A Post About Stirrups
Since the invention of treed saddles stirrups have been a big part of riding. Originally just a loop of leather to stick a toe into, they have evolved and are continuing to evolve today. Stirrups are about safety and easier control of the horse, while making it easier for the rider to stay on. The stirrups we know today come in a huge variety of styles, materials and sizes. Most are attached to the saddle with some kind of adjustable leather, which is easy to adjust to fit the size of the rider.
The Western Stirrup
Many new stirrups, if they are leather, need to be "turned". When you get a new saddle, the fenders and stirrups hang straight down from the tree. The fenders and stirrups will need to be turned to make sure you don't suffer from ankle or knee pain, it also makes it hard to find a lost stirrup if it not facing the proper direction. There are two methods to turn your stirrups.
How to Turn Stirrups on a Western Saddle
The first was is to buy stirrup turners like these:
These type of stirrup turners use a metal bar with a leather and nylon reinforced strap to add to the bottom of the fender beneath the fender hobble to hold the stirrup in the proper direction.
The second way to turn stirrups especially on leather saddles is the time honored wet leather and a broom handle. As long as the leather fender is not light in color this method works very well. Light colored leather could darken if soaked in water. Here is how it works. Leather fenders only are soaked in plain tap water. You then replace them on the saddle and towel dry off. Insert a broom handle or heavy stick in to the fenders themselves above the stirrup, holding the stirrups in the proper direction. Make sure to tie the stirrup fenders so they do not slip off. Leave saddle to dry. This will help to correct the turn of the stirrups, just make sure you oil the leather afterwards so it does not dry out.
Another way is to just use the saddle until in breaks in, but this could be a lengthy process.
Once you have the stirrups turned for easier use and a more comfortable position, you need to make sure they are the right size. If you are alone and need to adjust the stirrups, I use the "finger tip to armpit" measurement to guess my length before I mount up. You hold your arm out straight to the seat jockey, raise the stirrup and see if it reaches your armpit. The correct length stirrup will come almost all the way to your armpit. The second method is to sit in the saddle and rest your leg out of the stirrup. The bottom of the stirrup should be at your ankle.
Different types of western stirrups
Western stirrups come in different makes and materials and sizes. The most common size is 5 inches across with 2 inches wide. Stirrups are either iron or a composite synthetic material wrapped in leather, raw hide or synthetic materiel to match the saddle. Some stirrups are make out of metal and then covered in silver tooling for shows. The traditional stirrup is bell shaped, smaller at the top, wider at the bottom. The Ox Bow stirrup is different in that it is a round stirrup. There are also stirrups for different disciplines, like endurance stirrups which are wider and more comfy for long rides and can feature thick treads for traction control. Or like safety stirrups that come undone or move in some way to lessen the risk of your foot slipping all the way through and being dragged in the event of a fall. Tapaderos, or stirrup toe covers, can be used to prevent the foot from slipping all the way through however they are illegal in the show ring.
The stirrup as we know it and in history has changed the progress of riding and safety. From the original toe loop to today's modern day stirrups, they have become adjusted to the style of riding as well. The stirrup is meant to be under the riders ball of the foot. Only exception to this is the OxBow style stirrup. Boots should be worn that have at least a 1" heel to prevent the foot from getting caught in a stirrup. Some stirrups today now have additional safety measures, some open from the outside when pressure is applied to the inside like during a fall, some automatically come undone when the degree of the ankle and foot hit a maximum degree. On English saddles the leather its self is attached to a safety bar with a catch that if pulled on opens and allows the stirrup leather and iron to fall off of the saddle, but we will talk more about the English saddle in another article.