Is it hard to ride without stirrups?

Riding without stirrups is an exercise that can help riders to enhance their seat and overall riding skills. It helps riders develop better balance, feel, and position, leading to a more harmonious connection with the horse. Riding without stirrups is not necessarily easy, but it can be beneficial when you want to become a better rider.

Riding without stirrups is good for kids and adults alike. However, if you choose to try riding without stirrups, you should always wear a helmet and take precautions.

In this article, we will look at the advantages of riding without stirrups and provide tips on how to make this experience easier and more beneficial for both you and your horse.

The importance of developing your seat

One of the primary benefits of riding without stirrups is that you will easily develop a more balanced and steady seat. A strong and secure seat is essential for maintaining balance and stability while riding, no matter which discipline you choose.

By removing the stirrups, you are forced to rely solely on your seat and core muscles to maintain your posture and position. You will be more in tune with every movement your horse makes and it makes you more aware of any shifting of your own weight in the saddle.

Before you can become an advanced rider, you will have to develop a good seat: this is essential whether you do dressage, jump, or practice any other discipline.

Best tips for riding without stirrups

Before you take your stirrups off, you should be prepared for the exercise ahead. For instance, make sure you are well-stretched and that you are wearing a helmet and possibly a safety vest.

If you are riding without stirrups for the very first time, you should get on a horse who is easy to ride and calm. This way you can only focus on your seat.

Below, we have listed some useful tips for riding without stirrups.

1. Stretch and warm up

Stretching before riding without stirrups can help prepare your body for the challenge ahead. Perform exercises that open up your hip, hip flexor, and lower back. One effective stretch is lying on your back with your right leg bent up, placing your left ankle across your right thigh. Remember to do this on both sides. This stretch helps loosen and warm up your muscles, making it easier to ride without stirrups.

2. Assess your horse's condition

Before removing your safety stirrups, take a few moments to warm up with them first. Assess your horse's condition and determine if they are physically ready for the challenge.

If your horse feels fresh or exhibits signs of tightness or weakness in their back, it may not be the best time to ride without stirrups. Start by incorporating short periods of sitting trot into your ride, gradually increasing the duration as your horse becomes more comfortable and supple.

3. Use the right equipment

To ensure safety and stability while riding without stirrups, it is important to have the right equipment. Cross your stirrups over in front of your saddle, so they are out of your way. You can also put a martingale on your horse or tie a lead rope around their neck. This way, you have something to hold onto if you lose your balance.

4. Choose a safe environment

When practicing riding without stirrups, it is essential to choose a safe environment. An arena can provide a controlled setting where you can focus on your position without distractions. It may be best to ride without stirrups only when the arena is calm and not full of other horses.

For instance, if there is a jump lesson going on, it may not be the best time for you to practice without your stirrups.

5. Gradually introduce canter

If you are comfortable riding a good walk-to-canter transition, you may find that cantering without stirrups is easier than spending a lot of time in trot. Cantering allows you to flow with the horse's movement, making it easier to maintain balance and rhythm. Start by cantering with stirrups and gradually remove them for short periods during your ride.

6. Focus on your posture and look ahead

Keep your shoulders pulled back and look ahead. If you look down at your horse’s neck, you will most likely lose your balance. Focus on your posture and finding a good seat. If you need help, ask for a trainer to work with you.

7. Pay attention to your hands

It’s typical for riders to start relying on the reins and horse’s mouth for balance when they don’t have the stirrups for support. Be mindful of your hands and make sure that you don’t start pulling on the horse’s mouth.

Instead, hold onto the saddle or the rope around the horse’s neck with your other hand to make sure you will keep your hands soft.

8. Ask your trainer to help

If you have a trainer, it may be helpful to ask them to lunge the horse on a circle while you ride without stirrups. When your trainer is lunging, you can let go of the reins and let your arms hang by your side.

Good exercises for riding without stirrups

Now that you are ready to ride without stirrups, let's explore some exercises that can help you make the most of this practice. These exercises can be performed at various levels and are designed to improve your balance, strength, and position in the saddle.

In many cases, you should have someone on the ground to help.

1. Reins in one hand

Start by bridging the reins in one hand and perform exercises that engage your upper body and core muscles. Circle your free arm forward, upward, and backward, focusing on maintaining a stable and balanced position in the saddle. This exercise helps relax your shoulders and upper back and improve your overall stability and encourages a deep seat.

2. Reach and touch exercises

While maintaining the reins in one hand, practice reaching forward to touch your horse's ears, then down to touch your toes on both sides. This exercise helps improve flexibility, balance, and body awareness. As you reach and stretch, focus on keeping your position centered and your seat deep.

These exercises may be easier to do when someone lunges your horse and you tie the reins into a knot on the horses neck.

3. Leg lifts and legs forward

Perform leg lifts away from the horse's sides, resembling a pair of scissors. Lift and hold both legs away from the horse's sides for a second, then lower them back down. This exercise strengthens your core and leg muscles while improving your balance and stability in the saddle.

Place your legs forward over the front of each side of the saddle. This exercise encourages proper alignment and prevents gripping with your legs, allowing for a more relaxed and effective position.

