What Your Stirrup Length Might Be Saying About You
Personal preference and riding activity both definitely have an impact on stirrup length. But so does horsemanship skill. In general, you’ll see better horsemen ride with longer stirrups. Why is that?
The better the horseman you are, the better your balance in the saddle. You’ll ride the horse more than the saddle, following his movement with your seat and not relying on your saddle, stirrups, and reins to keep you balanced. As a result, your weight will be more in your seat than in your stirrups, so stirrups are set longer. I love watching a great horseman ride and see his (or her) body move in rhythm with the movement of the horse. They aren’t just a passenger.
Less experienced horsemen tend to put a lot of weight in their stirrups in an attempt to keep in balance and stay centered, which requires shorter stirrups. They don’t yet have the balance and “feel” to use their body to follow the movement of the horse.
But too much weight in the stirrups not only leads to aching knees, it also tenses the rider and the horse and makes it difficult for horse and rider to get in synch.
How much weight should you put in your stirrups? I love this explanation from Tammy Pate, wife of clinician Curt Pate, that I read in a past “Western Horseman” article:
“A lot of people ask me how much weight to put in a stirrup. [My husband] Curt said to think as though there is a cookie in your stirrup. If you put all your weight on it, you will smash the cookie. If you ride with your knees and there is no weigh in your stirrup, you’ll lose the cookie. If you put the right amount of weight in your stirrup, when you get hungry on your ride you can eat your cookie. I think that sums it up!”