LEVEL: Intermediate to Advanced
In my opinion, and certainly from my own experience, one of the most effective ways to improve seat and leg position is to include a “no stirrups workout” in your training routine. Depending on your level of fitness, I would recommend spending between ten and twenty minutes without stirrups every single time you ride. Over a period of time this will most certainly bring about great improvement. At first, you will probably manage only a few minutes but as your fitness improves and muscles develop the time you can ride without stirrups will slowly increase.
Before you start, it is important to note that the whole notion of a “no stirrups workout” is centred on a relaxed rider and a supple horse. If this cannot be achieved during your training session, it is better to take a step back. Reduce pace and time spent until you are fitter, better balanced and more confident. You won’t improve if you are tense for whatever reason. The exercise should take into account the ability of both you and your horse and must be extended progressively. The idea is to build your ability to get through the exercise relaxed and enjoying the “no stirrups” riding: any tension from you will affect the success of the exercise.
Ride without stirrups as much as you can. I know, it is very demanding but this is the most effective way to improve your seat and leg position as well as your fitness.
First, make sure you know your horse is safe enough to exercise yourself without stirrups. Make certain your horse is supple before commencing your exercise without stirrups so you can ride with a soft bit—and remember to relax. Note that none of your weight should be transferred to the horse’s mouth. As you progress, gradually extend your exercise slowly increasing the amount of time spent as well as the pace at which you exercise.
If you do not ride without stirrups very often (perhaps you have not been fit enough), begin by working for only five minutes. Start at a sitting trot moving around a twenty metres (diameter) circle slowly increasing the time as your level of fitness improves. Once you have mastered the basic skill, you should be ready to start cantering, although at this stage it is better that you keep working within the circle.
Always make sure you are ready before moving to the next stage. You are ready when your horse is supple, you have control and are well balanced when riding in the circle, and you feel fit and comfortable. Gradually increase your training by extending the time without stirrups and start working over progressive transitions, still within the circle. When you feel ready to move on, you can move to a large arena track and start adding more advanced exercises like direct transitions, lengthening and shortening, etc.
I would recommend you train within the circle for a good number of weeks until you feel ready to move to the large arena. For more ambitious and advanced riders, I would suggest you work without stirrups for at least 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a week. Remember, the more time you spend on this exercise the better. Further on, you can always work into your training more advanced exercises without stirrups, doing direct transitions and also introducing fly changes, over poles on the ground or small jumps.
I have to say that I achieved great improvement on my seat and leg position after hundreds of hours a year riding without stirrups (Yes, really!). This wasn’t just my nature or “magical” riding ability—it was the result of working, plus more working, and more ‘hard’ working towards a clear goal. I had to show up to many lessons without leather stirrups at all. It was hard at the beginning until I started improving my fitness and mastering the skill.But then it was all reward when I started using stirrups again and realised the improvement I had made.
This is how I work without stirrups
I do believe that the best thigh muscles workout for showjumpers is done on a horse.First, I take my feet out from the stirrups before bringing the stirrups up and crossing them in front of the saddle.Widen your legs and find a deeper seat as close as possible to the pommel, extend your legs around the horse (as if you were hugging the horse with your legs), let your knees go lower than when you use your iron stirrups and only keep the proper position of your heels with your toes up and feet parallel to the horse.Start trotting, I would normally do sitting trot first (properly absorbing the movement), follow this with some rising trot (not much) then progressively to canter and work on transitions.
Polar Tracker A360
For the really ambitious rider, I would recommend using a heart tracker device to provide you more accurate data about your level of fitness. I use the Polar A360 http://www.polar.com/au-en/products/sport/A360 that also tracks steps, sleep and more activities throughout the day, but mainly works quite well showing my cardio activity while riding. By using this device, I could see my level of fitness and work towards improvements before attempting more difficult jumping goals (greater heights, or even getting into shows). I will write more about the ‘tracker device’ in a separate blog.