I thought, considering the timing, it would be great to talk about 'No Stirrup November'. So, in this article we are going to talk all about how you can take your stirrups away to effectively improve your position and well talk about lots of different exercises you can use to improve your seat, your position and your riding.
So, for those of you that don't know No Stirrup November is a popular event or way of encouraging riders to take their stirrups away to develop their seat. How people interpret No Stirrup November seems to vary; some ive seen have completely removed their stirrups to not be seen again until December whereas others start out slow with a few minutes of no stirrup work and then build up through the month.
Benefits of no-stirrup work
Taking away your stirrups takes away your ability to rely on your stirrups and stirrup leathers, you cant lean against them or brace against them and instead you need to use your seat and core to stabilise and balance yourself in the saddle.
Doing no stirrup work regularly makes sure that you are sitting balanced in the middle of the saddle, that you don't tip forward, backward, left or right and that your seat is independent of your legs and reins. This means that you end up a stronger, straighter, more balanced rider.
No stirrup work is also great for your awareness of your position as a rider, you'll notice as you develop your no stirrup work that your horse may become freer, straighter, softer and more supple and that will be because you're allowing them to move rather than restricting them. You'll also be far more aware of those moments you lose balance, rely on the reins or grip with your knees or your legs or thighs.
Why can no stirrup work be bad for you?
But, no stirrup work can also have a hugely negative effect on your riding. If the right muscles aren't strong enough to hold you in the saddle your body will use other muscles to compensate. This could mean that you end up gripping onto the reins and your horses mouth, or clamping with your legs to hold you into the saddle, or gripping with your knees and thighs, or bracing with your back to try and keep yourself still. All of this is obviously going to have a hugely negative effect not only on your position but on your horse too; they could become blocked, come behind the leg, lose the relaxation over their back, become un-supple or fixed, start leaning against you the list goes on.
So, when done right no stirrup work can transform your riding for the better, but do it wrong and it can mean you end up with a worse position and seat than when you started.
Tips to remember when doing no stirrup work
So i have created a list of tips and things to remember when doing no stirrup work. These work as much for someone that has never done no stirrup work before as it does for someone who does it all the time.
Start with short periods of time: Bearing in mind that we always want to make sure we are using the right muscles we need to focus on doing no stirrup work for short periods of time, especially to start with. If it gets to a stage where the muscles we are trying to use get so tired they stop working, other muscles will start taking over and that's when the gripping and bracing and holding kicks in which is something we need to avoid. So its all about quality not quantity;
Do short periods regularly: I always say its much better to do 5 - 10 mins of no stirrup work every session or every other session than it is to do one whole session randomly every now and then. Like if you go to the gym you wont see progress if you go for 4 hours once in a blue moon, but small, shorter sessions regularly will help you to strengthen those correct muscles and see results in your position and your riding.
Make sure you are in the right position before you start: before you even think about moving its really important that you know how to get yourself into a correct position without stirrups. Spending time in the halt practicing getting yourself into the right position will help you build up that muscle memory. The right position is all about finding the middle ground; you want to be sat in the middle of the saddle, with the weight going evenly down both of your seat bones. Your legs need to hang relaxed and long down your horses sides. and your upper body is tall.
Start in halt, then progress up: carrying on with the quality over quantity idea, make sure you are able to sit in the correct position in halt before moving to walk, spend a bit of time in walk making sure you are able to maintain a correct position and move with the horses movement, then move to trot then canter. Remember though, it is far more productive for you to do 10 mins of good quality no stirrup work in walk than to try and trot and canter, use the wrong muscles, brace and it not have any productive benefit on your position. Again, the focus is on quality not quantity, little bouts work well. Even if you are a pro at no stirrup work, stopping and actually checking in on your position may help you spot any issues or weaknesses in your position a lot earlier. The aim is always to use our muscles not hold our muscles.
Don't try to be still; move with the horse not against them: Once you are into the trot and canter its important to try not to be still. The horse is moving underneath you so our job as the rider is to allow that movement and move with it. You want to relax your bum muscles and move your hips with the horses movement.
Keep your legs and bum soft: Keep your bum relaxed and let your legs hang down your horses side, this will allow you to go with your horse, as soon as you fix you will start bouncing around everywhere
Absorb the movement with your glutes and core: Imagine that your body is like a giant shock absorber, if you tense and fix and try and hold you will end up being pushed upwards by your horse moving underneath you and you'll bounce everywhere, but be soft and imagine youre absorbing the horses movement through your whole body will help you move with them and not jar your back or body.
Always spend some time with your stirrups back: Make sure you take everything you've learnt and put it back into your no stirrup work. You have to go down that centre line with stirrups so you need to make sure that all the developments and improvements you make with your position without stirrups, you carry through to your work with your stirrups.
So, i hope this episode has got you thinking about how you can incorporate no stirrup work into your routine not just for November but every month. Little and often is always the way forward and as you get stronger you can build up how long you do this for and trying it in trot and canter and in movements and so on. Remember, its all about quality not quantity!