How to Ride a Horse With No Stirrups

Stirrups are D-shape metal rings that hang from the saddle either side. The rider places their foot in the stirrup so they rest on the ball the foot. They help the rider be more secure, stable and also make it easier for the rider to lift their weight out of the saddle, allowing the horse's back to move more freely. However a rider can become dependent on them. Riding with no stirrups can improve your balance and position which is the backbone of riding.


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    Begin with core strengthening exercises. These should be done on the ground, regularly for several days before you begin to train without stirrups. Without having something to push down on while riding, you will be more responsible for your own balance while astride, and strong core muscles are a must.
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    Warm up your legs and your horse properly. Make sure the horse is responsive and both you and the horse are relaxed. Ride some schooling exercises, stretch your legs, and do some work with stirrups.
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    Bring the horse to a halt. If necessary ask someone to hold the horse.
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    Cross your right stirrup over the front of the horse's neck or saddle followed by the left. Do it in this order in case you need to get back on at any point (getting on with the left stirrup).
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    Check your position while the horse is still standing. Feet and knees pointing forward, heals down, back and shoulders relaxed, even weight in seat bones... It's even more important without stirrups to allow the weight to fall into your knees and have an independent lower leg. Sit like you would with stirrups, don't let your legs or feet lose their position or flop down. Point your heel far down, this makes it easier to grip with your legs.
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    Take a deep breath and ask for walk. When you feel comfortable, start to post to the walk, rising out of your saddle as the horse's outside shoulder moves forward. This may be hard at first, so stick to just walking for now and move on to a trot next time. Don't use your hands for this: do NOT use the reins or pull on the horse's mouth for balance. Keep your posture, especially hands, in the correct riding position most appropriate for your discipline.
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    Re-check your position, keep your hands off the saddle and make sure you aren't pulling on the reins. When you are ready and relaxed ask for trot.
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    If you need to hook a finger through the neck strap and/or hold on to the pommel to pull yourself into the seat, have a friend lead the horse for you so you don't pull on your horse's mouth. Relax your back and shoulders.
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    Try posting to the trot. A common fault in novice riders is to raise straight up. Posting without stirrups will force you to post correctly by swinging your hips forward and moving your core. Keep proper riding posture. If you can't post, it is recommended to return to the walk to prevent any accidents.
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    If you are considering to canter, practice sitting to the trot without stirrups. Let your hips swing side to side, and grip with your thighs. Do not grip with your knees, as this will cause uncomfortable pressure points for your horse, and do not grip with your calves as this is the aid that asks the horse to speed up.
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    If you trotted sitting without difficulty, call for the canter gait. Grip with your thighs and let your leg straighten a bit to help you keep your balance. If you feel you are going to lose your balance, return to the walk. Remember, having a death grip on the reins is very bad for your horse and will not make you a better rider.


  • Try not to panic when you first drop your stirrups. If you feel anxious or scared after you drop them, just walk and get them back, then re-organize and try it again. If you are riding hunt seat, you may not need to cross the irons over the saddle, just let them hang freely but make sure they don't scare the horse. If they are not crossed, just get them back if you start to lose your balance. Don't worry about slowing down, transitions are hard.
  • Crossing the stirrups over the horses neck of the saddle is a matter of preference. Some horses dislike the stirrup on their necks, but on the saddle you risk scratches.
  • Try recognizing the beat of your gait by calling out these:
    • walk= 1 2 3 4
    • trot=121212
    • canter= 1 2 3 (similar to a rocking chair)
  • Do not use your hands for balance. This is a common mistake but it pulls on your horse's mouth so he gets conflicting signals ("Stop! Don't Stop!"). If you feel like you are losing your balance, sit up tall, lift your hands, and get your stirrups back or walk.
  • Squeeze with your inner thigh muscle, and balance yourself. This does not mean pinch with your knees.
  • Keep trying. It's a tough skill to learn but it will help improve your balance, and confidence.
  • If you pull the buckle down before crossing the leathers it will be more comfortable.
  • To get the most from this it is best done under the supervision of an instructor


  • This can be dangerous for a first attempt; start on a quiet schoolmaster.
  • Be prepared that at first it will feel very bouncy and you may fall off.
  • Use a neck strap. A spare stirrup leather is very good for this.

Things You'll Need

  • A Quiet Horse/Pony
  • Well Fitting Tack
  • Safe Riding Clothing
  • Safe Enclosed Riding Area

Article Info

Categories: Riding