If you fall from your horse, especially if you’re riding in traditional irons, there’s always a chance that your foot will go through the stirrup, get caught at the ankle, and you will be dragged by your horse. We don’t have to tell you what a serious situation that is. We believe all riders should consider using safety stirrups. The term “safety stirrup” refers to stirrups designed with a release system that helps stop your foot from getting hung up.
Equestrian-safety expert Dru Malavase has a list of people who should ride in safety stirrups, beginning with anyone who feels more comfortable in them. Other candidates include riders whose saddles don’t have release safety bars, which aren’t recommended to be used locked in the first place; riders using unbreakable leathers, like nylon ones; riders with saddles on which the safety bars are set deep, as in dressage saddles; and small children.
No safety stirrup is foolproof. Malavase knows instances of a Pony Clubber who was dragged when her boot laces got caught in the released piece of a side-release stirrup and of a child who got dragged and hurt when her position over the right side of the horse blocked the release mechanism. But these are exceptions. Typically, safety stirrups add a key element of protection against injury.
We want a safety stirrup that will do its job and save us from being dragged, but we don’t want it to interfere with our riding. We don’t want to feel like we need to change position or riding style for our stirrups, especially while wearing spurs. We want to be able to pick the stirrup back up easily if we lose it or are doing work without them.
There is no standard for testing the release potential of safety stirrups, so you need to select ones that seem as though they will release in the case of a fall. Some prefer a release mechanism that they can see, such as a side that hinges out, or double-jointed sides. Some like the stirrups that are shaped so that a foot can slide out, since these don’t have moving parts that can squeak, feel unstable, or otherwise make their presence known while riding.
Show riders don’t want a safety stirrup to be distracting in terms of turnout. However, as safety stirrups become more common, people are less self-conscious about them, even though many have either rubber covering their mechanisms or an unusual shape. Traditionalists — especially those who spend a lot of time in the show ring — may prefer those stirrups like the Kwik-Outs or Courbette Bell Shaped that mimic a traditional Fillis iron most closely.
Stirrups like the Sprenger 4-F System, the Korsteel Double Jointed stirrups, and the State Line jointed stirrups all have a traditional profile but also have rubber coating the outside of the shanks. Show riders may also consider a pair of safety stirrups for schooling, and regular ones for showing, although this does compromise safety during competition.
We want a stirrup that is easy to put on as well. With all the different shapes and configurations of these stirrups, it can sometimes be puzzling to figure out which end is up. Clear directions, like those on the Kwik-Outs, and photographs help. Have the packaging with you when you first put the stirrups on, so that you don’t compromise the safety features by putting them on wrong. For example, one of our testers initially put the Foot Frees on backward, causing her foot to fly out of the stirrup as she was riding.
Once you’ve studied the photos, you may want to mark your stirrups on the bottom so you don’t wind up doing a Rubik’s Cube-type of puzzle every time you want to clean your stirrup leathers or have to change stirrups for some other reason.
All of the stirrups we used are different from regular irons, which because of their rigid structure and narrow shape can allow a foot to get caught and a rider dragged. Safety stirrups basically come in two varieties: those that work because of their shape, such as the Foot Frees or the Double-S, and those that work because of their inner mechanisms, such as the Sprenger 4-F System or the Korsteel Double Jointed stirrups.
The Double-S and Foot Free stirrups, with their S-shaped sides, are comfortable but take some getting used to. You have to remember that even though it feels as if your foot is slipping through the stirrup when you feel the stirrup up near your toes, it’s just the way the stirrup is made. The bend on the outside provides an area for the foot to come out, but it also allows the foot to slide while riding, which can be tough on a beginner. These are good for anyone who mounts and dismounts a lot, as these stirrups allow for a larger target area.
Many people think “peacock” when they hear “safety stirrup.” Peacocks are the original safety stirrups that have an elastic band as the outside. They are often inexpensive and a good option for adult beginners who need a safety stirrup but are not sure they’ll stay in the sport, or for children who will just need a bigger size next year anyway.
One problem with peacocks is their appearance. The elastic band means you miss that gleam of steel that traditionally highlights an English rider’s boot and turnout. The elastics are often orange, which makes them even more noticeable. They are now available in black and dark brown, which makes them less conspicuous, but harder to find if they come off and fall onto the ground. Peacocks are traditionally used on children’s saddles, so some adults complain they feel a little silly riding in them. With all the alternatives now available, it may be time to leave the peacocks to the kids.
Also, the elastics on peacocks will occasionally — and unpredictably — pop off when you’re just riding along. Always keep an extra set of elastics in your tack trunk, and take some with you on a long trail ride. Elastics run $1-$2. Be careful when mounting in a peacock, because if your foot is too far to the outside when you spring up, your elastic can pop off and you will have to get down, fetch your elastic, and start all over again.
Having elastic instead of metal outside your boot takes some getting used to, as does the “childish” look of the peacocks, but our test stirrups were sturdy and hung well, which makes them easy to pick up. Some testers noted a less-secure feeling when the outside of the foot had only a rubber band to support it. On the flip side, however, you know an elastic band will pop off in the case of your foot being caught, and these are inexpensive.
Malavase cautions against the recent trend of twisting the elastics to make them tighter, since it lessens their effectiveness. A peacock stirrup is properly used with the elastics are on straight.
Choose your peacock irons carefully, as there is a great range in quality as far as the actual irons — both pairs we tested were heavy-duty and recommended — and the widely available cheaper ones may bend under duress.
Our favorite safety stirrups are the Sprenger 4-F System. They give in four directions and are comfortable, both for jumping and on long rides. They’re also expensive.?? In a previous product survey on hinged stirrups (January 1997), the Sprenger stirrups were also noted for their ability to absorb shock that affects sore joints and backs, which may make them worth the price to some riders.??
But we believe the best choice for many people will be the Korsteel Double-Jointed Stirrups. They are safe and comfortable, like the Sprengers, although they only flex in two directions. But at $47.60, they’re less costly, and the safety and effect seem similar.
For those who prefer a non-mechanical safety stirrup, the Miller’s Double-S stirrups get the nod over the one-side-S Foot Free design. The Double-S stirrups are comfortable, with the added bonus of hanging straight and preventing a stirrup leather to get twisted. They are comfortable and feel secure because the sides allow for a foot to slide out in the extra space.
And for the traditionalists, the Courbette Bell-Shaped are a nice compromise. While their safety aspect isn’t as obvious as that of the Double Jointed or the Double-S, they are wider than a standard iron but hardly look different from one. They’re also our Best Buy at $32.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Dover Saddlery, www.doversaddlery.com, 800/989-1500; Herm Sprenger 866/436-8225; Thornhill Enterprises, Inc. www.thornhillusa.com 800/445-2289; Intrepid International 800/347-0033; Perri’s Leather and Metal Crafters www.perrisleatheronline.com 800/537-4901; Miller Harness Co. www.millerharness.com 800/553-7655; Courbette Saddlery Co. www.courbette.com 800/848-8663; State Line Tack www.statelinetack.com 800/228-9208.