High-Tech Stirrups

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The invention of the stirrup a couple thousand years ago altered the history of warfare and therefore the history of the world. That simple design hasn’t changed much until recently, with the addition of weighted bottoms, slanted footpads, safety features and hinged bases.

The folks out there who keep busy designing new equestrian products, and thus find new ways to keep us to spending money, have this time come up with some nifty ways to tweak a piece of tack that was already doing its job well.

You don’t need a high-tech stirrup to develop and maintain a good position. A plain stirrup will do just fine most of the time. But for those who compete at a high level, a small adjustment in equipment can often make a significant difference in results.

The other riders who can benefit from high-tech stirrups are those with back or leg pain. Stirrups with a jointed base, and now stirrups angled at the top so that the leather lies flat across the leg, take strain off legs and backs, helping stiff riders to perform longer. The Sprenger 4-Fs have been the gold standard in jointed stirrups until now, with lower-priced imitations just not getting the job done.

Part of the principle is that the heel shouldn’t just jam down but meets some resistance in the hinge so that the ankle continues to flex. It’s this flexing action that absorbs the shock of the horse’s stride and diverts it from the knee and back. (Now that winter is upon us, one of our testers who foxhunts points out that flex stirrups also keep feet warmer in cold weather because blood flow to the feet is increased.)

The idea of the 90?? connection at the top of the stirrup is a lot simpler than the hinged base, but it’s only now catching on. The right-angle top makes the stirrup easier to find when mounting and if dropped when riding, adding elements of convenience and safety. The right-angle design also takes strain off knees to some extent.

MDC has taken this a step further with an adjustable design that can be rotated from the traditional setting to 45?? and 90?? and that also makes storage easier because the stirrup can lay back down flat when run up the leathers.

Another neat — and simple — idea is to slant the slot for the leathers downward. Wearing the slant on the inside has caught on with some top dressage riders because it helps draw the leg back more under the rider’s body and brings the calf closer to the horse’s side. If the slant is worn to the outside, then the knee is brought in closer and is more suitable for jumping.

Royal Rider has gone in a whole different direction with technology, in materials rather than conformation. Their poly stirrups are light, which keeps them hanging straight instead of becoming a pendulum like heavier metal stirrups do when dropped.

So, if you’re interested in trying high-tech stirrups, which way should you head first' All of the stirrups we tried in this field trial were impressive in the quality of their construction, but the degree of satisfaction they gave each tester had a lot to do with that tester’s personal needs. We’ve given you as much info as we can in our comments to help you pick, but it would be ideal if you can borrow some and try them out before you make the investment.

We canvassed some tack shops to see if they would accept returns on expensive high-tech stirrups that were used only briefly and returned clean. Some said yes and some no. Check first. A note of caution: If you’re used to riding in jointed stirrups, and you test-ride a set without hinges, you may feel that they tilt forward a bit at first.

MDC Intelligent Stirrups
The MDC Ultimate model is a truly versatile stirrup. The swivel top can be set at 45??, 90?? or the traditional position. The angled positions make it easier to pick up the stirrups and also help take strain off knees. The foot tends to stay in the same position across the pad more easily. Stirrup leathers lay flatter across the leg. The top is easy to turn using two hands and stays put in position while riding. It can be returned to the traditional position to run up the stirrups when not mounted.

Along with the Awantecs, these are the heaviest stirrups we tried, adding 3?? pounds to the weight of your saddle. Since the stirrups will flex or rotate either way, they’re easy to position on the leathers.

Our test riders who tend to toe out when standing seemed to prefer the 90?? position, while those who toe in while standing preferred the 45?? position.

There were times when the same rider might switch between 45?? and 90?? depending on whether riding in half chaps or boots, in regular or full-seat leather britches, which might affect how the leg rotated from the hip or the way the leather twisted in front of the leg. We found the hinged base in the Ultimate model flexes down with an amount of resistance that diverts strain from the rider’s back.

The Comfort model has the swivel top but no hinge in the base. If you really want to go wild, MDC has the stainless steel stirrups available with hand-engraved sterling silver and crystals on one side for $250 (with matching spurs available). You can rotate them to have the plain side or silver side out.

MDC Comfort Stirrups: Silver or black stainless steel/no hinge; 4??” 4??” 4??”; 2?? lbs./two $175/black $160/silver; MDC Ultimate Stirrups: Silver or black stainless steel/hinge; 4??” 4??” 4??”; 3?? lbs/two. $195/black $180/silver. www.mdccorporation.us 831/393-0588

Herm Sprenger Offset Eye Stirrups
The offset eye, fixed at 90??, adds another notch of versatility and safety to the familiar Sprenger 4-F jointed stirrups (whose lateral flexing action also absorbs shock) and Fillis-style stirrups. They’re easier to pick up and take some strain off knees, with the ball of the foot staying straight across the base of the stirrup.

Because the top is set at a fixed angle, the stirrups need to be slanted when run up on the leathers for storage or they will stick out. They will fit either direction on the leathers. Sprenger also has available stirrups with a slanted top ($68) and replacement pads with a metal grate ($24).

