Choosing the Right Horse Riding Stirrups
Updated June 6, 2023
Stirrups were initially developed in China during the Jin Dynasty. Their invention improved the skill set of the mounted warrior and quickly spread to armies worldwide. Horse riding stirrups were commonly forged out of iron, leading to the name stirrup irons.
The primary purpose of stirrups is to improve our ability to mount, balance, and feel secure in the saddle. There are many different types and styles of riding stirrups. The set that is right for you depends on your riding style and a few key features. If you are planning to show, check the rules and guidelines of your organization before making your stirrup choice.
Here are a few examples of the main classes of riding stirrups.
Fillis Stirrup Irons
Fillis stirrup irons are a traditional choice for many types of riding, in and out of the show ring. They are made of stainless steel and have a rubber foot pad to increase traction. Not all stirrups are made of stainless steel. English and Western stirrups are now made in various materials.
Made of stainless steel with a rubber foot pad, peacock stirrups have elastic bands on the outside of the stirrups. This band will break or release under pressure from the rider's foot in case of a fall. Therefore, this type of stirrup is a good, safe choice for anyone, but especially for beginner riders.
As technology advances, there are several other options for safety stirrups, such as those that use magnets to allow the outer branch of the stirrup to release under pressure.
Flexible riding stirrups have inset pieces in the stirrup branches, usually coated in rubber. They allow for movement in the stirrup branches, making them slightly flexible. There are quite a few options in this stirrup category, but one of the universal benefits is softening the impact on the rider's ligaments and joints.
These stirrups are made of a polymer, making them extremely lightweight. Composite stirrups can be used in many types of riding and are a great choice for riders concerned with limiting the weight of their gear. Aluminum is a popular metal choice for riding stirrups as it weighs less than stainless steel but provides a traditional metal look. This option has rubber and metal “cheese grater” foot pads.
Should You Use an Adjustable Eye Stirrup?
Many of the above stirrup choices come with offset or adjustable eye options. The eye is the portion of the stirrup for the stirrup leather to loop through. Angling the eye of the stirrup will allow the stirrup leather to lie flat against the horse’s side while the stirrup iron is at a slight angle (about 45 degrees) making it easier for the rider to position their lower leg. This can relieve pressure in the rider's joints and make the stirrup easier to retrieve if lost. The entire stirrup can be slanted in western stirrups to alleviate stress in the rider’s joints.
Picking the Right Horse Riding Stirrup Size
After deciding on the type of riding stirrup, you need to determine the correct size for your foot. You should have about ½ inch on either side of the boot, between the boot and the stirrup bars. If you ride in a variety of boot types, make sure you take each into account.