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Stirrup Length Conundrum

I have a very important question to pose to readers today: do you change the length of your stirrups to jump? I know it’s a very small thing, and I’m sure everyone does it differently, but this question seems to pop up in my riding at least once every few months. So naturally I’m curious as to everyone’s thoughts on the subject. But let me back up, and give you some insight on my personal dilemma.

When I was in high school [which was the last time I was actively showing on the hunter/jumper circuit] I rode with the same stirrup length regardless of what I was doing: equitation, hunter under saddle, jumping, trail riding, whatever. But when I moved down to Central Ohio and began to ride with some new people, I was told I should lengthen my stirrups to flat and raise them up to jump. On my old, very round, horse I never noticed much of a difference. I felt like the length of my stirrups by one or even two holes just didn’t change my riding or position very much.

Dressage Stirrups

Fast forward to my current trainer. She has never said anything to me about the length of my stirrups… but I’ve been playing with them over the last several years. I noticed on Vinnie that I prefer  a longer stirrup to help me more effectively wrap my leg around his wider barrel. On Miles, I’ve flip flopped. For a while I shortened my stirrups, but then I had difficulty with “over posting” and not being able to post the trot without stirrups. I read that part of the problem could be that my stirrups were too short. So I lengthened them and was able to wrap my leg down and around my horse again, and posting without stirrups became feasible, if not pretty.

But again in my lesson last Thursday, I felt very unbalanced over fences and noticed that when I’m in half seat or two-point, my legs “extend” so much sometimes that my knee is no longer on the knee roll of my saddle. But I still really prefer a longer stirrup to flat in — it’s easier for me to post and use my leg to push Miles forward at the trot and canter. I know, that’s a ton of information to throw at you but the gist is: I’m in a pickle. And I should really probably just ask my trainer what she thinks, but I wanted to get ya’lls opinion too.

So, do you have the same or different stirrup lengths for flatting and jumping?

Saddle Close Up

Tracy

Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

60 thoughts to “Stirrup Length Conundrum”

  1. I would do whatever the heck it is that makes you most effective, regardless of what others say. I primarily ride dressage so even when I get into a hunt seat saddle I ride with my stirrups longer than most would. I do typically shorten them a hole or two to jump however, otherwise my jumping position is a hot mess (as if it’s not all the time…. hahaha).

  2. Omg yes. I always lengthened my stirrups to flat as opposed to jump. I also tend to HIKE them up when I jump, the higher stirrup level makes me feel more secure, and helps me not to get left behind. When flatting, you you want an open hip angle. When jumping you want to be able to easily close your hip angle. I’ve always had to adjust stirrup length to get that to happen.

    1. You definitely make a good point regarding hip angles. I have trouble closing my hip angle, so maybe that’s part of the reason I feel better with a shorter stirrup over fences.

  3. Really I have a few different stirrup lengths… dressage saddle stirrup length which is obviously long (or as long as I can stand, which isn’t really that long for dressage), flatting in the jump saddle length which for me is the same as jumping in the ring (although I can go a hole lower and be happy with it for flatting), and then XC length which is a hole shorter. I change my stirrups a lot depending on what I’m doing.

    1. I figured eventers would have several lengths, but what I find interesting is that you go shorter for XC, I assume to help stabilize yourself because the jumps are typically wider and whatnot.

        1. This is so interesting because I actually tend to make my stirrups a hole longer for XC (if I don’t just leave them the same as stadium)! I’m definitely not sitting on my horse’s back during XC, but I want just a little bit of extra length in my leg for stability in case something goes kinda sideways on course. Perhaps this will change when I move up a level, but so far I’ve done this at BN and intro.

          So for me: long stirrups dressage, obviously, which is where I do almost all of my flatting. If I’m doing a long flat ride in my jump saddle I lengthen my stirrups 2-3 holes, depending on how I’m feeling. If I’m just trying to work on my position and moving forward and basic movements, 2 holes. More if I’m trying to get in some challenging lateral work. I’ll then put them back up when I jump.

