Integrative Movement Series: Thoughts & Suggestions for No Stirrups November

Great read from Kathlyn Hossack below. I use no stirrups work throughout the year so all my riders, from children to adults are used to this form of training. I use the No Stirrups November as a fun initiative to delve deeper into balance, seat awareness and to push the riders that little bit more.

However, I couldn’t agree more with caution. I think all exercises, whether for rider or the horse, have their stages. First is when everything is a little messy but productive and is finding its ways. Second when it enters the “oh oh it’s working stage” and third when it’s back to messy but counterproductive this time.

Hope you’ll enjoy the read below 🙂



Don’t get me wrong… I’m 100% for feeling the burn and making those riding muscles work without the aid of those things we put our feet in.

I just have a few things I need to get out about the entire month dedicated to riding without stirrups.

As any rider who came up through a lesson program likely has experienced, No Stirrup November is a time where either someone suggests politely to you to ride withouts stirrups as much as you can, or (more often) someone literally steals your stirrups and you spend a month without them, hacking, in lessons, jumping.. you name it, you’re stirrupless.

In my professional opinion, I believe riding with no stirrups has a great place within the realms of developing position, strength, and function in the tack. Hunter/Jumper/Event riders, we’ve all found ourselves in the middle of a line approaching a huge oxer or in the middle of a combo just having conveniently lost our stirrups at some point, amiright? Having some background in being able to keep your leg and your balance without weight bearing is hugely beneficial.

We know the pros to this. Increased balance, strength, and confidence. These are great pros! But if NSN is done wrong, you may not get the full benefit and actually end up affecting balance, strength, AND confidence.

Yes, there are safety cons to NSN. Falling, muscle soreness/strains, higher chance of injury.. etc. However, that’s not exactly what I want to focus on today.

Too often what I see happen with NSN is an immediate jump into absolutely no stirrups (as in the cases where stirrups mysteriously disappear from saddles and aren’t returned for 4weeks).

While, yes this is a sure way to commit… it’s also a sure way to develop bad habits,

compensations, and put yourself at risk for newly developed poor equitation come December. Think of it this way.. if someone took away your desk chair and you had no way of modifying the desk height or finding another seating device, so you had to still get down low enough to work at the desk.. Let’s say you’re ambition and you try to maintain a seated position (now squat) position (because we all sit in that nice posture, right?!)… you probably wouldn’t last long, and soon you’d start trying other weird things just to keep functioning. You’d probably start out by hunching or crouching, then maybe try to kneel and crane your neck, then maybe standing in a lopsided posture looking down…

Now think about the last time you rode without stirrups. Were you fluid and efficient with your movements? Or did you immediately lock up your hips, clamp with your legs and knees, and stiffen your arms and the rest of your body in an attempt to maintain your “normal” eq? This is before muscles even got tired!

Sofija and Ozzy. Aspire Development Programme

If the above didn’t happen immediately.. it likely happened as soon as you got fatigued. Which is very normal. My issue with this? Now you’re training bad habits, and strengthening in your position in the wrong ways. Yes, the more the month goes on, of course the stronger you’re going to get. But if you build that strength on top of incorrect equitation.. it’s not really benefitting you. Also, your horse won’t appreciate you bouncing around all stiff and clampy for the first few weeks either. Think of their back and yours!

All this being said.. I’m still in favour of no stirrup training. If it’s done appropriately. Here’s my recommendations for NSN.

Week 1 (3-4x/wk):

● Regular warm-up with stirrups

● 1-5 min of no-stirrup work (or as long as you can until you find you begin to lose good equitation and posture.. this could be only 1-2min to start!). All gaits. Trot is obviously going to be the most difficult gait, with walk and canter being a little easier to maintain.

● 10-15 min regular riding. Do any jumping or more intense work within this time.

● 1-5 min of no-stirrup work. Focus here on things like sitting trot and transitions to build that core stability. Make sure you’re still letting the hips move, and keeping the legs in an appropriate position and of course maintaining a correct posture!

