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How to Choose the Right Stirrups: A Comprehensive Guide

Not sure where to start when choosing the right stirrups? Which stirrups are better for dressage, jumping, and trail riding? How long should your stirrups be?

There are many stirrups on the market today, and choosing the stirrups that are right for you can be overwhelming. Finding stirrups that suit you can be like finding your new favorite shoes.

Choosing the right stirrups for you will come down to a number of factors such as discipline, comfort, price range, and the level of the rider. The variety of stirrups available include safety stirrups that can release when a rider’s foot gets stuck in the stirrup, stirrups high in shock-absorbing properties are great for alleviating joint pain, and stirrups with a wide treat that are preferred for show jumpers and dressage riders.

Hopefully, this comprehensive guide will help you in the right direction when it comes to finding the right stirrup for you.

Choosing the right Stirrups for you

When choosing stirrups, it is important to keep in mind the following:

  • Riding discipline – keeping your riding discipline in mind can narrow the search as stirrups are designed and customized for different disciplines.
  • Riders level – For beginner riders or young kids, choosing a safety stirrup might be a good option. Advanced riders might want something lightweight with more grip.
  • Comfort – Knee or ankle pain could all be related to stirrups. Wide read or narrow thread. Choosing stirrups that are comfortable to ride in (like walking in comfy shoes!)
  • Budget – Stirrups can range from around $400 for new, modern, and higher-tech stirrups on the market, to $16 for more general-purpose ones.

What are the best stirrups?

Some questions we will cover in this guide:

  • What are the best stirrups for all-purpose riding?
  • What are the best stirrups for jumping, cross country, and dressage?
  • What are the best stirrups for endurance and trail riding?
  • What are the best stirrups for safety?
  • Wide footrest vs narrow footrest (stirrup thread) 
  • What are the best stirrups for knee and ankle pain?
  • Light vs heavyweight
  • What length should your stirrups be?
  • Comparison table

What are the best all-purpose stirrups?

Fillis

These are the most common and most widely used stirrup irons. They are of high quality and will last forever and will also be the most inexpensive irons available. The padded threads are generally more on the narrow side making them not the best option for comfort.

The downside to these stirrups is that they don’t change much in color and style and are not water-resistant and may start to rust on the side after time.

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Jointed stirrup irons

Jointed stirrup irons are widely used and a great stirrup for all-purpose riding, provide riders with flexibility and comfort in the saddle, and are also supposed to help with knee and ankle pain relief. These stirrups have jointed links that are covered by rubber that can come in different colors. 

For jumping these types of stirrups can sometimes make the rider feel a bit unstable over fences. However, it is an affordable comfy stirrup to ride in.

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What are the best stirrups for Jumping, Cross-country, and Dressage?

Royal rider

Royal rider is lightweight with a wide tread and is super durable and relatively inexpensive. The Royal rider stirrups come with interchangeable rubber gips or cheese grater pads for a more secure grip depending on your preference.

I have been riding in Royal Riders for years and I absolutely love them for jumping. The only problem is that you have to be careful when running up your stirrups with the cheese grater pad as it might scrape your leathers.

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Nu Angle

Nu Angle stirrups have a slight incline and will help you flex your ankle by pushing your weight down into your heel. Nu Angle stirrups have a wide footplate giving your foot more support and comfort. They also come in a variety of different colors and can be great for adding style.

If you struggle with keeping your heels down, these irons can be a good option to encourage proper leg position and balance whilst riding. They also provide a relatively good grip and are light in weight, making them good for competitions.

The downside of these irons is that your feet can sometimes slip out and too much ankle pressure can cause pain in both ankles and knees. I currently ride in Nu Angle stirrups and this was a problem when I started riding in them (got used to it now). When this happened I would lengthen my stirrups to relieve the pressure.

Flex-on

These French made stirrups are top of the range and are great for jumping and cross country (they also have a hunter-type stirrup). They come with a built-in shock-absorbing system, wide tread with small spikes to stand on for an ultra-tight grip effect, and a slight incline that encourages proper leg position and comfort.

The great thing is that they are totally customizable, and you can practically design them yourself to fit your needs in terms of comfort and style and they come in a variety of stylish one and two-tone colors.

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Compositi Reflex Stirrups

A Belgian manufactured stirrup that has been designed to provide maximum comfort while riding. This stirrup is lightweight and fixed on a shock-absorbent layer to relieve tension from the knees and joints. These stirrups incline ever so slightly to follow the natural movement of the foot and have been designed for quick foot release in an emergency. 

