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No Stirrups November: What it is and How to Participate

Riding students all over usually dread hearing the words “drop your stirrups” in a lesson, but if you’re observing “No Stirrups November” it is a recurring theme.

Personally, I used to hate riding without stirrups. It was always my least favorite part of my weekly lessons. However, over time I began to see the benefits of riding without stirrups, and even grew to enjoy it.

Yes, it does cause post-horseback riding muscle soreness if you aren’t used to it, and it is also quite a workout, but with practice, these negative factors don’t seem so bad. And the best way to practice something you don’t fully enjoy, is to turn it into a challenge and make it into a goal for yourself.

This is where No Stirrups November comes in: If you are looking for a way to improve your riding without stirrups, and want to know you aren’t the only one struggling with it, keep reading to find out more about this yearly equestrian challenge: #nostirrupsnovember

horse and unmounted rider in arena.

What Is No Stirrups November?

No Stirrups November is a challenge issued to equestrians of all levels to spend one month with an added focus on riding without their stirrups. Participation is completely optional, and each person is encouraged to do it as much or as little as they like. Riders who ride without stirrups frequently may want to spend the entire month without stirrups on their saddle. Riders who have never tried it before may be more comfortable only riding without stirrups for a few minutes at a time. The goal of this challenge is to improve riding and balance in the saddle.

Benefits of Riding Without Stirrups

There are many benefits to riding without stirrup. The benefits most often discussed are increasing leg and core strength, and improving balance. Not being able to rely on stirrups to keep you centered and balanced in the saddle will force you to find your own center of balance. Another key benefit to being comfortable in the saddle without stirrups is that if your foot comes out of a stirrup (or both) while riding, you will be much less likely to panic. Knowing you can stay balanced in the saddle without them will give you the confidence to continue on with your ride, particularly if you are in the show ring and unable to stop and pick them back up. Also, with practice, you can learn how to pick your stirrups back up without stopping or breaking to a slower gait, or drawing attention to yourself. While practicing without stirrups, it is a good idea to also practice dropping and picking up your stirrups at various gaits for this very reason. The goal is to make it look seamless so no one will even notice it happened.

How to Participate

No Stirrups November is not an official competition. It is a challenge for equestrians to improve their riding through a particular exercise. This means that participation is easy. There are no rules or guidelines to follow. You can ride without your stirrups as much or as little as you want, and create your own challenge for yourself. If you ride without stirrups often, you can set additional challenges for yourself, or set up a schedule to follow. If you are new to riding without stirrups, start by setting a goal for yourself, either weekly or for the month and track your improvement. Bareback rides would also count toward the challenge. 

Start out Small

If you never ride without stirrups, or only very rarely, then jumping right into whole rides without stirrups will only end with soreness for you and possibly your horse. Start out with just a few minutes at a time and build up from there. Begin with walking and see how comfortable you and your horse feel. If you feel unbalanced, then keep working on it at the walk before moving up to faster gaits. An unbalanced rider can be uncomfortable for your horse, and could cause back problems for them. When you feel comfortable and balanced at the walk, try a sitting trot for a few minutes, and keep building from there. Keep in mind that No Stirrups November is an opportunity to challenge yourself, and is not a competition, so take things as slowly as you need to.

Ride Without Stirrups Throughout the Year

The best way to improve your seat and balance through riding without stirrups is to do it consistently throughout the year. No Stirrups November provides a great challenge for riders, but you will see more improvement from yourself if you work on it more than just one month out of the year. Also, riding without stirrups throughout the year will mean avoiding extra pain and soreness when November rolls around. And you can set additional challenges for yourself in November to build on your “no stirrups” riding. For example, if you usually just ride without stirrups for ten minutes a ride, or a week, then try doing a whole ride without them. If you typically just drop your stirrups while going around the arena on the flat, try adding obstacles or creating patterns to challenge yourself. You can be as creative as you want.

When to Find an Alternative to No Stirrups November

Not every rider is going to be comfortable riding without stirrups, and not every horse is a good fit for it either. If you are not comfortable trying it, or struggle with remaining balanced, then it is a good idea to look for alternative activities to try. For example, working on standing up in your stirrups in two-point may be a good option. This will help strengthen a lot of the same muscles, but is less intense of a workout. 

Some horses are also not ideal for riding without stirrups. This could be because they are very young and still learning, they are easily spooked or panicked, or possibly because they are too bouncy to comfortably ride them without stirrups. If you or your trainer do not think your horse is a good fit for No Stirrup November, you could look into borrowing a different one, or looking into alternative ideas that are a better fit for you and your horse. Also keep in mind that riding without stirrups has the potential to be very hard on a horse’s back, especially if the rider can be unbalanced in the saddle. If your horse has a history of back problems, it is probably best to not put additional strain on them.

Conclusion

Riding without stirrups is definitely challenging, but No Stirrups November is a great opportunity to start practicing. Getting a friend to take part in it with you will help, as you can motivate and cheer each other on. With a little practice each ride, by the end of the month you will be well on your way to riding without stirrups comfortably!

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