Somehow, in this insane time warp/black void/parallel universe full of chaos that is 2020, it's November. In the equestrian world, that typically means our horses are fuzzier, the blankets are coming back out, and indoor show season is just getting into full swing - including all the big junior equitation finals.
A big part of this month for equestrians, especially in light of the big eq championships such as object-of-all-our-tween-riding-dreams Maclay Finals, is No Stirrup November. The phenomenon where you somehow abandon your stirrups for an entire month's worth of rides and, at the end of it, you will have a leg made of actual solid gold and the equitation of a god. It's science.
I'm totally kidding. But, it is a fad that comes around every year - one that has inspired two of our designs, the No Stirrups Squad and the When No Stirrup November Ends sweaters - and essentially, I do believe that integrating no stirrup work into your training regimen can be massively helpful.
But should you do it for an entire month straight?
As with everything in riding and training, moderation is key.
Noted in an insightful video by trainer Callie King, this exercise is helpful for balance and strength, but suddenly drilling a month's worth of stirrup-less riding "can actually have a detriment to your riding" if you aren't careful.
"You want to do your no-stirrups work in short little bits," Callie explains, "and you also want to do it at a level that feels fairly easy for you." Meaning, if you're still feeling rocky and unbalanced at a trot without stirrups, you'll probably want to put in more work before you try attempting it at the canter or over small jumps.
Overdoing it on no-stirrup work in one ride can fatigue you more quickly, leading you to start pinching with your legs and throwing off the kind of balance you should truly be striving for when doing normal work with your stirrups.
Think of the effect on your horse, too.
Another reason why no-stirrup work is best in short sessions across several rides, is that if you're pushing yourself to go all the way around the ring at a trot with no stirrups before you're fit enough to do so, you're going to start putting disproportionate pressure on your horse.
If you're unbalanced, "your horse is going to start going hollow - they're going to lift their neck, drop their back," Callie says. "It's going to get harder for you to move with that trot because the horse isn't moving as well. You're going to have to grip harder in order to try to keep yourself on, and it's just going to be a downhill progression from there."
Prolonged sessions with an unbalanced seat and incorrect pressure points can also cause soreness in your horse's back, as well.
Rome wasn't built in a day.
The riders showing at the Maclay Finals or even just that other girl at your barn with the dead-quiet leg that you envy, they all have something in common. They didn't just mount up and magically start riding with flawless position. Developing a proper seat and steady leg, both critical parts of good riding form, take time.
Start with the intention to do a lap or two of no-stirrup work during every ride, or every other ride, and go easy on yourself and your horse, especially if it's not an exercise you do frequently outside the month of November. When it comes to horses, both in the saddle and out, hard work and patience always pay off.
Eileen Shaw is the owner & designer of Left Lead Collective. When she's not putting work into the shop, you can find her at the barn, cuddling with her dog, or binging Netflix with a glass of Dark Horse rose.