No-Stirrup November is an opportunity to work on your balance separate from your stirrups, and maybe even pinpoint some muscle memory patterns you have that no longer serve you.
Here are some of the most common ones, and certainly ones that have afflicted me:
– Bracing the knee (ouch!) and heavily weighting the stirrup; some instructors place an egg under the student’s foot to teach them proper stirrup contact!
– Pushing the foot forward in a water-ski position, which inevitably leaves you grabbing for reins as a makeshift ski rope.
– Using the stirrup to post or rise the trot by standing, instead of using natural momentum and the knee.
– Pressing down and forward into the stirrup towards the horse’s elbow to get the heel down; pulling you, again, into a water-ski position and the dreaded chair seat.
– Depending on the stirrup for side-to-side stability, instead of using the entire length of your leg and your core.
– Depending on the stirrup to counter the forces created by upward and downward transitions instead of using your core.
– Depending on your outside stirrup to counter centrifugal force on curved lines so you don’t fall off the outside of your horse, instead of learning to properly weight the inside seat bone and thigh.
No-Stirrup November doesn’t have to be about pushing yourself; be gentle and work on your feel, your proprioception of your body. You don’t have to ride bareback or go faster than a walk to bring some awareness to your movement patterns; dropping your stirrups at a walk in the saddle can tell you a lot. Here are some things to try:
– Notice how your leg relaxes and drapes and lengthens without stirrups.
– Notice what happens when you drop your heel; take turns feeling the difference between heels down, and toes up. Try keeping your heel down with your lower leg hanging straight down, and then with your lower leg angled back underneath you. Which is harder? When do you feel more stretching in your calf and your Achilles tendon?
– Without stirrups in the way, when you let your legs fall close to the horse, can you feel more swing from the horse’s barrel?
A special note for trot:
Remember to prioritize comfort for you both; if you’re bouncing, or having to hold on, just stay at the walk. This is about getting rid of bad habits, not creating new ones! Especially, we want to prioritize the horse’s back. He needs to feel like he can raise his back into us; if we hurt his back by bouncing, he’s naturally going to hollow it away from us.
Below, I can tell that Dusty is raising her back, because it feels like a new, springy trampoline to sit on, and it was very comfortable for both of us. We don’t want the back to feel like an old, worn-out trampoline that’s bottoming out. Ouch for both of us!
If you find yourself bouncing, stick with rising trot until your balance is better, and the horse’s back is strong enough to stay up. You can even try this without stirrups if you’re up for a challenge! That’s a sure way to learn how to post using momentum and your knee, instead of standing in the stirrup.
Remember to have fun!