By Wiola Grabowska
For every horse, saddle type and rider there exist an optimum length of stirrups that brings the best out of the rider’s seat. For anyone who ever experimented with riding at various stirrup lengths will know that some options give better ability to follow movement, stay with it, stay secure, stay out of the horse’s way and let the horse do the job well.
Even for riders’ with zero interest in the biomechanics of the seat it will be clear when their reaction time is quicker, their back more supple, their joints more able to absorb movement, muscles more engaged where they need to be and more relaxed where they need to be.
Having said that, the below views on stirrups length are drawn from my own teaching of hundreds of riders according to my own preferred riding styles so it might not suit everyone 🙂
For relaxed, athletic experience, a jumping rider needs a decent range of motion in the seat. By that I mean:
- conditions for a comfortable three point/full seat that is a little “lighter” than a full dressage seat but always able to have full influence on the horse’s balance (used when bringing the horse’s centre of gravity back in front of the jump for example)
- conditions for a two point/light seat/”jumping position” – the seat where the rider is able to comfortably stay out of the saddle without compromising own balance and suppleness
- conditions for supple, calm, balanced actual jump seat on take off, flight and landing that allows the horse to perform an uninterrupted jump
- able to quickly yet calmly change between this three as and when needed
In the below video, which I put together for another post (you can read it HERE), you can see me riding an unknown horse over a few jumps from 1m to about 1m20/25. You can see that as I learn to find the right canter to each jump that will suit that horse our take off points change but I have enough security through my seat to be able to follow the horse reasonably well each time.
I often see riders riding quite long and struggling with effortless jump seat. If you are a Novice rider learning to jump, stirrups on a longer side, the length that you might hack in for example, are a good call. They give you a little more basic stability overall in case things don’t go to plan as you have “more of your legs” around the horse and you are only likely to be jumping small fences.
Shorter stirrups do come with more of an “eject” mode in case of trouble (as your legs come higher up and have less ability to hold) but to me, they are the preferred option for a more advanced rider. Shorter stirrup length helps close the hip and knee joints which can then open swiftly on the take off without unnecessary throwing of the upper body forwards (no leg work = upper body work to compensate). The “quieter” the seat, the better the jump.
I often hear riders saying about having an “unlucky pole down” but I was always taught that 99% of the time, there’s no such thing as an unlucky pole. Unless the jump wasn’t adjusted properly after another horse knocked it a bit or perhaps strong wind blew etc, there was something in the way the rider approached the jump or how the horse behaved in the air that threw that pole. The air time can be very much improved by the rider staying out of the horse’s part of the job.
Finding your own anatomically friendly “jumping angles” comes via trial and error. What might be visually correct, might not work in practice so it’s important to keep experimenting. Different shapes of the horse’s ribcage, different styles and shapes of the saddle and the size of the horse overall will all determine how to adjust the stirrup length.
To sum up, when assessing the rider’s stirrups length for jumping I look at:
their riding experience/skill
whether they can easily go into light seat and stay in it without problems in halt,walk,trot and canter for several minutes.
whether they can sit in the saddle in trot and canter and still have good command of the horse’s way of going (without unnecessary tension through their body)
whether they can happily change between the above seats every few strides when asked