● Cool down. Or continue with a regular ride with stirrups.

● Repeat this every second ride (if you ride every day) or 3-4x/week with days in between.

Caitlin and Jasper. Aspire Development Programme

Week 2 (3-4x/wk):

● Reg. warm-up with stirrups.

● 10-15min regular riding with stirrups.

● 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting, 2 min canter work and transitions from trot to canter no stirrups. ● 2 min break

● 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting.

● 1 min break

● 1 min trot work with out stirrups, OR transitional work (walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to sitting trot, sitting trot to canter, canter to posting, posting to walk.. etc).

● 1 min break

● 3-5 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity!

● Cool-down.

Week 3 (3-4x/week):

● Reg. warm-up with stirrups

● 10 min reg. ride with stirrups.

● 2 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity. Trust me you’ll feel the burn in your legs!

● Jump-work with no stirrups (if you jump), or lateral work or advanced work with no stirrups. Do this only until you feel your position slipping… Take breaks as necessary.

If jumping, start at a level you’re comfortable with (obviously). Ideas here could be: ○ small gymnastic exercises or grids or small course work.

● 1-2 min break.

● 5 min regular hacking or jump work with stirrups.

● 5 min hacking with no stirrups, all gaits. ● Cool-down.

Week 4 (3-4x/wk):

● Reg. Warm-up with stirrups, including 3-4min two point position work at trot.

● 5-10 min no stirrups, all gaits.

● 5 min regular hacking with stirrups.

● Any jump work or advanced skills with NO stirrups. If you’ve been working on jumps, work towards a full course at a comfortable height for you within this week!

● 1-2min break.

● 5-10min no stirrups, all gaits.

● Cool-down.

Some general rules of thumb for this progression:

1. The times are a suggestion. If you feel you can do more or can only do less before your position and posture get poor, by all means modify!

2. The point is to challenge yourself, but not to the point of training a bad position. Be aware!

3. The two-point position holds will challenge your position in a similar way to not having stirrups. I recommend throwing these in at the beginning and end of every ride you do for 2-5 minutes. Challenge yourself to control your horse with your legs, while keeping good position, and maintaining balance. Use your saddle or horse’s neck for balance IF NEEDED ONLY. This will work legs, core, and overall postural stability.

4. Perform the above progressions every second ride, or 3-4x/week. On days off from no stirrup work, add in the two-point holds and ride as usual otherwise.

NSN is often viewed as a month to go hard or go home. While I’m all for challenging riders to improve their fitness in the saddle.. it has to be done appropriately and smart. If it’s not then that’s where we end up with injuries, chronic pain, and perpetually fixing bad habits!

If you’re interested in a consult and a more personalized program for your NSN… contact me at

Happy Riding!

Integrative Movement Series: Lower Leg Strength (hint: it doesn’t mean strengthening your lower leg muscles….)

Do you find that your lower leg is a constant issue?

Keeping that leg a mixture of functional, strong and supportive as well as not letting it get stiff, slip back or forward can be tough if you don’t have the right tools. I see plenty of riders who thing their lower leg is perfect, only to look at a photo of them over a fence, or during a ride and find it’s slipped behind them, or watch a video of them posting and see that it is wiggling up and down with their seat in an attempt encourage their horse forward.

It’s not an uncommon issue, but it does take some outside thinking to fix. Problems with the lower leg can come from weak hip stabilizers. The leg, although made up of many parts, acts to some extent as a whole when it comes to our position. If our hips aren’t stabilizing correctly, it’s going to be pretty hard to keep the leg functional underneath us. Symptoms of weak hip stabilizers can include low back pain, poor balance, knee pain, calf pain and ankle pain as well as an inability to keep the leg strong or underneath you during a ride. Below is a diagram of where the gluteus medius sits, one of the major players in pelvic stabilization. Other big players are the core musculature, and quadratus lumborum which sits in the low back attaching from the pelvis to the ribs.


