The ultimate guide to stirrups and safety stirrups 2024

Stirrups are an essential piece of equipment for any equestrian enthusiast. They provide stability, balance, and support while riding, allowing riders to maintain a secure and comfortable position in the saddle.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider, understanding the different types of stirrups, their benefits, and how to choose the right pair for your needs is crucial.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll take you through everything you need to know about stirrups, from their history to the latest innovations, to help you make an informed decision.

A brief history of stirrups

Stirrups have been an integral part of horsemanship for centuries. The invention of stirrups revolutionized mounted warfare and drastically changed the way people rode horses. While the exact origin of stirrups is debated, they are believed to have been first used by nomadic tribes in Central Asia around 200 BC.

These early stirrups were simple loops made of leather or metal that hung from the saddle, providing riders with stability and support.

Over time, stirrups evolved and diversified in design and materials. The introduction of the stirrup iron, a metal frame that holds the foot, allowed for greater control and maneuverability while riding. Various cultures, such as the Chinese and the Romans, developed their own variations of stirrups, each with its unique characteristics and purposes.

Types of stirrups

Nowadays, there are many different types of stirrups and safety stirrups on the market. The different types of stirrups each have their own unique characteristics and features, so that riders can find the stirrups that suit them the best.

Next, we will take a look at the most common stirrup types on the market in 2024.

Traditional fillis stirrups

The traditional Fillis stirrup, also known as an English stirrup, is the most common type of stirrup used in English riding disciplines. Named after its inventor, Colonel Frederico Caprilli, the Fillis stirrup features a simple design with a solid footbed and a straight, angled neck. These stirrups are typically made of stainless steel or aluminum and come in various sizes to accommodate different foot sizes.

Safety stirrups and magnetic safety stirrups

Safety stirrups are designed with rider safety in mind. They feature additional safety mechanisms to prevent the foot from getting caught in the stirrup in case of a fall or accident. One popular type of safety stirrup is the "breakaway" stirrup, which has a hinged side that opens under pressure, releasing the rider's foot.

Other safety stirrups may have a wide footbed or a flexible joint to reduce the risk of the foot getting stuck.

Today, you can also find magnetic safety stirrups that have a magnetic connection to keep the rider’s foot in the stirrups. We at Ophena manufacture five-star magnetic safety stirrups that have become the favorite among amateurs and professionals alike.

Jointed stirrups

Jointed stirrups, also known as flexible stirrups, have a pivot point in the stirrup iron that allows the footbed to move independently from the rest of the stirrup. This feature helps to reduce strain on the rider's joints, particularly the knees and ankles, by absorbing shock and allowing for a more natural and comfortable position. Jointed stirrups are popular among riders with joint issues or those seeking extra comfort.

Offset stirrups

Offset stirrups, also known as angled or slanted stirrups, have a tilted footbed that promotes a more ergonomic foot position. The angled design helps to align the rider's leg and foot in a more natural alignment, reducing strain and improving balance. Offset stirrups are commonly used in disciplines that require a deep seat, such as dressage and eventing, to enhance rider stability and communication with the horse.

Western stirrups

Western stirrups come in a wide range of designs, each tailored to the specific needs of Western riding disciplines. Some common types include roping stirrups, barrel racing stirrups, and trail riding stirrups. Western stirrups are typically larger and wider than English stirrups, providing more stability and support for the rider's foot. They often feature decorative elements, such as leather tassels or engraved patterns, adding a touch of Western flair.

Choosing the right stirrups

Choosing the right stirrups is essential for both comfort and safety. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the perfect pair for your needs:

Consider your riding discipline

Different riding disciplines may have specific requirements or preferences when it comes to stirrup design. English riders, for example, typically use traditional Fillis stirrups, while Western riders may opt for larger, more decorative stirrups.

Consider the style of riding you do and any rules or recommendations from your discipline when choosing stirrups.


Stirrups are available in a variety of materials, including stainless steel, aluminum, composite materials, and even wood. Each material has its unique characteristics and advantages. Stainless steel and aluminum are durable and lightweight, while composite materials offer flexibility and shock absorption. Consider the material that best suits your needs and preferences.


Stirrups should be sized to fit your foot comfortably. A stirrup that is too small may cause discomfort and restrict movement, while a stirrup that is too large can be unstable and increase the risk of the foot slipping through. Most stirrups come in different sizes, so measure your foot and choose the appropriate size accordingly.


