Stepping Up Your No-Stirrup Game

Need more of a challenge? Change up your stirrupless riding drills with advice from Western fitness expert Kelly Altschwager.

When people think of riding stirrupless, they usually think of kicking their feet out of the stirrups and making laps around the arena at a walk or trot. But for more advanced riders or riders who have spent a lot of time riding stirrupless and are comfortable riding without them, there are ways you can continue to up the degree of difficulty and test your balance and strength. 

You might be comfortable doing different maneuvers when you have your feet in your stirrups, but what happens when you kick your feet out of them and ride stirrupless?

Stirrupless Maneuvers 

If you find yourself getting bored participating in No-Stirrup November, that just means you need to challenge yourself a little more. Once you can master stirrupless riding at a walk, trot, and lope, it’s time to get rid of your stirrups and see how good your balance and strength is during different maneuvers. 

Adding speed. How well do you stay balanced when you ask your horse to go from a jog to an extended trot? Are you bouncing around in your seat or sliding side to side? Or are you staying balanced and soft in your seat? Asking for more speed is an easy way to test your skills and see if you’re getting in your horse’s way when it’s time to extend the trot. Once you can sit the trot, test out your abilities at the extended lope. Is your body slowly hunching forward into a fetal position? Or can you keep your core elongated while driving your horse forward with your seat? 

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Test transitions. Once you can safely increase speed while riding without stirrups, see how you do with different speed transitions. Go from a large, fast circle into a small, slow circle and see how you stay balanced in the saddle. Do you find yourself leaning into the circle as you slow down? Or are you getting ahead of the motion and losing your balance when your horse shuts down? 

Stopping and turning. Stops and spins are a great way to see if you’re getting in your horse’s way. When you stop your horse, you need to sit deep in your seat and release your legs. If you’re not balanced in the saddle when you’re without your stirrups, you might find yourself falling over the top of your saddle horn. And if you’re riding a horse that has a fast spin, it’s easy to find yourself sliding to one side of the saddle.

Lead changes. Flying lead changes might be my favorite way to test balance and to see if I’m getting in my horse’s way. If you aren’t center in the saddle and capable of using your legs without your stirrups, it’s going to be a lot harder to get your horse’s body in the correct position to change leads. 

[WATCH: Learn more no-stirrup exercises on Horse&Rider OnDemand.]

For green riders. If you don’t have a lot of experience riding without stirrups, it’s important to take it slow so you can safely build up your leg and core strength, and find balance in the saddle. If you find yourself getting bored at the walk or jog, you can still attempt maneuvers, but try them out at lower speeds. At the walk, remove your stirrups and ask your horse to stop and back. Are you cueing your horse properly when you ask to stop and back, or are you relying on your hand to get that backward motion? You can practice turning your horse without stirrups, and do gait transitions like going for the walk to the jog and then back down to the walk. 

[READ: Break free from these five fitness inhibitors.]

By incorporating some strength and balance drills into your riding routine, you’ll slowly find yourself more confident without your stirrups and more prepared to do more advanced maneuvers in the future.

This No-Stirrup November we’re bringing you weekly tips from fitness expert Kelly Altschwager of Western Workouts. Keep an eye out for next week’s final fitness tip. Miss a week of No-Stirrup November? Read week one’s tips here and week two’s tips here.