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Stirrup Length

Developing a keen eye for knowing when the stirrup length is appropriately adjusted is a learned skill and one that clearly separates the lower and higher levels of riders.

A rider needs to know what the appropriate stirrup length is for the style of riding, or disciplines, such as English/Western, Dressage, Reining, Saddle seat, Cutting, Jumping, Roping, etc. ...  But there are commonalities between all disciplines of riding that will help the rider adjust their stirrup length.

If the stirrup is too long, no matter what discipline, the rider will have to reach with his toes for the stirrup and this will cause the rider to ride in the heel-up position. No matter what the discipline, when the heels are up, the rider is not balanced, anchored on the horse or able to use his leg aid to communicate effectively with the horse.

Always check that the stirrup length is equal on both sides. Uneven stirrups are amazingly common.

The stirrup length may need to be fudged one way or the other depending on the horse's build. Awkward scenarios like a big person on a little horse or a little person on a big horse or a narrow person on a wide horse may have a bearing on which way you fudge the stirrup length.

It is best not to mount until the stirrups are at least in the ballpark of the correct length. There are a few measurements you can use to judge appropriate stirrup length.

Technique 1:

The rider puts his fingertips on the stirrup bar and pulls the stirrup into his armpit. This gives you a ballpark figure on which to judge proper length; the length of the stirrup should be about the length of the rider's arm.

Technique 2:

Once the rider is up on the horse, is to have the rider hand his leg straight down and see where the bottom if the stirrup is in relation to the anklebone. Once again, this will provide you with a ballpark figure.

Technique 3:

The measurement is taken by standing in your stirrups to see if you can fit your fist between your rear end and the saddle. When rising in the stirrup by pushing up off the stirrup, straightening the knee and lifting the heel, there will always be plenty of room between the crotch and saddle. Only when using correct rising technique by rolling onto your thighs while the leg and heel lengthens, will this measurement be accurate.


As you can see, there are many methods to judge the proper stirrup length and there are many variables that affect the proper length, such as the rider's build, the size and gait of the horse, the saddle and the activity the rider is participating in. It is less important which methods you use, and more important that you systematically make these assessments each and every time you mount.