Sprenger: Silver steel offset eye/no joint; 4??”; 2?? lbs./two $68; Silver steel 4-F with offset eye/jointed; 4??”; 2?? lbs./two $187. 866-GEM-TACK

Stubben Offset Stirrups
Stubben’s “offset” stirrups have slanted openings in the top instead of eyes that are set at an angle to the rest of the stirrups. There are two bases available, a flat base and a slanted “offset” base (called double offsets). Therefore you need to be clear about how you’re going to hang them on the leathers.

The offsets with the flat base can have the slant set to the inside if you want to bring your calf closer to the horse’s side (the usual position for dressage riders) and have the slant set to the outside if you want to bring your knee tighter (the usual rider position for jumping).

Things get really complicated with the double offsets, but they’ve made it easier by putting an R and L on each stirrup and including a drawing in the box to show how to hang them on t he leathers. Point the letter toward the front as you hang the stirrup on the leather. If you want the double offsets to loosen your knee and bring your calf in, you need to ignore the R and L and reverse them.

These stirrups really do help stabilize how the leg hangs from the stirrup bars, and the foot stays in position more easily as it lies across the stirrup pad. The leather also hangs straighter across the leg than with a traditional stirrup. We found these stirrups, more than any of the others we tried, helped bring the leg more directly under the rider’s body. If you want that effect, and you don’t crave a hinged stirrup, these are a real bargain compared to pricier choices.

Stubben: silver steel offset (slanted top); 4??”, 4??” 2?? lbs. two/$42; Silver steel double offset (slanted top/foot); 4??”, 4??” 2?? lbs./two $45. www.stubbennorthamerica.com 800-550-1110.

Royal Rider of Italy Stirrups
These were the favorites of our jumper riders. The wide pad (2??” compared to the 2” pad on most the other stirrups we tried) gives a firm base of support. They’re made from a tough DuPont polymer, and the light weight keeps them from swinging like a pendulum if dropped, so they’re easier to pick up than a swaying heavier steel stirrup, even those with an offset top.

The metal grate, however, makes them difficult to lose. If you don’t like the grate, they also come with a hard-rubber alternate pad that easily screws in place. The flex stirrups have plenty of resistance and are a comfort to stiff backs and knees. The rubber cover on the arms of the flex stirrups is flush with the sides, unlike other flex stirrups.

We found these stirrups are so light that they remain out at about a 45?? angle when dropped, if hung on a set of leathers that are well broken-in, instead of falling back flat against the horse’s side. This also helps make them easier to pick up.

The foot pad wraps around the back of the stirrup, so you need to figure out which is the front and back when hanging them on the leathers. Since the metal grate wraps over one end (which maintains the grip even when flexed down) and not just the top, it tends to scratch gloves and stirrup leathers, particularly those with stitching. Royal Rider is planning a cover for the grate to be used for storage. The flex model has gray and blue rubber covers available, in addition to black, which Royal Rider says has become popular with event riders who want to match their barn colors. Don’t be confused by the model names, which relate to size rather than features — look either for the flex or non-flex versions.

Royal Rider: Black polymer/no hinge; 4??”, 4??”, 5”; 1 lb./two $145; black polymer/hinge base; 4??”, 5”; 1?? lbs./2 $170 www.royalriderstirrups.com 800-800-4261

Awantec Stirrups
These combine the idea of a stirrup that hangs at a right angle to the horse’s side with a safety design that allows the foot to be released in the case of a fall by connecting the sides of the stirrup to the corners of the base rather than in the middle. Although they look odd on their own, they look closer to “traditional” than other safety stirrups when seen with a foot placed in them.

Two other elements add to the appeal: A wider base (2??”) than the other steel stirrups in this trial gives a very secure feeling to the foot; and the base angles down slightly, although not nearly as much as is usually seen in stirrups with an “offset” base. The slight angle actually helps the ankle to flex down more because of the wider foot area. With this angled base, you need to make sure they’re hung correctly on the leather — clear directions on the package and an engraved L and R on the stirrups make that simple. They’re also heavy, with two weighing 3?? pounds. The right-angle design means the stirrups have to be slanted backwards when run up the leathers in order for them to lie flat.

Awantec: Silver steel/no hinge; 4??” ; 3?? lbs./two $80 Dressage Extensions www.dressageextensions.com 800-303-7849

Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a high-tech stirrup, we suggest you start with the MDC Ultimates because of the flex base combined with the versatility of the twist top. It gives you a lot of options in leg positions.

However, we’re equally impressed with the Royal Rider flex model because the light weight makes them easy to pick up if dropped, since they don’t swing as much as metal stirrups, and because of the wide base of support.

The Awantecs are a good choice if you want a safety stirrup combined with the right-angle design. If you’re looking for a stirrup that will help place your knee or calf closer to the saddle, go with the Stubbens that have the slanted top, our clear Best Buy at $42.

Also With This Article
”Changing Stirrups”
”Offset: One Word, Many Meanings”
”Shorten Your Stirrups”