no stirrup November

No Stirrup November is No Joke: How It’s Kicking My Ass & Can Kick Yours Too

I’ve never been much of one for trends. I dismissed trends like a hipster before the term hipster even existed. If something was trendy, I would purposefully avoid it. Pretentious? Absolutely. But this little personality quirk of mine saved me from several terrible fads: the flippy mini skirt, wearing (or even owning) ugg boots with said flippy-mini, and zebra-stripe highlights. But the No Stirrups November trend piqued my interest.

After working with my horse so much outside this summer, returning to do circles in the arena (because it’s dark out or pouring down rain or both) has seemed like returning to be chained to a dungeon wall. So I’ve been finding ways to keep it entertaining. Read: not lunging him. Because if I have to stand and watch my horse go around in circles before I get on him and then ride around in circles, I am going to snap.

So I figured I’d give the ol’ no stirrups gig a go. How hard could riding without stirrups be?

If you’ve ever ridden without stirrups you should be laughing at me right now. And calling me a rube.

News flash: It’s not easy!

I don’t ride in any kind of non-western saddle. No dressage, hunt seat or jumping saddles for me. I like a big western cantle for my big western ass. And a well curved pommel and a narrow twist to keep me nicely seated in my western saddle. So I had absolutely no idea what I should be doing when it came to riding without sitrrups.

I called my friend who was raised in a hunt-seat saddle and trained more without stirrups than with. I could feel her mocking me through the phone, “No stirrups November, huh? You know we used to ride without stirrups all the time? Not just for a month.”

“Well I was just going to try it. For entertainment’s sake.”

If you’ve never tried riding without stirrups, I highly recommend it. It’s another way to build up muscles you didn’t know you had. And if you’re an out-of-shape dolt like me, you might even remind yourself of muscles you knew you had but forgot about. Abs? What are Abs? Cue coughing and then flinching because coughing hurts my sore abs.

Work those muscles!

I started out my no-stirrups training at a walk. I worked at keeping my heals down and my pelvis rolled under. Keep in mind, I ride in a western saddle and my whole riding existence is based on keeping my ass back (See my post on Four Rookie Riding Mistakes To Avoid for more on this). If you ride in a discipline that is more forward, then still keep your heels down, but keep your pelvis in whatever position you would hold if your feet were in those little metal circles we take for granted (stirrups).

I started thinking “This isn’t so bad. No sweat. Why do people give themselves such accolades for riding without stirrups? Pfft. Self important pansies.”

Do you know what’s always a bad idea? To mock other people and think about how superior you are. Oh, you already knew that? It was just me? Okay. Well, whatever.

Then I had Gangster pick up the jog. I think the hunt-seat riders just go right to the posting trot. I don’t know. The jog was a little more difficult. I couldn’t rely on the stirrups to help hold myself together and soften his stride. Not to mention Gangster was doing a little speed variation just to make it more interesting. Alright, so then I got the hang of the jog, I kept myself back, and kept my heels down. Time for the posting trot.

Sweet mother of god. What have I done? No Gangster, slow down! I can’t keep up with that pace! How do I even raise myself up? Squeeze! Push! Back straight! Heels! Heels! What are my heels doing? Down. Keep. Them. Down.

And you know what? All of that bitching and cajoling and general abuse-of-self was only going around the arena ONE TIME. Because my flabby cowgirl abs and thighs couldn’t manage any more than one lap. Shameful.

I’m so sorry for what I said earlier when I thought riding without stirrups was “no sweat.” I knew not the error of my ways.

Ultimately we made our way into a lope. The lope is so much easier than the posting trot without stirrups. I had someone video both my posting trot and my lope, and I realized that my lope without stirrups actually looks better than when I have my feet in the stirrups. Working on equitation, even if I feel silly and out of shape and generally stunted, is definitely helping my seat. And it can help your seat too.

Have someone video you so you can see where your posture falls short. The top photo is at the lope. Bottom left is the down position and bottom right is the up position of the posting trot. I didn’t share video of myself because I’m trying to maintain a few shreds of dignity here. But it was very helpful for me to review.

Just start out slow. Work with your horse when you know he or she is in a good mood and not flinching and spooking at every leaf on the breeze. The idea is to work on body position, not staying on in case of emergency. Work at a walk until you feel comfortable, using your body to hold your proper riding position, whatever that is for your discipline. Then build up to the jog and trot, especially if you don’t know if your horse has had a rider work without stirrups before. Some sensitive horses may be wary of the different feeling of you posting without stirrups. And I highly suggest practicing your posting trot when no one is around the first time or two. Because if you’re like me, you’re going to feel really silly and like it’s the ugliest posting trot, (is it even a posting trot? Does rising up a mere inch count?). But the point is you have to start somewhere. And everyone is goofy looking and uncoordinated when starting something new. Well, most everyone. There are probably those golden few who have horse riding in their DNA and make the rest of us look like flapping chickens in the saddle. But I digress. The point is you are trying something new! You are building your skills and that takes time and patience with yourself. You’re still far better off for trying.

A little inspiration to get you over the fear of feeling awkward.

So good luck with your No Stirrup November, and December, and January. . . . Probably we should just make it a part of our regular training routine. And if you’re a professional no-stirupper, throw us a bone and give us some tips. Also, I’m not responsible for any change in gate due to muscle soreness. Yours, not your horse’s. Eat some bananas and drink lots of water.

Do you follow me on Facebook? Come follow me. I promise it hurts less than the day after riding without stirrups!

No Stirrup November isn’t just for the hunt seat equestrians. And it can improve your riding and equitation.

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Theresa Rice

Writing a modern day western and telling my daily stories of humor, sadness or inspiration. Depending on the day, it might be all three.

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