The wide textured plate will increase grip and help your feet remain in the stirrup making them great for beginner and experienced riders of all disciplines.

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Arcavallo Opera irons

Opera stirrups are great for both showjumping and dressage. The main feature of this product is that it has a loop suspension that allows your stirrup leathers to lie flat and straight on the saddle flap, therefore reducing friction between the rider’s leg and the stirrup leather. These stirrups come in a variety of single and two-tone colors.

Personally, this is a very comfortable stirrup to ride in as they are light in weight and have a wide tread that provides enough room and grip and does not create tension on the rider’s lower body. However, make sure to get the proper size as the loop suspension can press against the rider’s foot if too small.

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Athena Plus Jumping Tech Stirrups

These Italian made stirrups provide stirrups of all disciples and safety levels in a variety of colors and styles. However, let’s have a look specifically at the Tech Athena Jumper Plus Stirrup. These stirrups have a built-in shock absorber to absorb the impact of landing over a jump that follows the movement of the foot.

This stirrup is extremely lightweight and has a slightly sloped tread to encourage a ‘heels down’ position. It also has an aggressive tread that helps with stability and keeps your foot in the correct position, thereby making these stirrups great for cross-country as well as jumping.

Click here to check the latest prices on Horse.com.

Jin

Jin stirrups are popular with hunter/jumpers and are well-suited to all levels from leisure riders to professionals. Theses stirrups are super light with a wide anti-slip aggressive tread for extra grip and stability in the saddle. These stirrups have a slight incline to help encourage proper leg and heel position making them great for jumping. These stirrups come in a variety of stylish colors.

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For a comprehensive guide on exactly what gear you need for showjumping, check out our post “Showjumping Wear: Exactly What To Wear And Why!

What are the best stirrups for Endurance and Trail riding?

Toe cages

Toe cages are typically seen in endurance and leisure riding. They are lightweight and provide the rider with comfort and balance. The main feature of toe cage stirrups is that they stop the rider’s foot from slipping through the stirrup iron whilst riding which also makes them a good stirrup for safety as your foot won’t be able to slip through the stirrup and get stuck in case of a fall.

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Western stirrups

Classic Western stirrups are bell-shaped and made from wood, metal, or plastic, and are generally covered by leather. These are great stirrups for trail riders using western saddles.

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What are the best Safety stirrups?

Peacock irons

Peacock irons have an elastic on the outside of the rider’s foot that is designed to immediately release when you fall. These irons are designed to prevent the rider’s foot from getting stuck in the stirrup when falling and getting dragged around and trampled on by the horse.

Peacock irons are still considered the best way to go when safety is a concern. They are great for trail riding, beginner riders, and young kids and come in a variety of colors.

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Freejump stirrups classic

These are great looking stylish stirrups with its main design feature on safety. It has a similar effect as peacock stirrups in that instead of an elastic, it has a flexible outer branch so that pressure from the foot opens it up if a rider gets dragged by their horse.

This stirrup is also extremely lightweight with a narrow tread, which does not make them great for jumping but a good all-purpose stirrup, nonetheless.

They come in a variety of colors and the flexible outer branch can be replaced.

Another great stirrup similar to this is the ‘Tech venice slope’ where the opening branch is attached with small magnets and can open when a certain amount of pressure is applied.

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Sprenger Bow Balance irons

These unique stirrups are designed to significantly reduce the strain on your knees and ankles as they can pivot in four directions for greater comfort. Manufactured from high-quality materials, these stirrups have a wide, shock-absorbing footbed which makes them more popular among dressage riders than jumpers.

The main feature of this stirrup is that it is flexible in 4 directions (yes, they actually bend) and creates a perfect fit for maximum comfort and perfect balance and will improve leg and heel position.

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Lorenzini

These Italian made stirrups are made and designed to limit the possibility of the rider’s foot getting stuck in case of a fall as it allows for easy foot release. These irons have a wide, slightly inclined footbed and come in rubber or titanium treads for added grip, making them a great all-purpose riding and jumping stirrup. They are made from extremely light, durable, and biocompatible materials making them strong and durable in a variety of sophisticated colors and finishes.

Wide footrest vs narrow footrest (stirrup thread)  

A wide footrest gives a rider more stability and allows them to anchor their foot better than in a narrow tread. Wide footbeds are better for jumping as they feel more secure and gives the rider more space to push-down and keep their balance over jumps.

A narrow footrest provides less balance and stability, but some riders may feel that a narrow footbed relieves strain on ankles as modern, wider footbeds are generally built on an incline.

