The Sensible Rider’s Guide to No Stirrups November

wellwithhorses.com 5 free no stirrups exercises
The Sensible Riders Guide to No Stirrups November - www.wellwithhorses.com

no stirrups november - wellwithhorses.com

According to equestrian lore, No Stirrups November refers to that wonderful time of year when we take our leathers off our saddles and go stirrup free… for a whole month… of torture.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love no-stirrups work. Actually, let me rephrase that. I love the results of no-stirrups work. I find that when I work without stirrups regularly, my leg feels longer, more relaxed, my seat more independent, and my whole body taller and stronger. This is, indeed, the desired effect, along with a sense of feeling more secure in the saddle and more a part of your horse. Oh, and it’s a wicked core workout.

So when No Stirrups November rolls around, I don’t cringe. I look at it as the inevitable culmination of a season spent working on my seat and position, and working on my horse’s softness, roundness, and the building up of her own core.

Having said that, I don’t go sans stirrups for the whole of every ride. For a few reasons. The main one being that I don’t think it’s fair to warm a horse up in stirrup-less sitting trot (and doing too much posting trot without stirrups can encourage you to grip with your knee).

So for me, the goal is usually 20 minutes of no-stirrups per ride. I warm up in my usual way, then drop & cross my stirrups, and work in all three gaits. Walk work without stirrups is very beneficial, allowing you to really focus on feeling the horse’s back underneath you, and cantering stirrupless can give you a deeper feel than you’ll ever get with stirrups.

For the last 20 minutes of my ride I take my stirrups back, and try to get the same feel with them as I had without them. It’s not easy, and usually involves me letting them down a hole.

How to Get Started:

Not all riders are ready for trot or canter work without stirrups (and not all horses are ready either), so, as with all good fitness programs, I would suggest modifying. If you aren’t yet able to sit the trot without without relying on the reins for balance, then you’re probably not going to get a benefit from doing twenty minutes of trot without stirrups.

Does that mean you can’t partake in No Stirrups November festivities? Of course not! Walking (heck, even work at the halt) with your leg hanging down long is a great way to get that no-stirrups feeling without fear of bouncing on around on your poor horse’s back, hanging onto his mouth to keep your balance.

Another way to pay your no-stirrups dues is work on the lunge line, assuming yours is a safe lunge horse (if not, ask your coach if you can get in some saddle time on a reliable school horse). Always make sure, of course, that the person lungeing you is well qualified. A fun instructor will even find ways to make lunge lessons without stirrups seem like a good time, and will know what exercises will be beneficial for you.

Are you a complete beginner? Have your instructor lead you around while you practice dropping your stirrups then getting them back without looking down. Play fun games at halt like touching your horse’s ears and tail, or doing around-the-world.

Not sure where to start? I’ve put together these five no-stirrups exercises for you. They can be ridden at various gaits, so you can modify based on your own level of fitness and expertise!

Remember – It’s Not Just for November!

No-stirrups work should not be reserved for just November, either.  Ask your instructor if you can do a little bit every lesson. If you ride mainly on your own, make yourself do it. Set up a video camera or your smart phone ring-side and video your progression. That way, when November rolls around, you’re all set to up the ante and challenge yourself even more.

My point here is this: first of all, yes, maybe the end goal for No Stirrups November is to be able to spend a month without stirrups at all. But that’s just not reasonable for most of us. And to miss out on something beneficial just because you’re not an expert at it seems… well… wrong to me.

So we make modifications. We set realistic goals. We do what’s best for our horses and our long-term riding aspirations while challenging ourselves just enough to get better.

You can download 5 no-stirrups exercises (and other great freebies) in the resource library!

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14 Comments

  1. Hmmm, hadn’t thought of doing no-stirrup work but you are inspiring me to add a bit of it (on those days when the arena is not too crowded with the 4′ jumpers galloping around!). I’m going to start adding a bit here and there. It will be excellent for improving my seat, core strength, connection with the horse, etc. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. this past summer my coach, Belinda Trussell, told me we were going to do six weeks of no stirrups work to make my lower leg more effective. We started with ten minutes and worked up to 30. I am still doing some no stirrups work and I have to say it was remarkably effective. My core strength and balance improved and now I can keep the lower leg on and the upper leg relaxed and give a push aid separately with the inside of my ankle and the results in how my horse sits and comes together is remarkable. ( We are training and competing at the Prix St. George in dressage). However in November it is cooler here and the likelihood of spooking increases. As I have both hips replaced and falling off is not an option I will not be doing too much no stirrups in November. Thanks for this post you raise very good points about the no stirrups work.

    • Wow! Good for you! It’s amazing how much no stirrups work can improve your core strength, isn’t it? Interesting how you’re able to “dissect” your leg aids like that, due to your increased core strength and balance. You’ve inpsired me a little bit, Anne! 🙂 I hear ya about November spookiness, and agree – maybe we should start a “no stirrups June” movement!

  3. I have to be honest, I haven’t done hardly any no stirrups since bringing my OTTB home, mainly because he is very green! Maybe it’s almost time to give it a go!

    • I hear ya! It’s so hard on the greenies. Maybe even start with some no-stirrups exercises at halt and walk first and build up from there? Good luck!

  4. Hmm, I may actually try it out this time. I’ve always had a hard time sitting down to Baldur’s trot when both bareback and in saddle, so there is plenty of room to improve! And of course I’d love a better balance and being able to sit still in the saddle.

    • You should definitely give it a try, Mathilde! Let us know if you do, and how it goes!

  5. Love love LOVE no stirrups work. I had no idea about No Stirrups November. Great tips!

  6. I’ve always wanted to take my stirrups off for the entire month of November, but it seems I always have either green horses (or horse or rider injuries) so it never actually happens! And I just got in a new young horse this week that I don’t know at all so I’m a little scared to go all in. I like your idea of doing a little bit more often, as an alternative. I think that I could try a bit at the walk daily and go from there. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Thanks for the inspiration, Pam! I’m going to try some of these during my next ride. And I LOVE your handy dandy download – it’s super helpful. I pinned it to spread the joy. 🙂

    • Yay! Thanks Emily! Come back and tell us how you did with the no-stirrups exercises!!!

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