This article is part of our “Rookies Horsing Around” series, guest authored by Emily and Sarah Harris of Sisters Horsing Around.
Why (and How) to Try Riding Without Stirrups
Riding without stirrups can be very helpful in improving your riding and it doesn’t have to be tedious or painful. You can still have loads of fun while riding stirrupless!
November was dubbed “No Stirrup Month” to give riders a chance to improve their balance while riding. Now, it has become like an unofficial internationally observed month with participants all over the globe. Honestly, although riders may join in and take up the challenge to ride stirrupless, not everyone will be doing it cheerfully.
Sometimes, November is a month of dread for some equestrians. Why? Because it can be painful, stressful, and discouraging, especially if one is struggling more than other riders around them. But there is a way that you could make it fun, take the reluctance out of it, and put a smile on your face. We are going to share with you some ways to make riding stirrupless more enjoyable and, maybe, even make you look forward to dropping your stirrups!
Red Light, Green Light
Red light, Green light may seem like a children’s game, but there are ways that you can spice it up to make it fun even if you are an adult! You could include things like turns, intersections, and speed limits. The benefit of playing this game is that it will improve your transitions and your timing. Often as riders, we have to train and sometimes retrain our horses to respond promptly when we cue them to go forward.
The goal of this game is to move forward as quickly as possible and stop when the “traffic cop” (namely someone willing to play the part) speaks.
You can only move on green and you must stop on red. If you are caught still moving on red, you can either back up X amount of steps or go back to the starting line. It seems like it’s a simple task until you’re asking your horse to stop and go at the drop of a hat. Also, don’t forget to grab a riding friend or two to add a bit of friendly competition.
Obstacle courses are some of our personal favorite things to do with our horses! A course can be set up with anything that you have on hand. Course ideas can include picking up items along with maneuvers over ground poles, bridges, platforms, tires, tarps, etc. You may even want to incorporate going through a make-shift chute, a maze, or a kiddie pool filled with water.
The possibilities are endless and you can use your imagination and be creative!
The beauty of completing an obstacle course without stirrups is that your main focus is not on your balance, but rather cueing your horse to get the response you need, for example, asking the horse to side pass over a ground pole or backing through an L chute.
When you ask your horse to move in a particular direction, you will have to position your leg accordingly and give the aid all while staying balanced and steering your horse. Doing this without stirrups will help you improve your independent seat, and it is FUN and CHALLENGING.
No Stirrup November is the perfect time to go ahead and not only drop the stirrups, but also to lose the saddle as well. Or if you are feeling extra brave and confident, you could ditch the tack and go tackless (although for safety’s sake, we would advise that you use a neck strap). Now you might be thinking “I do not want to be any more sore than necessary!”
But just think of how much better your seat will get in addition to your leg.
Riding bareback has many benefits, such as developing a closer feel of your horse, improving your balance, and developing your independent seat. Your horse also may enjoy the break from the saddle, and you will get in touch with your inner child. Everyone at some point has wished that they could gallop bareback just like those cute little kids on their adorable little ponies.
But you have to start somewhere, and why not start now.
Trying different speed events seems to defeat the point of taking things slow and steady, but for those who enjoy a little thrill, this will be right up your alley! Speed events like speed barrel, keyhole, pole bending, and barrel racing are exciting! You don’t have to be good at them, and you don’t even have to go fast.
Trying these races without your stirrups will help you improve your balance and steering while taking things up a notch.
Mounted Games is another type of speed event that is different and so cool! Playing Mounted Games takes fun to a whole nother level, y’all! Taking your stirrups away also is a very different experience. Mounted Games are typically played on a pony or short horse, but if you are trying it just for the fun of it, the size of your horse will not matter unless you are trying to vault on and off your horse.
Games such as bottle shuffle, mug shuffle, bang-a-ballon, ball and cone, jousting, and speed weavers are great games to get you started!
Playing these games while riding stirrupless is beneficial because you will be learning to do multiple things independently from your seat. You will have to control your horse while simultaneously using your hands to move objects while staying on your horse. It sounds like a lot, but when you are in the moment, you don’t think about all that because you are just playing and that is what makes it so exhilarating!
Riding dares or challenges can definitely make things quite INTERESTING! But before we continue, we want to say that you have to be careful with this one. It is easy to take riding challenges too far, especially when you are feeling overly confident. Staying safe is very crucial whenever you are riding, so we want you to make safety the ultimate priority.
With safety in mind, riding challenges are another great way to test you in fun and exciting ways!
Some riding dares or challenges that we would suggest trying would be the toilet paper challenge, riding side-saddle, the cup of water challenge, ride-a-buck, and mounting without stirrups. The benefit of a riding dare without stirrups is that it is a lighthearted approach to testing your riding abilities. Your seat will be put to the test, along with the way you control the horse, your balance, and everything! But the most significant benefit is the laughter.
You will laugh A LOT! It may even make you feel ridiculously silly, but you will have a good time. Adding a friend or two or even an entire group will surely double and even triple the enjoyment!
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I stretch before I ride without stirrups?
Yes, yes, and YES! Stretching before you ride without stirrups is very beneficial! If you stretch before every ride, your muscles will be nice, loose, and flexible. As riders, we have to remember to give our horses a warm-up period before working on the hard stuff, and the same goes for us.
We should warm our bodies up beforehand so that we can handle the work ahead of us. You can start your ride off with your stirrups first, and then after you feel that you are ready, you can drop your stirrups.
Will I be sore if I try these things?
That all depends. Some people may be able to get through all of No Stirrup November without being sore, and others may become sore after the very first ride. The key is to start slowly and do it in moderation, especially at the beginning.
Don’t just jump out there and try the hardest thing you can do.
Your body might not be ready for that just yet. If you find that your body is becoming sore, then lay off on riding stirrupless for a few days. To successfully participate in the no stirrup challenge, you should never overexert yourself. You do not want to do more harm than good, so only do what you can physically handle.
Do I have to ride without stirrups?
The answer is no! You do not have to participate in No Stirrup November at all. The decision to ride stirrupless is up to you. You can do all these suggestions with stirrups and still have a good time.
Can I still be a good rider even if I don’t ride stirrupless?
The answer is YES! You don’t have to ride without stirrups to be good at riding. Riding without stirrups can be used as a training tool to improve one’s riding ability. However, there are plenty of great riders who don’t drop their stirrups for reasons of their own.
The main thing to remember when you are trying to have fun with a sometimes not-so-enjoyable activity, is to change how you view that particular activity. And in this case, if we take a different approach to No Stirrup November, we will enjoy it more. It is easy to get caught up thinking about how sore and miserable we will be, but if we lighten up and relax, we will feel much better.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s go have some FUN!
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Why horses are dangerous (but worth the risk)
- 3 Fear-free ways to gain your horse’s trust and respect
- 33 Things you can do today to calm your riding nerves forever
- Scared to ride your horse? Get your mojo back
- What are some ways to gain confidence riding horses