However, every time I show in IHSA I have an annoying ongoing problem. I tend to be all over the place when it comes to picking a stirrup length. Even during my lessons, I am never able to settle on a distinct length. Maybe it's the saddle or the body shape of the horse, but I can't seem to find my happy place when it comes to my leathers.
This quirk becomes a little more daunting when it comes to IHSA competitions. I get one chance to pick a stirrup length. Since I don't get to feel the horse in motion before entering the arena I tend to opt for a shorter length. That way if things get bumpy at least I'm not struggling to find my stirrup, or worse, losing it all together.
So after a little research I've come across an efficient way to settle on a length:
The armpit test is hit and miss with me because I think my legs are much longer than my arms. So while this is usually the first step in finding a comfortable length it often doesn't work for me. However, it's a good place to start when I'm getting into a saddle that could have previously been used by teeny 5' rider (I'm 5'8).
The next test is the ankle bone. Once you've mounted take your feet out of the stirrups and let your legs dangle. The stirrup should fall parallel to your ankle bone.
If I'm heading into a jumping class, I place my feet back in the stirrups and go into point position. I try to focus on my ankles first and how easily I can flex them down. If I feel like my knee is too straight or I'm not able to really dig my heels down, I know my stirrups are too long. If I feel like there's too much stress in my ankles and my hips are too far above the saddle, I know my stirrups are too short.
If I'm about to enter a flat class I am a little pickier with the length. I want a good flex in my ankle and a steady leg for cantering, but I want a supportive length for when I have to sit the trot.
Once I've made my adjustments I sit deep in the saddle and feel what I'm sitting on. If I get a draft cross, I may need to drop my stirrups a hole so that I can reach more of his side. If I pull a slender thoroughbred I will probably want my stirrups on the shorter side so that my legs don't go past where I need to be cueing.
While I can spend all day adjusting, I just have to be definitive with a choice and move on.
- Adjust your stirrups on flat ground. Horses shift their weight when standing up or downhill which could ultimately leave stirrups drastically uneven.
- Remember that stirrup leathers can stretch. If you regularly ride in the same saddle, eventually one leather will start to feel longer than the other, especially if you're prone to putting more weight on your dominant leg.
- Counting the holes makes it easier to adjust stirrups in a hurry, especially if someone is helping you. That way you can start with both stirrups on hole 19 and adjust accordingly.