  4. Currently I have my stirrups on more of a “jumping hole” even for flatting because I’ve been learning to really post properly and strengthen my lower leg and I find that almost impossible with longer stirrups. However, I’ve recently started to feel that over-posting thing when I flat and I’m considering going one hole longer for flatwork next time I ride. The hole I’ve been currently working at was perfect for popping over some jumps yesterday though! 🙂

    1. This is exactly what I went through! I felt like at first the shorter length for flatting was helpful, but then I saw some pictures where I was literally standing STRAIGHT UP in my irons on the “up” post… it was atrocious! So then I lengthened my stirrups… and yeah. You get the gist, haha

  5. I have never changed my stirrup lengths to ride. Maybe because I’m so long legged it doesn’t have an much affect on where my leg falls? I’m not really sure, it’s just never come up.

    1. No one I currently ride with [which isn’t really that many people, but still] changes their stirrup length. But I do have short legs [all of my height is in my torso] so maybe that’s why I feel like I need to change it up? Interesting thought …

  6. I’ve done both: longer for flatting and shorter for jumping, and keeping the same length (does that make sense?). I have short legs to begin with so a hole or two difference doesn’t really affect my ride that much. I personally prefer a shorter stirrup length to a longer one, but B has had me lower them for flatting in a few lessons to get a better feel of the sitting trot. I guess it just depends on what’s most effective and most comfortable for you!

    1. Hmm, so interesting! I noticed a huge difference from hole to hole in my stirrup length, and I definitely have short legs [need a petite in dress pants so they don’t drag on the ground by a few inches!]

  7. I used to jump with a shorter stirrup than I flat, but I also used to flat in a dressage saddle. Now, i do everything in my jump saddle and keep my stirrups the same. I do the jumpers, and when I first started jumping bigger than 3’6, I found myself jacking my stirrups up to feel more secure. However, when my stirrups were that short, I had a harder time stretching up before the jumps. So, my trainer had me lengthen my stirrups 3 holes, which was mildly terrifying at first, but now I love jumping with a longer stirrup. It helps me be more effective with my legs in the corners and more balanced with my upper body.

    1. I don’t think I want to make as drastic of a change as 3 holes, more like 1 or maybe 2. But your comment does give me pause because stretching up before and after fences is a big issue for me that I’ve been working hard to correct and I definitely don’t want to go backwards!

  8. Until recently I just sort of used a “middle” length for flatting AND jumping – I wasn’t riding in a dressage saddle or jumping huge, so it worked. But my trainer is now having me go 2 holes longer for flatting, and then back up for jumping, and I find that my leg is much more effective on the flat in my new saddle with that change! Just experiment and see what works best for you!

  9. I have a dressage saddle and a jumping saddle, so I never have to actually change the stirrup lengths, but they are different from each other. When I cliniced with Dom Schramm, he mentioned that dressage stirrups should ideally fall between the ankle and heel. I keep mine one hole shorter for now since my leg isn’t very strong and it helps me feel more secure. As for jumping, he took one look at my stirrups and hiked them up like crazy. I’ve come to realize that while the shorter stirrup helps me keep my position over jumps, it limits my ability to effectively apply certain leg aides. This isn’t to say that I can’t – I’m more than capable of performing leg yields etc with short stirrups…but it’s definitely harder. I need the longer leg/more contact to be more effective on the flat 🙂

    1. You echoed just how I feel! On the flat, I feel much more effective with a slightly longer stirrup. You just wrote it more eloquently than I did, haha

  10. Wow…I am shocked your trainer never has you change lengths – that says quite a bit about what they feel about position. Stirrup length is imperative to a proper position! Rule of thumb is your stirrup should sit at the ball of your ankle for flatting in a jumping saddle – then up two holes for jumping. That is a base and can be modified for everyone. In a jumping saddle you should still have stirrup length longer than you would in a dressage saddle because you want to utilize the shape of the saddle to your advantage. HAVING stirrups too long or two short will compromise balance and the position of your leg, and aids.

    The reason you shorten your stirrups when jumping is because you are out of the saddle and your bum is no longer the main point of communication. It’s much easier to close your legs when your legs are up under you and your bum is out of the way. You can’t get your leg on properly with your bum in the saddle and long stirrup length unless you are in a saddle designed for this like a dressage saddle. This is long winded so I will end this here – but yes – you should definitely have a difference!

    1. Hmm, well I don’t know if I agree with you about how my trainer feels. I think I have… a very long list of things that need to be fixed regarding my position and that she’s working on the things that are most important first in her opinion.

