FAQ Gear Riding

How Safety Stirrups Work (Pros/Cons, Uses, Features, Brands)

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Written by Kathi L.

What are safety stirrups, how do they work, and why might you want to try them?

There’s an inherent risk when you ride, but there are steps you can take to lower that risk. Some of the most popular safety tools are safety stirrups, which are especially prevalent in jumping/eventing disciplines and with youth riders.

Safety stirrups are designed to free your foot during a fall so your foot doesn’t get caught. (This can lead to dragging.) Most designs have a “breakaway” feature on the side or top of the stirrup that’s triggered by the rider’s weight to release your foot during a fall.  

This article walks you through the basics of what safety stirrups are, how they work, how to use them, and more.

What is a Safety Stirrup?

Any stirrup that allows your foot to be freed in an emergency is a safety stirrup.

These tools either feature a way for your foot to slip out easily in the event of a fall or a mechanism that breaks or bends with the rider’s weight, allowing them to slip free.

Freejump safety stirrups feature a flexible side that frees your foot during a fall. (Click to see on Amazon.)

Both features are designed to keep the rider’s feet from getting caught in the stirrups and being dragged by the horse.

Check out our 7 top safety stirrups here!

How Do Safety Stirrups Work?

There are several different designs of safety stirrups. Across the board, the goal is to release a rider’s foot more easily in the event of a fall. 

The most basic safety stirrups have a rubber band on one side in place of a steel bar. These are typically called peacock stirrups and were the first option on the market.

In the event of an emergency your weight should break/disconnect/bend the rubber band enough to release your foot.

Note: If the bands are old or stretched out, peacock stirrup bands can pop off while riding (vs. falling), so many riders prefer the more modern options below.

As manufacturers continued to improve their safety stirrup designs, they created models that “break” at a top or side joint when the rider’s weight is forced against it.

These stirrups may even feature a gap between the top and a flexible outer edge that allows your foot to slip out in an emergency. Freejump safety stirrups feature this design and are very popular with jumpers and eventers.

Click to see Freejump stirrups at Amazon

Other models feature a “bent leg,” a curved outer edge that makes it much more difficult for your foot to get caught in them.

Lorenzini stirrups feature a hi-tech version of the classic bent leg curve to release the foot more easily during an emergency.

Here is a helpful video showing how safety stirrups work:

How to Use Safety Stirrups

The beauty of a safety stirrup is that the rider doesn’t have to consciously do anything to activate them. Safety stirrups are designed to function automatically when the rider’s weight shifts during a fall.

You can use safety stirrups all the time, and many riders do. Even if you’re heading into the show ring, where peacock stirrups are frowned upon, you can still find a variety of safety stirrups that are approved for competition.

(Lorenzini stirrups are a great option!)

Riders especially love safety stirrups for speed events, jumping, eventing, barrel racing, bull-dogging, trail riding, and training green horses.

This video shows how Compositi Ellipse safety stirrups are used:

[vimeo 317237332 w=640 h=360]

Pros and Cons of Safety Stirrups

With so many highlights, you may be wondering why anyone would not use safety stirrups.

Like any piece of horse riding gear, there are pros and cons for safety stirrups.

Pros:
  • Increases safety and peace of mind that feet won’t get caught in the stirrups
  • Lowers the chances of being dragged by a horse
  • Many options, styles, and price points for English riders
  • Several models come in bright colors that are especially fun for eventers and youth riders
  • Most are designed to only free your foot at a certain degree of bend (vs. randomly releasing while riding)
  • Plenty of sleek styles are appropriate for the show ring
online horse courses
Cons:
  • Some models are… odd looking
  • High-quality and hi-tech products have a steeper price tag than non-safety stirrups and peacock styles
  • Bent leg and peacock stirrups can be more difficult to maintain correct leg/foot position
  • Some types may not be approved (or appreciated) in the show ring
  • Far fewer options for Western riders, as technology and design are still catching up to English options (Tough1 has a Western safety stirrup, and Free Ride makes peacock-style Western safety stirrups with hidden bands.)

Learn why safety stirrups are recommended for horse riders with epilepsy, too!

How to Fit Safety Stirrups

Your stirrup should be about an inch wider than the ball of your foot. 

A snug stirrup makes it easier for your foot to get caught or, in the case of safety stirrups, accidentally trigger the release mechanism while riding.

Stirrups that are too wide make it harder for your foot to stay in place while riding.

(If you’re not sure where to start, try a stirrup between 4.25″ and 4.75.”)

How to Put Safety Stirrups on a Saddle

For most safety stirrups, you put them on a saddle just like a regular stirrup iron.

Make sure they are pointed in the correct direction, as specified by the manufacturer (e.g. bent leg stirrups should have the curve forward toward your toe vs. your heel).

Slide the stirrup leathers through the top of your safety stirrup, and buckle as normal.

For western styles, most slip through the fender like a regular stirrup, but some require you to connect a separate mechanism to the fender before connecting the stirrup. Again, read the directions that come with your stirrup carefully.

Safety Doesn’t Stop With Stirrups

Safety stirrups are an excellent tool for today’s riders, but your safety gear options don’t stop there. Here are additional items you should consider:

  • Helmet: Horse riding helmets are a MUST for all skill levels, disciplines, and ages.
  • Boots: Wear boots intended for riders with at least a 1″ heel so your foot won’t slide through the stirrups.
  • Body Protectors: Body protectors can help protect your torso (read: rib and organs!) and distribute impact in the event of a fall.
  • Inflatable Air Vests: Air vests are relatively new to the industry and are essentially air bags for your upper body. A CO2 canister triggers air pockets around your neck, ribs, and tailbone if you fall. (Read our glowing Equestrian Hit-Air Vest Review!)
  • Grab Strap: Saddle grab straps are nice to have if things get a little crazy or you need extra balance. They also keep you from pulling on your reins (i.e. horse’s mouth) for balance!
  • Neck Strap: Neck straps give riders something to hold onto that keeps their hands forward and down, and they’re especially popular for jumpers and eventers who tend to get “left behind” over fences.
  • Knowledge: OK, it’s not technically a piece of “gear,” but it’s arguably the BEST way to increase your safety while riding. Take lessons, practice proper position, and know what level of horse and activities align with your skills.

As we like to say on Horse Rookie, Knowledge is Horsepower™. Get educated!

The Bottom Line on Safety Stirrups

Every little step (pun intended) that you take to stay safe in the saddle increases your chances of a safe, long-time riding career.

With so many options and price points available, safety stirrups are an easy way for any rider to stay safe without breaking the bank.

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About the author

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Kathi L.

When I'm not helping equestrian businesses market themselves online, you'll find me hanging out at my barn in Nebraska. I grew up riding in 4-H, have worked as a colt trainer and trail guide, and have even competed in Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenges. Now, I've found a new love for dressage and love taking lessons in this discipline!