Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Leg Proportions and Stirrup Length

Years ago, when I first transitioned from riding in an all-purpose saddle and in a more hunter/jumper position to dressage, I gradually became used to longer stirrups and would drop my stirrups by a hole every couple months as I adjusted. I reached a point where my leg was quite long. I felt fairly comfortable there, and I thought it was a correct dressage length, so I more or less stayed there.

Then, after getting Kachina when I was getting weekly lessons for a while, I was told to shorten my stirrups a couple times. Each time, it was when I was struggling to keep my lower leg back and on the horse, and shortening the stirrups seemed to help. However, even though I didn't lengthen my stirrups in between, each time I was told to shorten them, it seemed like I just brought them back to the level they were the last time I had shortened them. This led me to believe that my stirrup leathers were stretching. My leathers were very old and relatively thin so it certainly is possible that they were stretching. They were much too long anyways, so I replaced them with a specific set of no-stretch stirrup leathers. I set the new ones to a length that felt proper and thought I would be set.

I thought this stirrup length seemed good - before shortening
I still think it looks like an okay length in this photo?

Then, in the last few weeks, I have been told twice to shorten my stirrups. Once by the judge in the Equitation class at the Chinook Show, and once by Elaine Banfield during my clinic. Both made some brief comment about how riders with shorter femurs should ride with a more forward angle in the upper leg. (Each told me to shorten them by a hole, so they are now 2 holes shorter than they were) There is no doubt that I have short legs, I'm only 5'2" after all, but I had never before heard that your leg angle should be different dependent on your leg length/proportions. Have you ever heard this?

I'm going to keep my stirrups at their shorter length for now. I do feel more comfortable and better able to use my lower leg when I have shorter stirrups. Also, from reviewing photos and the terrible video, I can see that my longer stirrups looked okay when I was stopped or walking, but they were causing my lower leg to go too far forward in the trot and canter.

This is the same stirrup length as the last photo but here I agree that it looks
too long and my lower leg is swinging too far forward and straight 

On the other hand though, I see all the photos and articles showing very open hip and knee angles as being the ideal for dressage and it feels a bit weird to be moving in the opposite direction. The one thing I'm unsure about is whether the shorter stirrup length is a temporary thing while I strengthen my position, or whether my stirrups should be permanently shorter due to my "short femurs". Any thoughts?

7 comments:

  1. This is super interesting- I have never heard of that either! I *have* heard about different saddles being better/worse for riders with different femur lengths, but only in context of jumping saddles. For example, my jump saddle, an Ainsley Cross Country Pro National, is apparently a popular choice for long-femured riders. (I am 5'9, so I probably have comparatively long legs, but they seem awfully stubby to me.) I notice that I have to adjust my stirrup length drastically in some dressage saddles; in the Sommers I check out from work, I typically ride 3-4 holes lower than I do in my own dressage saddle.

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    1. Wow, 3-4 holes is a big difference! I've heard of different saddles being better for long or short femurs too but I've ridden in this same saddle for years.

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  2. I haven't heard that either, but this is what I know about my stirrup length. I have tight hip flexors and I have to alter my stirrups based on how tight they are. The length is also horse dependent, when I was riding Stinker and Pongo in the same saddle I had to change my stirrup length to give me the same feel. Also, I tend to ride Stinker with shorter stirrups because he is naturally uphill and I tend to get tipped back and brace my legs out front. Shortening the stirrups helps me keep my legs back and more balanced overall. I also have a very long femur (I am 6'0" with a short upper body), so I don't know if anything I said will actually be helpful/applicable to you.

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    1. Haha yep, I think we're pretty much polar opposites on the leg length scale. Those observations are interesting though. I find it interesting that you have a tendency to tip back and brace your legs out front, because my problem is that I tip forward and brace my legs out front! haha

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  3. Stirrups length is dependent on so many factors--your leg, your saddle, your horse's sides, your training level and ability. It is 1000% more important to be EFFECTIVE than to have a "long" leg that swings around. The style right now is to have a very long leg, but if you look at people who do that, they tend to be 6' tall with 6" of torso and the rest in leg. It's better to watch people ride who are built like you and see what they do.

    And what works for your conformation/horse. And what your trainer(s) say(s). ;-)

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    1. You are absolutely right. I need to care less about what I think it "should be" and make sure I can keep my leg in an effective position.

      On your last note, this is exactly the kind of question that I wish I had a regular trainer to ask! Instead I have to take once-off input from a judge or clinician and consult the internet to see what that means I should do haha ;)

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    2. For what it's worth when I'm scribing I've never seen a judge tell a rider they need longer stirrups but I have seen them say shorten them. Mostly these are eventers and they tend to ride with shorter stirrups anyway.

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