      Regardless of that though, your point about shorter stirrups helping you close your leg when up in a half seat or two point makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I flat 2-3 holes longer then I jump, and might go up more for XC. It doesn’t matter too much over smaller fences, but as I put courses together at 2’6″+, I find that I need the base of support provided by shorter stirrups. It’s a function of the horse’s shape, my shape, and the questions we’re addressing.

  12. I flat about 2-3 holes longer than I jump (I used to flat in my jump saddle constantly before I acquired my dressage saddle). I like to have a short stirrup on trail rides, too, and always go in my XC saddle. Some if it depends on the horse I’m riding, too. If I am jumping with Moe, I prefer a slightly shorter stirrup than I do if I’m jumping Gina. I assume that has to do with the differences in the way they’re shaped!

  13. I flat in my jump length. That said, I only jump 2-2’3″ on a good day. If I was jumping 3′ fences, my stirrups might be shorter and therefore I might want to flat a longer length. For me, A. I’m lazy, but B. I feel I need to be used to doing everything in the same length to build those muscles. Cross-trainer brain says, if I do two lengths, then I’m not just working my muscles into the same tight ball. Hm….
    I have half holes (love), so I would probably drop 2 holes to flat.

    1. It’s interesting to see the differences between the disciplines on this subject. Thanks for sharing your experience with GM!

  14. Interesting topic and interesting answers! Until recently, I jumped and flatted using the same stirrup length – which really should only be my flat length but I was jumping pretty small so it didn’t matter much. Recently, I’ve been putting my stirrups up two holes for jumping and then even sometimes leave them up for flatting as I work on strengthening my leg more and getting deep into my heals.

    1. I’ve been wondering the same — at 2′ I felt like I didn’t need shorter stirrups, but at 2’6″ I’m wondering if maybe I do. Although, to be honest 2’6″ is really piddly sticks too, in terms of height.

  15. I ride with stirrups 2-3 holes shorter for jumping and have them longer for flatting. It has just always been a “rule of thumb” for me when I started riding lessons.

    1. I’ve heard this used as a general rule as well, but the small number of folks I ride with generally don’t change their stirrup length. Thus the conundrum!

  16. Hey Tracey! I have a “jump length” and a “dressage length.” When just schooling on the flat, though, I will typically just leave at the jump length. If I am hunting, riding cc or going on a hunter pace – anything where I’m going to be out of the saddle for longer periods of time, I crank it up a hole higher than the ring jumping length. All that said – I feel most natural at the “jump length”

    1. Thanks Dez! I definitely feel pretty natural either way but really I’m only talking about a hole or maybe two. So perhaps that’s not really enough of a difference for me to feel as much?

  17. I flat four holes longer than I jump. I have super long legs that make it hard to not tip forward when posting if my stirrups are too short. I don’t change the length between XC and stadium.

  18. I’m generally too lazy to bother changing stirrup length so I flat in the same length as jumping, but when I’m not feeling lazy I drop them 2-3 holes for flatwork or trail rides.

    1. There’s that point too: I’m pretty lazy so I’m not sure if it will be very practical for me to change stiurrup lengths for every ride.

  19. i’m playing with this exact thing right now! in my last few rides i’ve shortened my stirrups to jump and have felt a lot more stable in my lower leg and with keeping my seat over the saddle. (i had previously been using the same height for jumping and flatting… but was not satisfied with my jumping position). good luck figuring it out!!

  20. I typically don’t change my stirrup length from flatting to jumping. When I got Poppy I had to shorten my stirrups bc she is small and I pretty much kept them that length for my other horses. If I am on something big, I will lengthen them. It’s really about what’s comfortable and provides you with the best position.

    1. I’ve definitely noticed that on certain types of horses I need a different length, but Miles is pretty slab-sided so a hole or two doesn’t really affect my ability to wrap my leg around him as much as it does on other, rounder, horses.

  21. I didn’t use to, until I couldn’t figure out why my eq felt and was awful over fences. That’s when I decided to shorten my stirrups. Suddenly I could actually two-point again! It was like magic haha

    1. That’s great! Unfortunately for me I don’t think shorter stirrups will fix my position issues, but I wonder if it will help? Definitely might need to give this a try!!

