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Stirrups: A Buyer’s Guide

Some riders don't give much thought to the type of stirrups they ride in, concerned only with proper length (if that) and adapting themselves to whatever's attached to the saddle they're using. But the right stirrup can make a world of difference when it comes to your comfort, your form and effectiveness, the long-term impact riding has on your body and, most importantly, your safety.

How do you determine which type of stirrup might be right for you? Stirrup selection is a surprisingly complex topic. As tack technology has evolved, stirrup design - including the size, shape, materials and purpose of various models - has become increasingly confusing. In addition, not all manufacturers' claims and professional endorsements are as informative as they could be.

To help you sort out your options, we're going to look at the types of stirrups you're likely to come across, their features and typical usage, and some examples of various products in each category.

Younger, smaller riders often do well with peacock stirrups (inset), an English safety stirrup with an outside rubber side designed to pop off and free the foot in the case of a fall.

Zeroing In
The broadest distinction between stirrup types is made at the level of functionality. What type of riding is the stirrup designed for? If you're a team roper, you'll be looking at Western stirrups that are deep and stable. If you're riding dressage, your search will be narrowed to various types of English stirrup irons.

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The best starting point is with your discipline or activity. From there, you can begin to consider the range of styles that fit within that category. For example, if you ride English, do you want flexible stirrups, offset-eye stirrups, standard stainless steel fillis irons or maybe brass? You'll probably decide based on a particular feature or quality (safety, joint comfort, tradition) or maybe just personal preference - it looks right or just feels better to you - and, of course, price.

To make this discussion a bit more manageable, we'll divide stirrups into Western, English and specialty stirrups and accessories. We've tried to include average pricing for the example products, but, of course, cost is going to vary.

Stirrup Tip

No matter what stirrup you choose, it's important to wear boots or shoes with a heel to help prevent your foot from sliding through the stirrup. No one thinks that's going to happen to them, but if the horse moves suddenly, hands and feet extend away from the body to help balance it, and a foot can slip through the stirrup.

Also allow enough room for your foot to slide easily into and out of the stirrup. People often make the mistake of buying stirrups that fit their dress boots, but don't allow enough room for work boots or snow boots.


Even though this stirrup has a grip pad, it's unsafe to wear flat-soled sneakers.

Stirrups and Safety
Some types of stirrups are inherently safer than others. For example, flexible stirrups such as the Sprenger 4F System models have enough play in them to help release your foot in a fall. With an unyielding standard fillis stirrup iron, your foot could slide through and get caught. Other types of stirrups, such as the English peacock fillis irons, are designed specifically with safety in mind. Here are a few additional models:

-Quick-release stirrup irons. Fillis stirrups with a hinge on the outside edge that's designed to pop open and free the foot, if weight comes against it in a fall. One popular model is Kwik-Out, available for around $95.

-Breakaway stirrups. Designed for Western riders, STI's Breakaway stirrups have a release mechanism that detaches the stirrup if the rider's foot rotates it 45 degrees forward or 72 degrees backward. Models include oxbow, roper, visalia and bell, and the cost ranges from $305 to $385. (www.breakawaystirrups.com).

-Australian-pattern, or S-curved stirrups. This type of stirrup has a wide curve to the outside edge that's designed to help the foot slide out of it in a fall, although some riders have reported that they've gotten a foot caught in this type of stirrup. Products include Double S Safety stirrups (which also have an offset eye) and Foot Free. Prices run about $40.

-Western safety oxbow stirrups. The Western counterpart of the Australian-pattern stirrups, these aluminum oxbows have a curve that's designed to allow your foot to slip out if you're falling. They're also priced in the $40 range.

-A number of covers, or "cages," are available that attach to the stirrup and block the foot from sliding through. Some stirrups come with them already attached, but you can also buy them separately. Products include Toe Stoppers (www.toestoppers.com/product.html), available for English and Western tack (about $54), and various styles of tapaderos or hoods, which offer the added benefit of providing warmth and protecting against snow and brush on the trail.

Sizing Up Your Stirrups
As if you didn't have your hands full trying to decide what stirrup style works best for you, you must also figure out what size suits your feet. The wrong size can be awkward, uncomfortable, distracting and painful - and it can certainly compromise your safety.

As a general rule, you should have a finger's width of room on each side of your foot in an English stirrup. This will give you enough play and freedom of movement without forcing your foot to chase a too-large iron to try to maintain position.

The same finger-width rule applies to Western stirrups, although some riders or circumstances call for a little less or a good bit more. For example, cutting and barrel riders may want stirrups that are snugger; ropers may want a little more room. Endurance riders may opt for extra-wide stirrups, such as EZ Ride, which are specially designed for maximum weight distribution.

Contacts

Dover Saddlery
www.doversaddlery.com

Stateline Tack
www.statelinetack.com

Valley Vet
www.valleyvet.com

Down Under Saddle Supply
www.downunderweb.com

Cashel Company
www.cashelcompany.com

EasyCare, Inc.
www.easycareinc.com

BuyTack.com
www.buytack.com

Libertyville Saddle Shop
www.saddleshop.com

Sizing Up Your Stirrups
As if you didn't have your hands full trying to decide what stirrup style works best for you, you must also figure out what size suits your feet. The wrong size can be awkward, uncomfortable, distracting and painful - and it can certainly compromise your safety.

As a general rule, you should have a finger's width of room on each side of your foot in an English stirrup. This will give you enough play and freedom of movement without forcing your foot to chase a too-large iron to try to maintain position.

The same finger-width rule applies to Western stirrups, although some riders or circumstances call for a little less or a good bit more. For example, cutting and barrel riders may want stirrups that are snugger; ropers may want a little more room. Endurance riders may opt for extra-wide stirrups, such as EZ Ride, which are specially designed for maximum weight distribution.

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