When I asked the orthopaedic surgeon if I could ride after hip replacement surgery he replied:” Of course you can ride but it is FORBIDDEN to fall off.” This is something I keep in mind when considering riding without stirrups. Tommie, the horse I had before Biasini, was an ideal no-stirrups horse. I took lessons once a month with hunter-jumper coach Sally Sainsbury ,on the lunge line with no stirrups and no reins. Sally would give me a short crop to hold and put above my head or out to one side and she would guide Tommie through walk-trot and trot-canter, canter-trot transitions. Sally and I both enjoyed this; it may have been hard work but it was fun.
I also tried some no stirrups, no reins, on the lunge line with Tommie and my dressage coach in Florida Luis Reteguiz Denizard. Lou has run riding programs at universities in the USA so he was very familiar with this exercise. One day he asked me to look up and put both arms up to the ceiling. Well! I am hardly a large breasted woman but that position and Tommie’s rather jarring trot had me bouncing. “If you want me to do this I need a better sports bra” I shouted to Lou. He laughed so hard he had to stop the lunging.
About three years ago I decided I was going to do six months of riding with no stirrups apart from when I went out hacking. Tommie was so reliable I knew that in the arena he would never startle or spook. I got through two months and then Tommie became ill. It broke my heart but I had to let him go. For that story please look into the archives for “When is it time to say goodbye?”
I now have Biasini who is a spectacular horse but he does have a spook so initially I was not volunteering for any no-stirrups work. However, recently he has been pretty steady so when my coach here in Canada, Belinda Trussell, suggested no-stirrups work I agreed. With Biasini I ride with no stirrups but with the reins and not on a lunge line.
Why did she want me to do no stirrups work? To improve the strength and efficiency of my lower leg. Biasini needs good support from the lower leg (the calf) while maintaining a relaxed upper leg and thigh and relaxed flexible hips. My ankle should also be relaxed and not fixed so that I can give what Belinda calls a “tick” up.
Easier said than done!
So we started about two weeks ago with the no stirrups work. One lesson trot and the next lesson canter. I usually take three or four lessons a week with Belinda. My hips(now both are bionic versions) stood up to it and there was only one day when I needed to ask for a day off the stirrup-less work as my right hip was putting up a mild protest.
At the end of the lesson when I take my stirrups back I can tell how effective this work is. To be honest I had never previously separated my ankle from my calf and lower leg; they all worked as one. So separating the two and using a flexible ankle to ‘tick” up for more engagement, or for bringing up the shoulder was a whole new realm. I also found my seat was a lot firmer in the saddle. I have a tendency to get very light in the seat in the midair of a flying change. Without stirrups I remain seated and where I should be.
Biasini is both a very willing worker and a very physical ride. I have to admit that this work is not exactly my favourite but I know that it is worthwhile and is producing the desired results.
So, no stirrups…curse or cure? CURE!