Lightweight vs heavyweight

Lightweight stirrups make it easier to use your leg and keep your legs still. They are also better for trail and endurance riding.

For me, a super lightweight stirrup can feel less anchored, so I prefer to ride with a medium weight stirrup. If the stirrups are too heavy you might feel like you are using more energy to try and keep your legs still and can make you feel a bit fatigued after a while.

Heavier stirrups can feel like more work, especially if you ride many horses a day or when trail riding for a long distance. Lightweight stirrups are less bulky and may make it easier for you to use your legs and feet as needed to cue your horse.

What are the best stirrups for knee and ankle pain?

If you are struggling with knee and ankle pain, there are many different stirrup options available on the market that you can try. Every rider is different, but some stirrups do pride themselves on joint relief and comfort.

Stirrups high in shock-absorbing properties are good for joint pain. If you want to take the strain of your ankle joints then stay away from stirrups build on an incline.

Compositi Reflex Stirrups

Compositi reflex stirrups are lightweight and affordable stirrups that are fixed on a shock-absorbent layer. They are great for relieving tension and strain on your knees and ankle joints.

Click here to check the latest prices on Amazon.

Sprenger Bow Balance irons

The 4-way pivot capability significantly reduces strain on the knees and ankles joints. They also have a wider shock-absorbing footbed that makes this stirrup great for riders that struggle with joint pain.

Click here to check the latest prices on Amazon.

Flex-on

This brand has a Balance Composition model that can help in reducing strain on leg muscles and joints. The stirrup is strong but lightweight with the footplate elastomer shock-absorbers.

Click here to check the latest prices on Amazon.

Jointed stirrups

The more affordable option when it comes to relieving joint pain is the jointed stirrup with flexible “joints” on the sides of the stirrups meeting the footbed. They provide comfort and can flex with the rider’s movement and impact.

Click here for to check the latest prices on Amazon.

For a more comprehensive look at the best stirrups for knee and ankle pain, check out our article on it here.

What length should your stirrups be?

If you struggle to get out of the saddle and your heels come up when you rise or you might lose your stirrups in canter or sitting trot, then your stirrups are probably too long. If you start feeling any strain in your knees then your stirrups might be too short.

Having the correct stirrup length is very important and allows you to utilize your hip function at different lengths required for different disciplines

Stirrup length – a rough estimate

When you take your feet out of the stirrups, the bottom of the stirrup should be in line with your ankle bone.

Another rough estimate is using your arm length. Place your fingers tips on the top buckle of your stirrup leathers and run them down to tips your armpits.

Jumping

Showjumpers need more security and control in the saddle over jumps and therefore need to have shorter stirrups than dressage riders. As a jumper, your stirrups should be short enough to hold the two-point seat without losing your balance.

Dressage

Dressage riders need to sit deep in their saddle and have their stirrups at a longer length than jumpers. Dressage riders also have to have longer, straighter positions in the saddle.

For dressage saddles, your thigh should be resting at a 40 – 45-degree angle as it will act as a shock absorber. When you stand up in the stirrups with your heels slightly dropped, your seat should be able to clear the pommel of the saddle  

Trail, endurance, western

This will be similar to dressage. One needs to remember that you should always be able to keep a bend in your knee whether you are rising, cantering, or doing a sitting trot. You should never have to reach for the stirrup or have it fall off your foot. Too much bend will cause knee pain.

Stirrup Comparison Table 

StirrupUseComfortSafetyGripPriceBuy
FillisAll-purposeLowLowLowLowBuy
JointedAll-purposeHighMediumLowLowBuy
Royal RiderSJ, Dressage, Cross-countryHighMediumMediumMediumBuy
Nu AngleSJ, Cross-countryMediumMediumMediumMediumBuy
Flex-onSJ, Dressage, Cross-countryHighMediumHighHighBuy
Compositi reflexDressage, trailHighMediumMediumLowBuy
OperaDressage, SJHighLowHighMediumBuy
JinSJ, Dressage, TrailHighHighMediumHighBuy
LorenziniSJ, Dressage, Cross-countryHighHighHighHighBuy
Toe CagesTrail, EnduranceLowHighMediumLowBuy
PeacockSJ, All-PurposeLowHighLowLowBuy
FreejumpAll-PurposeHighHighHighHighBuy
BalanceSJ, Dressage, EnduranceMediumHighMediumHighBuy

Conclusion

There are plenty of stirrup designs, styles, and makes on the market today. The best is to play around with different stirrups until you find the one that works for you.

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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