5. Foot and head circles

Rotate your feet in small circles, focusing on keeping your lower leg relaxed and supple. This exercise helps improve ankle flexibility and promotes a more secure lower leg position. Additionally, rotate your head in small circles, but be cautious of lightheadedness. These exercises enhance body awareness and coordination.

6. Dressage and jumping

For more advanced riders, incorporating dressage movements, such as lateral movements, transitions, lengthenings, voltes, counter canter, and flying changes can be good practice. These movements challenge your balance, strength, and coordination while improving your overall riding skills.

If you are a jumper, you can take off your magnetic safety stirrups and try jumping small cavalettis and crossrails without stirrups.

Incorporating jumping without stirrups

Jumping without stirrups is an important aspect of equestrian training that should not be overlooked. It helps riders develop a secure and independent position over fences, enabling them to effectively communicate with their horse while jumping.

Here are some tips for incorporating jumping without stirrups into your training:

1. Start on the lunge line

Begin by practicing jumping without stirrups on a safe horse while someone is lunging your horse This provides added security and allows you to focus solely on your position and technique. Start with small jumps and gradually increase the height as you gain confidence.

Start with low heights and gradually increase the difficulty. Focus on maintaining a balanced position, allowing your horse to jump freely while you stay secure and connected.

2. Poles without stirrups

Before attempting to jump without stirrups, become confident with pole work exercises without stirrups. This ensures that you have a solid foundation before adding the complexity of jumping into the mix.

3. Gymnastic exercises

As you progress, incorporate gymnastic exercises without stirrups. These exercises involve a series of jumps placed at specific distances, challenging you to maintain balance and rhythm throughout the combination. Gymnastics improve your coordination, strength, and timing, ultimately enhancing your overall jumping skills.

Dressage without stirrups

If you are a dressage rider, you will benefit from riding without stirrups. In dressage shows, you will be scored for your posture and connection with the horse, so riding without stirrups can be very beneficial.

You can do any dressage exercise without stirrups, but start with easy transitions and small circles before moving onto more advanced movements. Also, remember to pay attention to your legs so you don’t grip while performing dressage exercises.

Riding without stirrups: frequency and progression

To make the most of riding without stirrups, it is essential to incorporate it into your regular training routine. Consistency is key, but it is also important to progress gradually to avoid strain or discomfort.

Riding without stirrups can practically be done every day, but it is recommended to build up to it. At first, you may notice that your inner thighs and core muscles get sore, so don’t overdo it.


Ideally, aim to ride without stirrups once a week. This regular practice allows you to maintain and improve your skills over time. Start with shorter durations, around 15 to 20 minutes, and gradually increase the length of your sessions as your strength and comfort level improve.

If you get very excited, you can ride without stirrups even more often or ride half of the time without stirrups and half with them.


When starting out, focus on basic exercises and flatwork without stirrups. As you become more confident and proficient, gradually introduce more advanced exercises and incorporate jumping into your training. Listen to your body and your horse, ensuring that you are both physically ready for the added challenge before progressing to more demanding exercises.

Get guidance

It is essential to get guidance when you are looking to improve your balance and posture. This way you will ensure that you learn good habits. Your trainer will be able to remind you not to grip with your legs and to keep your hands soft. They will also be able to give you tips and tricks for better posture.

Overcoming challenges and staying safe

Riding without stirrups can be challenging, but with the right approach, you can overcome any obstacles and reap the benefits. Here are some additional tips to help you stay safe and make the most of your riding without stirrups experience:

  • Always ride in a safe and controlled environment, such as an arena or a familiar hacking route.
  • Use appropriate safety equipment, including a neck strap or breastplate for added stability and security.
  • Maintain a relaxed and balanced position, avoiding tension or gripping with your legs.
  • Focus on your breathing to help relax your upper body and maintain a supple and responsive position.
  • Keep your shoulders back and engage your core muscles to improve balance and comfort in the saddle.
  • Have someone on the ground, whether it be a trainer, instructor, or a knowledgeable friend, to provide guidance and ensure your position remains correct.
  • Remember, riding without stirrups is a practice that requires patience, consistency, and a focus on proper technique.

The right stirrups can help you improve your riding experience

Even though riding without stirrups is fun and useful, you will eventually want to get comfortable safety stirrups to keep riding at home and at shows.

For instance, Ophena has designed and manufactured magnetic safety stirrups and non-magnetic safety stirrups that have received excellent reviews from amateurs and professionals alike.

Ophena’s magnetic safety stirrups Ophena S and Ophena S Pro have excellent treading, beautiful design, and magnetic connection that makes it easier to keep the foot in the stirrups. Thanks to the magnetic connection, it allows the rider to relax their legs and feet.

Ophena A is our non-magnetic safety stirrup and it has excellent treading and integrated dampening that gives the stirrups more flexibility.

Take a look at our stirrup reviews to see how many people love Ophena and what kind of experiences other riders have had.

Order Ophena safety stirrups online

Ophena safety stirrups are only available at You can order your own safety stirrups easily on our website with the following steps.

  1. Choose the safety stirrup model you want (Ophena S, Ophena S Pro, Ophena A)
  2. Choose the color (black, silver, rose gold)
  3. Choose the size of your magnetic insoles (for Ophena S and Ophena S Pro)
  4. Fill in your details

Remember that we have a 60-day money-back guarantee on all of our stirrups.