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Safety stirrups

From: Melanie

Hi Jessica, I hope you had a great Christmas and a good break (if you took one). >Chris says hi too. I have not seen this question addressed in the >archives and so wanted to find out if you had an opinion on quick release >stirrups. I have seen the rubber band kind, the ones with a hinge near >the top where the stirrup leather goes through and the kind with the >outside metal side a different shape than the normal shape inside metal side. > >First I wondered if you think it is a good idea to use quick release >stirrups. One reason I am wondering is because it seems like their >solution to making sure your foot doesn't get caught if you fall off >could have lead to another problem in your foot releasing during a >sudden, unexpected movement by your horse, when you might least need your >foot to release. > >It seems like in the normal course of events there could be more sudden >movements than there might be times you would fall off. I don't know how >often the rubber band breaks or the hinge unclasps when you don't want it >to, but I thought you might have some ideas on this. > >If you don't think that is a problem, maybe you know some other possible >pros or cons relative to normal stirrups to consider? > >And, if the quick release stirrups seem like a good idea to you, I >wondered if you had an opinion on which type would be best? Also, would >riding in bigger stirrups serve the same purpose? > >Thanks in advance, > >Melanie

Hi Melanie!

I do like safety stirrups, and there are different ones for different purposes.

The Peacock safety stirrup - that's the one with the rubber band - is a great design for children, because their weight is often insufficient to detach an English stirrup leather from the saddle, even if the stirrup bar locks are in the "open" position (as they always should be, by the way). Even a lightweight child, though, can "pop" the rubber band off the outside of the stirrup on her way to the ground, which means she'll have a much better chance of falling away from the horse and a much smaller chance of getting dragged.

The Australian pattern safety stirrup is the one with the extra bend in the outside branch. It takes a little while to get used to riding in these, but it's worth making the effort. I particularly like these for adults. When I work with children, I usually put them in the Peacock stirrups until their weight is greater than 70 pounds, at which point I generally shift them over to the Australian pattern stirrup. I do this because on several occasions, I've seen children bend their Peacock stirrups out of shape while jumping. It's quite possible that this was because those particular stirrups were cheaply-made versions of good-quality stirrups (always buy good stainless steel - nickel bends and breaks easily, and is unsafe for stirrups and bits!), or because the children were doing a great deal of jumping, or because the children were too heavy for the stirrups, or because the rubber bands had become loose and were no longer able to offer any support to the stirrup tread, or because of some combination of the above factors. No matter - the result was the same: Children coming down a line of jumps in a horrendous position due to the fact that their stirrup treads were bending down, away from the horse's body. That's when I decided that I didn't want to see that again, and that I would use the Peacock stirrups for all of the very young, light riders, but not for the older/larger/heavier ones.

The only objection I've heard to the Australian-pattern safety stirrups came from one woman who said that they hurt her little toes - but when I looked more closely at her tack, I noticed that she was using 4 1/4" stirrups when she clearly needed 4 1/2" or even 4 3/4" stirrups, so I don't think it's fair to blame any toe-rubbing on the stirrups.

These stirrups, and the others (expensive and not often seen these days) designed to work like ski-binding releases, are all meant to release the rider's foot if the rider is in a particular position - hanging off the horse's side, with the pressure on the outside of the stirrup. If all stirrup leathers came sliding off the saddles when they should, there would be no need for safety stirrups, but you can't always count on your stirrup leathers cooperating. Rusty stirrup bars, stiff saddle leather, new, thick stirrup leathers - there can be a lot of reasons for the stirrup leathers not sliding off the bars, but whatever the reasons, it's good to have a second line of defense in the form of a safety stirrup.

Your best security equipment doesn't come in a box from the tack store: It's good position and good balance. Breakaway leathers and safety stirrups can add to your security, and can help in emergencies, as they were designed to do, but on a day-to-day basis, your personal balance in the saddle will matter much more. It's possible to lose a stirrup during normal riding - it's even possible to have a stirrup leather come off during normal riding! If you're balanced and secure, this will be a brief annoyance, not a crisis.

lose stirrup trotting? gripping with knees - lower legs flaps loosely, heels come up, toes point down, stirrups begin to shift about, then slide off toes

lose stirrup cantering? drawing leg up, foot floats in stirrup then stirrup comes off

lose stirrup jumping? can happen, stirrup leather and stirrup can pop right off the saddle, usually because rider is standing in stirrups and kicking hard down and back instead of staying in place and folding down as the horse lifts off. When this happens, it will do more for you than all your instructor's reminders to "Stop standing in your stirrups on the way to the jump!" And even if you come off, it's still better to be OFF the horse than to be bouncing along at the horse's side and/or under its feet. Horses will do their best to avoid stepping on humans (or on anything squashy and noisy), but in that situation, it's just about impossible.

Stirrups must be large enough, for safety's sake and for comfort. The tread should allow enough room for you to insert a pencil between your boot and the stirrup branch on each side of your boot. Buying too-small stirrup is dangerous - they may rub your boots and toes painfully, and they will increase the possibility of your foot becoming trapped in the event of a fall. On principle, it's best to avoid being dragged (see above). But stirrups that are TOO large are just as dangerous, because a twisting fall might let your foot go all the way through the stirrup - and you don't have to be caught by the foot to get dragged. A leg will do very nicely. That's why many saddles for very small children have stirrup covers, stirrup "cages", or tapaderos - anything to keep a child's foot and lower leg from going through the stirrup.

There are other kinds of stirrups you might want to consider, for other reasons. The hinged, flexing stirrups are very nice for riders who have any stiffness, bone spurs, previous injuries, etc. in feet or ankles. Herm Sprenger used to make a two-way flex stirrup and now makes a terribly costly four-way flex stirrup; Kieffer and Dominus make a much more affordable two-way flex stirrup. Then there are the stirrups with the eye set at a 90-degree angle, so that when your stirrup leathers are flat against your horse's sides, your stirrups hang naturally in the right position to slide your feet into. I'm waiting for someone to make an affordable commercial version of these that combine this wonderful feature with the flexing branches of the Sprenger/Kieffer/Dominus stirrups.

Here are two more thoughts on the subject of stirrups and losing stirrups.

It's easy to lose stirrups if they are adjusted too long - stirrups should be adjusted so that they allow the ball of your foot a compfortable place to rest while your weight is in your heels. The stirrups aren't there for you to tap with your down-pointing tippy-toes - but they're not there to take the full weight of your body while you push hard against them, either! They're there to help you maintain the same correct leg position that you would maintain without any stirrups, but when you HAVE stirrups, you can think "toes up" and have a place to rest the front part of your foot.

It's easy to lose stirrups if the stirrups aren't supporting - or at least in contact with - the point where the short axis of your foot meets the long axis. Draw a line with chalk on the sole of your boot, from the center back of your heel to the division between your second and third toes. Then draw another line across the ball of your foot - the widest part of your foot. The spot where these two lines cross MUST be on the stirrup tread - if it isn't, you'll never feel secure in your stirrups.

It's easy to lose stirrups if you suffer from any condition, such as arthritis, that limits your ability to (a) flex your ankles, and (b) hold your stirrups in the correct position while you ride. In fact, my experience with these stirrups has taught me that there's much more to the position than the convenience of "picking up" the stirrups easily. They can help relieve uncomfortable pressure all the way up your leg - ankles, knees, hips, and even seatbones and lower back can be affected by the seemingly tiny action that you'll no longer have to perform to keep your stirrups turned correctly.

It's good to hear from you, Melanie. Say hello to Chris for me, and have a Happy New Year, both of you!


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