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Offset stirrup irons

From: Lauren

Dear Jessica,

I first want to say how much I love your book "The Horse Behaviour Problem Solver", and also the Horse-Sense Newsletter.

I'd like your opinion on the Stubben Offset Fillis stirrup irons. I, like many people, ride dressage, but have crooked (turned out) legs which make it very difficult to achieve the correct, most effective position with the legs rotated inwards from the hip. The irons are advertised to help bring the rider's knee closer to the horse, and I've heard that they also help keep the toes parallel to the horse.

Do you have any knowledge of these irons? I understand that they would create more torque on the knee and ankle joints, but could this create any long-term effects?

Thank you very much. Lauren


Hi Lauren! Thanks very much for the kind words about the book and the newsletter.

My advice is to stay well away from offset irons - even good-quality, well-made ones. ;-) The basic design is the problem. Offset irons WILL put more torque on your knee and ankle joints, and you will probably stiffen your hips as well. None of these are assets for a dressage rider; you need all of your joints to be as flexible and easy-moving as possible.

Offset irons were developed as a quick way to put recruits into a semblance of a correct position and give them a little extra security. Young men who had never ridden horses before were sitting in saddles and told "Grip with the knees and cock your ankles, the instructor standing in the center of the ring should be able to see the soles of your boots!" This made for a relatively secure, if somewhat fixed and rigid, position, NOT one from which the rider would be able to use his seat and legs effectively or with any finesse whatsoever, but that wasn't the point - the point was to stay on, stay in formation, and not fall off the horse.

For someone who wants to learn the art of horsemanship and develop truly good riding skills, any piece of equipment that "locks" any body part into a set, fixed position is a piece of equipment to avoid. You need to be able to flex your ankles and relax your instep and your toes, and you need to be able to relax your knees and hips.

For the same reason, I don't recommend the offset pads that can be used with conventional stirrups - once again, the angle forces the rider's ankles and knees into a fixed position. A pad or stirrup that slants (or flexes to slant) downward from front to back can be useful IF your ankles are flexible and your heels are typically low.

Men - most, not all - can generally get away with using offset stirrups when they are beginners, and until they become more ambitious about their riding. Their leg articulation allows them to use such stirrups - they'll be stiff, of course, but they aren't likely to experience great pain in their ankles, knees, or hips. Women - again, most women, there may be some exceptions! - cannot usually get away with using offset stirrups even as beginners, and will need to discard them if and when they become serious about their riding. The problem with using offset stirrups for beginner lessons is that by the time a rider becomes serious about riding, s/he has already develope the HABIT of being stiff in ankles, knees, and hips - and of course, since everything in the body is connected, the stiffness shows up in the lower back, the upper back and shoulders and chest, the neck, and the head position... as well as the arms and hands, and impairs the rider's basic ability to "go with" the horse.

Instead of offset stirrup irons, look for conventional Fillis irons with the "eye" turned at a 90-degree angle - this will EASE the strain on your ankles and knees, allow you to continue to work on loosening your hips (a perpetual issue for most riders), and make it easier for you to pick up your stirrups. You can find conventional stirrups made to this design; you can also find safety stirrups made to this design (although to find them, you may have to shop at a tack store that caters to owners of Icelandic horses). And if you happen to have a largeish amount of money burning a hole in your pocket, Herm Sprenger makes a System 4 stirrup that flexes AND has the offset eye...

There's also a new stirrup on the market called the MDC (for the designer's initials) "Intelligent" stirrup. These are Fillis stirrups with ADJUSTABLE eyes. They can hang the way stirrups ordinarily hang - parallel to the horse's sides, or the eyes can be adjusted to 2 different positions: 45 degrees and 90 degrees. I haven't tested these myself yet, so can't speak as to their quality, but the idea of having a choice of positions seems like a good one.

Oh, and one more point: Sometimes riders and trainers and tack shop owners can be careless with their terminology, and I've heard at least three people in the last month or two refer to "offset" stirrups when they MEANT stirrups with offset eyes. So if your tack shop owner mentions that he has just received a shipment of "offset stirrups", don't shrug and walk away, check to be sure that they ARE offset stirrups! In that case, you wouldn't want them, but they just might be conventional or safety or flexing stirrups with offset EYES, and in that case, you would probably ask the tack owner to open the carton and sell you a pair immediately. ;-)

Jessica

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