  22. I flat about a half-hole to a hole lower when I remember to, and go up to jump, but it also depends on the saddle I’m riding. I’m also short enough to require children’s length leathers, which poses tricks in and of itself.

    Now my western saddles? Cowhorses – ride a full two holes shorter (which is a much bigger difference than 2 hunt seat holes!) than if I’m riding horsemanship/pleasure. Back when I was consistently showing, I showed the horsemanship with my stirrups just barely too long for me, in order to a) ride mainly out of my seat, b) free up my legs since we’re all spur stopped and c) make my legs look a little longer. I shortened back up to a regular length for trail, western riding and pleasure though. I also ride the AQHA HUS with a longer length than h/j, because I post a lot lower and am a lot less concerned with hips/fences/etc.

    1. I am SO glad you commented on this Holly, because I think you and I are similarly built. I also need children’s leathers [or I wrap them back underneath themselves, like in the above picture]. And while I’ve never ridden cowhorses, I did a similar thing when I rode western — really long stirrups for Horsemanship and shorter for trail/WR.

  23. It really depends more on the horse for me rather than the activity, as to whether I adjust my stirrups. I definitely prefer a pretty short stirrup, even when flatting, so going up a hole for jumping puts me close to looking like a jockey. If I were on a big old warmblood that didn’t want to move, I’d lengthen my stirrups. But on my tb, a short stirrup works for the flat because he doesn’t much like to be sat on.

  24. I ride one hole longer for flatting then jumping. 🙂

    I’ve noticed that in some of your pictures that your stirrups looks long cause your leg is almost straight, but that could be my personal preference to have some angle in the leg 🙂 Just my 2 cents 🙂

  25. Fellow H/J rider in the Columbus area (currently just jumpers) also on an OTTB – I myself actually prefer a short stirrup even for flatwork. However, thanks to having had ankle surgery and needing knee surgery, if I want to be able to walk after riding I go down 1, sometimes 2, for flatting and shorten for jumping.

    1. (Same Michelle as Feb 3/2016)
      It’s really more important to make sure they’re short enough for jumping than it is to make sure they’re longer for flatting – unless you’re doing high level dressage stuff.
      Stirrups should be shorter for jumping because your bum is out of the saddle, and while you are out of the saddle you need to maintain a 90-110 degree angle behind your knee for optimal stability. If your stirrups are too long and your angle is too wide (even as extreme as your leg being completely straight, as seems to be the norm in recent years), you will always feel like you are really having to reach for your stirrups, your heel will likely come up, it will be far more difficult to get off your horse’s back, and usually it causes a rounding of the riders’ back.
      I tend to find that if I’m jumping and feeling really off in my position, like I can’t stay with the horse (usually jumping ahead), I need to shorter my stirrups a hole or two.

      http://practicalhorsemanmag.com/article/what-knee-angle-is-correct-for-my-jumping-position

  26. I know this is coming a tad late, but I just found your blog and jumped at the stirrup length post! I just surged forward in my riding capabilities, recently, due to shortening my stirrups by one inch. I am 5’1 and I ride this little bitty refined POA mare (who you’d probably have trouble guessing was a POA). She feels SO narrow between your legs, and it takes a while to get used to her and feel confident on her, because it is 100% up to you to balance the team. If you go wonky and can’t instantly regain balance or slow her down, you’re probably coming off, because feeling unbalanced, she may bolt or do any other number of green pony responses to scary unfamiliar feelings!

    For over a year I rode her on the shortest possible hole on my stirrup leathers, and I never felt like I was consistently 100% balanced. You can imagine how that ate away at my confidence. I assumed it was because maybe this green pony was just way out of my league, and obviously I was the biggest failure in the equestrian world.

    We were very slowly making progress, but it’s the slowest progress I have ever seen. Then a friend made an offhand comment about how, in a photograph, my jumping position on her looked very nice, but that I may benefit from shortening my stirrups a hole when I go over fences. So I decided, heck, let’s try stabbing a new hole in these leathers and give it a whirl. I was SO OUTRAGED and very excited when every balance problem I ever had on this pony was instantly resolved by the one inch taken up in my leathers .

    I feel 1,000X more confident on the flat, as does my pony, and we are now progressing at lightening speed!!!

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