We’re one week into No-Stirrup November — and everyone knows that the first week is the hardest.
How are those legs feeling?
Yeah yeah, I know. While we can’t help you with your physical pain, we can remind you of Kelly Clarkson’s wise words, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And, we can give you a forum in which to air your grievances and encourage your feats of strength.
In the coming weeks, we’ve got a lot of fun stuff coming your way to cheer you along on your painful yet oh-so-rewarding journey. Today, we’re going to start with some required reading from George Morris, the godfather of hunt seat equitation, who would probably take away everyone’s stirrups if he could.
A couple years ago, Mr. Morris penned a great Q&A for the Chronicle of the Horse titled “Ask the Experts: Why and how should we ride without stirrups?” In it, he explains the importance of riding sans irons. “The primary benefit is to develop your seat. Also, it improves what I call the ability to ‘stick’ to a horse. In the classical riding schools of Europe, riders were required to ride without stirrups for the first three years they were there.” He goes on to suggest specific exercises for riding without stirrups and outlines a plan for learning to jump without stirrups — we highly recommend reading the full article here.
Participants in the 2013 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session were in for a treat when, on Day 4, George asked all the riders to remove their stirrups for the flatwork session. You can watch the no-stirrups sessions on demand here (group 1) and here (group 2).
What is George Morris’ point? A leg that can go in the show ring and do this:
Morgan Hale, of Odessa, Fla., performs the top-4 no-stirrups test at the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Finals.
Now, Horse Nation, it’s your turn to vent. How’s your no-stirrups work going? Have any advice for the rest of us?
Here’s a testimonial from reader Catherine Ford, author of the blog Horses of Seven Hearts:
It’s the first week of November and riders everywhere are blowing up social media with “Happy No-Stirrups November!” memes usually showing a pair of irons hung near some fall leaves and a pumpkin. Riding without stirrups is a great way to work on balance, core and leg strength, it can expose any holes in your equitation that you may feel is otherwise perfect.
I want to be a great rider, equitation is a strong foundation for that, so even without the cajoling of a trainer or a pretty autumn backdrop I removed my stirrups for the month.
My eq on the flat isn’t too shabby and when I ride the ponies twice a week (to keep them responsive for their kid riders) I always do it bareback. With four bareback rides a week, surely I was ahead of the curve a little on strength…I tacked up Czech and we headed down.
First problem. Huge horse. Tallest mounting block. Still can’t reach.
Summoning my inner gymnast, I tried to toss a leg over. When that failed with a slightly pulled thigh muscle, I leapt up across the saddle on my stomach as Czech decided he was leaving, threw over a leg and we were off.
The cool air had Czech feeling great and he gave me his big trot. I sat his long strides without any issue one lap in, fabulous. Lap two I was breathing a little hard. Lap three I decided that my arena was obviously too large to be counting just one lap per trip and lap four my abs were screaming, “Let the horse walk!”
Czech, being a Thoroughbred, has an awesome sense of humor. He jigged at the walk as soon as I relaxed, making my sides protest with tweaks of stabbing sensation.
We went the other way and picked up a canter. Czech was having fun and so was I. My inside leg had a little swing to it I didn’t know was there and I fixed it, starting to feel pretty positive again about the whole stirrupless idea.
Back to the trot, half lap sitting, half posting.
After five laps of this I reached a sort of clarity coming around one more time in two point. My thoughts became dark. George Morris was a bleeping bleep. My saddle was too bleeping slippery. Who the bleep does this honestly?!
Will I ride the rest of November stirrupless? Um, NO. I won’t even make it through eight more rides this week without them. But I swear on my Hunter Seat Equitation Manual that I will drop stirrups every ride for at least 15 minutes. To the rest of you still eagerly waiting to tackle your stirrup freedom, buy the big bottle of Advil and get some good full seat breeches, you’re going to need them. P.s. Seat heaters in your car are awesome.
Thanks for sharing, Catherine!
We’ll be posting weekly “support group” check-ins each weekend here on HN and we’ve got a thread set up over at Equestrians Anonymous so you guys can whine, brag, exchange tips and share encouragements 24/7. Look for it in the “Training” forum. Misery loves company, you know!
Stay strong, Horse Nation. Go Riding (without stirrups).