think amateur or junior riders can incorporate work without stirrups frequently when riding their horses... but perhaps add that work towards the end of your flat or jumping session instead of starting straight off with it. This way your horse is hopefully a bit more relaxed, focused and supple before you begin working on your needs. One of the hardest things we all must measure in our lives with horses is balancing the needs of the horse with the needs of the rider. Personally, I always have to go with the horse’s needs first!
A few of my favorite exercises I often use when our riders work without stirrups is to simply focus on flat work. The posting trot without irons is the great equalizer! If you can master that without bouncing and losing your balance you’ve clearly become stronger. At that point, I’ll add work with poles on the ground, cavalettis, gymnastic lines and jumping low fences.”
Jasmin Stair, Jasmin Stair Stables in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
“Normally, I take a different approach to no stirrup work. Most riders dread hearing ‘drop your stirrups’ and can hardly walk after their ride. Typically, they come back the next day so sore that they can’t perform as well during their lesson – especially when you go straight from ‘regular’ lessons to sudden all-out stirrup-less work for long periods of time.
I believe that the horse is feeling the exact same thing the day after a big no stirrup lesson: soreness and an inability to perform as well as they normally would.
No stirrups work should build confidence and a correct position rather than being a ‘time of torture.’ I believe in having my riders add in 5 - 10 min of no stirrups work at the end of a lesson or hack as part of their normal routine, instead of going crazy in November. Start doing just a few minutes at a time and slowly build up. Only do as long as you can stay in the correct position! There’s no point in working without stirrups if you’re just bouncing around in the wrong position.
I always have my riders start with stirrups during any ride to allow proper time for them to start their horses with a full warm up, including a minimum of 15 minutes at the walk, letting the horses loosen up and their backs warm up before even thinking about dropping stirrups or sitting the trot.
Once horses are fully warm, here‘s a no-stirrups exercise I like to include at the end of a ride: Drop your stirrups and place both reins in your outside hand, then pick up the canter along the rail. This makes you focus on strengthening and elongating your leg, steering from your leg (more leg, less hand), stretching up, and being balanced in your core. Do this for two to three laps in each direction, and add in a few large circles at either end of the ring.
Doing more ‘small bites’ of no stirrup work and slowly increasing, instead of going crazy during one month, will help build confidence, security in the saddle, and a feeling of being one with your horse, all without making your horse’s back sore. And please always remember to give your horse time to warm up before you drop your stirrups!”
Feature photo and first inset by Erin Gilmore for NoelleFloyd.com. Second inset by Alle Justyn for NoelleFloyd.com.
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Written by Caroline Culbertson
Caroline Culbertson is the Editor-in-Chief at NoelleFloyd.com. She lives on a farm in Maine with her husband, rescue pitty, horses and two wild cats.