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Riding without stirrups

Posted in Flatwork

Want to ride like Charlotte Dujardin? Taking away your stirrups is the answer! Here’s how to nail staying secure in the saddle

Riding without stirrups

When your instructor says it’s time to take away your stirrups, she’s not doing it because she thinks it’s fun to watch you bounce about – it’s because she wants you to ride like Charlotte, too. Riding without stirrups regularly makes a dramatic improvement to your riding, so it’s definitely not something you can afford to skip. It particularly helps you develop good position, balance and an independent seat. These are the foundations of good riding, whatever discipline you prefer. 

Did you know?

Stirrups weren’t used in Europe until the Middle Ages so, before then, warriors went into battle without them – imagine that!

Getting started

  1. Take your feet out of your stirrups, pull the buckle down and lie them over your pony’s withers. Always cross the right stirrup over his wither first, followed by your left. This way, if you get off (on purpose or by accident!) you only need to take one stirrup down to remount.
  2. Relax! Whatever pace you’re in, the main thing you need to do is relax so your body doesn’t tense up. This helps you maintain the correct position – long legs and a straight back, with your shoulders and hands down and relaxed. 

    If you’re tense while you ride, your pony will speed up and you’ll push yourself out of the saddle and bounce more. To stay relaxed, focus on keeping your legs long and roll your shoulders backwards. Think of pushing your hands forward and don’t rely on them for balance.

  3. Ride as normal – just because you’ve taken away your stirrups, it doesn’t mean everything else you’ve learnt goes out the window! You can still use your legs to give the same aids, just make sure that your lower leg doesn’t creep up and back. 

    Start in walk – spend time getting your confidence and making sure you’ve got the right position in the saddle. Progress to sitting trot when you’re ready. Try riding with one hand on the pommel and the other on the reins to help you stay secure at first. Cantering can actually be easier than trot, depending on your pony, because it’s a much smoother gait. But watch out when your pony comes back to trot, as it can be quite wobbly for a couple of strides. 

Practice makes perfect

The best thing about riding without stirrups is that the more you do it, the better you get – you can make things more of a challenge by trying out bending poles and trotting poles, too. And once you get the hang of it you’ll notice the difference in the other areas of your riding really quickly. 

Top tips

  • When you first ask your pony to trot, ask him to go a bit slower than normal to make it less bouncy. 
  • It’s a good idea to have a neck strap or hold a section of your pony’s mane if you feel unbalanced. 


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