Dressage is the basis for all other disciplines. It creates harmony and understanding between both horse and rider, developing the bond between the two. Dressage is described by many as a dance with a horse. It also strengthens the horse and improves its performance overall.
Dressage is all about the connection with the horse and subtle aids that the rider gives the horse to perform a series of movements throughout the test. Dressage stirrups need to be lightweight, supportive, maneuverable, and safe. The most seen stirrups in the graded classes for Dressage are traditional fillis as they fit the job.
I have done many Dressage shows, and I can speak from experience that when your stirrups are uncomfortable, you will not be able to ride at your best. Dressage is an essential aspect of all riding disciplines, whether you compete or do it like training at home. There are many variations of stirrups that you can use for Dressage, and in this blog, I will break it down for you.
What Are Stirrups?
A stirrup is a metal, oval piece of footwear with a flat bottom for the rider to rest their foot in. Stirrups are also used to mount the horse from the ground. The stirrups were invented out of necessity when horses were used for traveling, war, and leisure riding.
The records of stirrups go back to 850BC, originating in Assyria and spreading across the Central Asian Steppes. The earliest stirrups known are found in sculptures from India during the 2nd Century. Indian stirrups were just leather straps hanging from the saddle, where the rider could tuck their foot in. Later stirrups were made for the big toe, although this did not last as, understandably, it was pretty uncomfortable.
Mounting stirrups that hold the whole foot came to light in the 4th Century BC. Although there was only one stirrup, and it was solely used for mounting. Modern-day stirrups were invented and designed by the Chinese.
What Makes a Stirrup Good for Dressage?
Dressage is all about close contact and communication with the horse. A big, heavy, and solid stirrup would be in the way and hinder the rider from using their leg. Traditional Fillis is used most widely in the bigger grades as they are classical and uncomplicated.
A suitable stirrup for Dressage is:
- Wide base
- Not flexible
- Shock absorbing
Lightweight stirrups will allow the rider to easily move their leg into the required position to perform a specific task. A Dressage rider uses their legs continuously throughout the dressage test; therefore, a light stirrup would be ideal.
Balanced stirrups do not interfere with the foot position of the rider. If the rider feels like their foot is stuck in the stirrup, they will be distracted and unable to use their leg aids freely.
A broad base provides for extra comfort while riding. A comfortable horse and rider perform better. The wider base provides for more spread out and even pressure on the ball of the foot. This can also help keep the rider’s foot in the stirrup, as when sitting the trot or canter, there is a lot of movement in the rider’s legs and ankles.
Although the riders do sitting trot in the higher levels, a lot of the shock from the trot and canter are absorbed through the riders’ ankles. A shock-absorbing stirrup could help a lot with decreasing the pressure on the riders’ knees and ankles.
Why is it Important to Have a Good Stirrup for Dressage?
A dressage rider uses aids or ques to communicate with the horse. Aids or ques can be given by putting pressure on the reins, using your seat, your knees/calves/heels, changes in your hips or body posture, and voice commands. In higher-grade Dressage, the rider and horse rely heavily on light and minimum cues from the rider’s legs to perform a series of complex movements. A stirrup can inhibit the riders’ movements and cues, making it difficult for the horse and rider to communicate efficiently during a dressage test. An uncomfortable stirrup can also limit and distract the rider from performing the test and giving the ques at the right time.
Best Stirrups for Dressgae: Our Top 5 Picks
Ophena Magnetic stirrups
These Ophena stirrups are more modern and newer to the horse-riding world. They are functional, beautifully designed, and very safe. The rider’s leg position is not compromised, while the magnet keeps the foot in the correct place securely. Another plus point is that they are lightweight, which is a must for Dressage stirrups.
Acavallo Arena AluPro Safety Stirrup
These stirrups are lightweight – made out of aluminum, stainless steel, and Polyamide. These stirrups have a quick-release arm on the outside to improve safety for the rider. These stirrups also have a spring effect due to the design, which is based on flexible polymers. This enhances the comfort for riders and lessens the concussion on their joints. You can find them here:
Tech Venice Stirrup Irons
The Italian-made stirrups are timelessly beautiful in design. It has the same safety concept as the Acavallo stirrups, but the arm has a magnet that releases the arm when force is applied, but it also returns to its original position. They are made from aluminum, and the tread is coated in a nano-ceramic coating to preserve the color. The tread is designed for grip and comfort. The stirrup is all-around comfortable, lightweight, and safe. They are available on Amazon:
MDC S Classic Stirrups
The MDC stirrups follow a more traditional design. The S curve and forward-facing design allow the stirrup to hang correctly and be ready for the rider’s foot. This allows the rider to have a comfortable leg position and be able to retrieve their stirrup easily. The wide aluminum tread allows for more grip, and the wide base provides more support and comfort. These are available on Horse.com:
MDC Sport Classic Stirrups
MDC intelligent stirrups offer a great, new design for comfort, safety, and improved leg position. The solid sides provide a classic Fillis design, and the adjustable top can be adjusted in three ways depending on what the rider prefers. These stirrups are lightweight, practical, comfortable, and safe. Available here:
Whichever design you choose or prefer, safety, comfort, and efficacy need to be considered. The shock and load of riding should be absorbed, and your foot should be sturdy in the stirrup. Your performance and that of the horse can be affected by the type of stirrup you use. Make sure you try different designs and brands to see which one would suit your riding and your budget.