Another piece to this problem is the foot’s position in the stirrup. An often overlooked factor, if the foot isn’t balanced and centred the alignment all the way up to the hips  will be off.. which will interfere with how the hips function, and therefore the rest of the leg and even torso.

The foot in the stirrup should be similar to how we stand. When we stand, there are three points on the foot that should be the main points of contact. The ball of the foot, the base of the pinky toe, and the heel. If you stand with more weight to the outer or inner edges, or more to front or back of your foot- you have some work to to. An easy way to test this is to stand on one foot and see how you shift your weight in the foot. Feeling for those three points of contact equally is the first step.

In the stirrup we only have two points of contact with the foot- the ball and the pinky toe’s base. Next time your in the saddle, note if your foot is equally balanced or if it is shifted more to one edge. If it is shifted, practice focusing on getting the balance equal between both feet and see how that effects your lower leg’s ability to work.

The position of the foot plays a minor roll to the hip’s stability when it comes to the lower leg. The hip itself and our ability to balance and stabilize the body is the biggest part. The muscles that help with this are often over looked in training programs, and subsequently forgotten about by our brain, and not used as they should be. It sometimes takes an outside eye, and assistance retraining how to move before it all clicks into place.. but here are a few of my favourite exercises that combine balancing the foot and the hip to better the lower leg.

Side Plank/Bridge:

– Start from your knees moving from the hips, as shown in the video. Once you feel strong holding from the knees.. you can progress to a full side plank position.. having the feet wide is often more comfortable then stacking the feet. Try both out and see which is best for you!

These exercises should not cause pain anywhere, and you should be checking for proper alignment and core activation the entire time! There is many progressions to both those exercises, but master the basics first and then move up. Remember, perfect practice makes perfect!

The next is the Flamingo or Single Leg Deadlift. Basically anything single leg is going to be awesome for you, as it really targets our balance (obvi) but also gets us using the foot correctly

(if we focus on it) and works the hip stabilizers. This one in particular is my all time favourite for the hips, and everything lower body.

Make sure the body stays in one straight line, as in the second picture.. the shoulders must stay active as well as to not let the posture fail. Move continuously on one leg in and out of the posture, feeling the standing leg work- especially in the hips. Make sure the leg in the air is active too- push the heel down and back as if you were standing in your stirrup on that side.. this will help keep the hips even. Doing 10 on each side, x3 is excellent! I often have my riders work on this exercise off the horse, and then feel for the same activity once their are on the horse as well (visualizing the leg being this active really helps kick the musculature into action).Here’s a video of a similar exercise. The technique remains the same between the two. Maintain a strong posture, keep hips level and toward the ground, use the core to help balance, and keep everything active!


Lastly, reverse lunges to a step up..

Here we start with the reverse lunge. Stepping backwards and bending, then swinging the back leg up as we stand to step up to a small box or bench (or bale) to stand straight, bringing the other leg up to the high knee position as shown. Master your reverse lunge first by just doing a few week of step backs and lunging.. this is often a big enough challenge balance wise. Watch the hips don’t sway, and your maintaining equal contact between the three points of your front foot. From here progress to the reverse lunge plus a high knee afterwards (no step-up yet). After you feel confident at that movement, add the step up. Be warned, it takes a lot of concentration!! Shown in the picture is a reverse lunge to a high knee. This is where you all should be getting comfortable. Once you have at least a few weeks of consistently practicing this move and feeling stronger in your balance and stabilization… then add a bale, or box in front to perform a step up instead of the high knee (and then come to high knee on the opposite leg… reverse lunge, step up, high knee, reverse the process).


Try those out by adding them on their own into your day, or adding them to your regular work out. Looking for some guidance in your exercise and health? My membership options may be just what your looking for. Check out my membership page for more.. at offers as low as $10 for your first month.. what are you waiting for? Really?

As always, if you have questions about your riding or these exercises specifically.. shoot me and email at!