Just Say " No" to No Stirrups November
Anyone who's an equestrian knows what the month of November means! No Stirrups November. A month of pain and torture. I'm not sure how long ago this started, or how it started. It is very impressive to me how it caught on so well, since this was popular before the rise of social media. A lot of us have been taught that riding without stirrups is so good for you, and will help you improve as a rider. But is it really? I am a certified biomechanics instructor with the International Society of Rider Biomechanics. I am not a supporter of No Stirrups November. I find it detrimental to both horse & rider.
If you ride without stirrups incorrectly, you can do harm to your horse. All level of riders seem to participate in No Stirrups November. To truly ride well without stirrups you should have independent, quiet and soft hands and legs, and an independent seat. Having an independent seat is the very foundation of correct balance and suppleness. Many trainers say that the best way to develop an independent seat is by riding without stirrups. There are actually much better ways to train a rider to have an independent seat. (I will go into this one day on another post.)
Riding incorrectly without stirrups does a lot more harm than good. With most riders, once you take their stirrups away the rider will start gripping more with their legs and will try and balance on the reins, due to lack of balance and strength This will become very uncomfortable for the horse. Gripping causes the lower back and hips to lock up, and then you are unable to follow the horse's movement and feel the horse's rhythm.
Riding for an extended time without stirrups (some rider's do an entire 4 weeks) when you have not been doing regular no-stirrup work for shorter time periods can be detrimental to your training. This is a very good way for you to develop bad habits, train the muscles incorrectly, and even set yourself up for injury. Yes, you might get stronger even when you are training the wrong muscles, but if you are gaining strength with the incorrect equitation it is doing much more harm than good. It is much easier to train something from scratch than to retrain incorrect muscling and muscle memory.
I truly believe that your horse feels the same muscular soreness after a no-stirrups session that you feel. They also get very sore from the rider being stiff, clamped down and bouncing all over their back. The point of riding with no stirrups is to gain strength and confidence, gain a more independent seat and better leg control, learning to not rely on your hands for balance, and will help to improve your overall postural stability.
While I am in support of riding without stirrups, I am not for an entire month of it. I believe that more advanced riders should make no-stirrup work a regular part of their lessons near the end of their lessons after the horse and the rider are already warmed up. For riders who are not as experienced, I have several methods and exercises to help teach a more independent seat without risking harm to the horse and unintentionally creating bad habits.
If you would like to learn more about my methods, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org