Like many pieces of tack I come across a huge array of stirrup irons – all shapes and sizes, colours, materials. But which do riders use and why?
Firstly, there are the safety stirrups. Mandatory in Pony Club, I have to agree that I am a stickler for preferring to see kids riding in either peacock safety stirrups or bent leg irons. Everyone had them at the riding school I grew up at, but now very few schools use them on more than a handful of ponies. Perhaps getting your foot caught and being dragged is a very rare occurrence? I think I’d still rather be safe than sorry. Peacock stirrup irons only have one metal side, which weakens the stirrup, so can’t be used by adults because the risk of the iron bending and breaking is increased. I guess that’s why bent leg irons were designed. I use my bent leg stirrups on my jump saddle.
Plain stirrup irons are the norm nowadays and come in a variety of widths to accommodate all foot sizes. I use them on my dressage saddle, where I feel the risk of me getting my foot caught is less. The risk of getting your foot caught is reduced when the stirrup iron is sufficiently wide enough – I have wide feet and there’s nothing worse than squeezing your toe into a too narrow iron. You feel less secure and balanced.
Plain irons are usually stainless steel, but sometimes you see lightweight plastic ones. Personally I prefer the heavier irons because the foot stays more secure in them and riders are less likely to lose a stirrup. One thing I noticed when teaching jumping without stirrups is that the lightweight stirrups, when crossed over the withers, bounce up and down in canter and over fences come so high they’re in danger of knocking out my client. No, they didn’t escape the no stirrup exercise, I just removed the iron and leather! So yes, personally I lean towards the traditional metal. I also thinks it’s worth buying the more expensive ones as they don’t rust and I’m sure the metal quality is better.
Many clients of mine have the flexi iron option, which is good if you have bad ankles or knees, or struggle to drop the weight into the heel because the iron flexes slightly to help you find the comfortable position. Also if you are riding with shorter stirrups then these can be more comfortable because they support the increased flexion in the knee and ankle. Flexi stirrups are more flexible in a variety of directions, depending on the make, which means the foot is more secure, it has better shock absorbing properties, the foot is released from the stirrup quicker in an emergency.
Show jumpers in particular love the plastic stirrups at the moment, especially the Freejump stirrups, which are growing in popularity amongst the general equestrian population – mainly because of the bright colours I suspect! There are lots of variations in plastic stirrups, some have metal treads which give the stirrups a bit more weight, and are very grippy so are useful for those who’s feet tend to slide through the irons.
Going back to metal stirrups, you can also get ones with a twist at the top which means that the stirrup leather sits flush to the saddle and the iron sits at ninety degrees, ready for the foot to be inserted. I guess this is probably a benefit for those who find that their leathers rub their inner calves.
So what stirrup irons, out of the plethora available, do you use; are there any you avoid; do you have reasons for choosing specific designs; and have you noticed any particular benefits of using different styles of stirrup irons?