The weight of the stirrups can affect your balance and stability while riding. Some riders prefer heavier stirrups for added stability, while others prefer lighter stirrups for increased comfort and ease of movement. Consider your riding style and personal preferences when deciding on the weight of your stirrups.

Footbed design and treading

The design of the footbed can impact your comfort and grip in the stirrups. Some stirrups have a plain, flat footbed, while others have textured or grippy surfaces to prevent the foot from slipping. Consider the type of riding you do and your personal preferences when choosing the footbed design that suits you best.

For instance, Ophena stirrups have an excellent treading that has been designed to keep your foot in place.

Benefits of using stirrups

Using stirrups offers several advantages for riders of all levels and disciplines. Here are some key benefits:

Improved balance and stability

Stirrups provide a secure anchor point for the rider's feet, improving overall balance and stability in the saddle. They help distribute the rider's weight evenly and allow for better control and communication with the horse.

Enhanced leg position

Properly adjusted stirrups can help maintain a correct leg position, with heels down and toes slightly up. This alignment promotes a more effective and secure seat, enabling the rider to apply aids more precisely and efficiently.

Reduced strain and fatigue

Stirrups help support the rider's weight and reduce strain on the legs, knees, and ankles. This can significantly reduce fatigue during long rides or intense training sessions, allowing riders to perform at their best for longer periods.

Increased safety

Safety stirrups, in particular, offer additional protection in case of a fall or accident. The safety mechanisms, such as breakaway hinges or wide footbeds, minimize the risk of the foot getting trapped in the stirrup and prevent potentially dangerous situations.

Proper stirrup placement

Proper stirrup placement is crucial for maintaining a balanced and effective position in the saddle. Follow these steps to ensure correct stirrup placement:

  • Begin by adjusting the stirrup length. With your foot out of the stirrup, the bottom of the stirrup iron should reach just below your ankle bone.
  • Place your foot in the stirrup, ensuring that your toes are pointing slightly upwards and your heels are down.
  • Check that the stirrup leather is flat against the horse's side, without any twists or wrinkles.
  • Adjust the stirrup buckle or stirrup bar if necessary to achieve the desired length and angle.

Maintaining your stirrups

Proper maintenance and care can extend the lifespan of your stirrups and ensure optimal performance. Here are some tips:

Cleaning and care

Regularly clean your stirrups to remove dirt, dust, and sweat buildup. Use a soft cloth or sponge with mild soap and warm water to gently wipe the stirrup's surface. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or harsh chemicals that may damage the stirrup's finish or material.

Replacing worn-out stirrups

Inspect your stirrups regularly for signs of wear and tear, such as cracks, sharp edges, or loose hinges. If your stirrups show significant damage or are no longer safe to use, it's essential to replace them promptly. Continuing to use worn-out stirrups can compromise your safety and the effectiveness of your riding.

Common stirrup myths

There are several misconceptions surrounding stirrups. Let's debunk some of the most common myths:

Myth: Stirrups are just for balance

While stirrups do provide balance and stability, their benefits go beyond that. Stirrups help maintain proper leg position, reduce strain, and enhance safety. They are an essential tool for effective communication with the horse and overall rider comfort.

Myth: Heavy stirrups are better

The weight of the stirrups is a matter of personal preference and riding style. While some riders prefer heavier stirrups for added stability, others find lighter stirrups more comfortable and easier to maneuver. The key is to find the right balance that suits your needs and riding goals.

Myth: Safety stirrups are not necessary

Safety stirrups are designed to prevent accidents and reduce the risk of getting trapped in the stirrups. They are particularly beneficial for beginners, young riders, and those riding in high-risk situations. Safety should always be a priority, and using appropriate safety equipment is essential.

Stirrup accessories

There are various accessories available to enhance your stirrup experience. Here are a few popular options:

Stirrup pads and grips

Stirrup pads and grips are attachments that can be added to the footbed of the stirrups to provide extra traction and prevent slippage. They are particularly useful in wet or slippery conditions, ensuring a secure grip for the rider's foot.

Stirrup covers

Stirrup covers are protective sleeves that cover the stirrups when not in use. They help prevent scratches on the saddle and protect the stirrups from dust and dirt. Stirrup covers are available in various materials, including neoprene, leather, or fabric.

Stirrup leathers

Stirrup leathers are straps that connect the stirrups to the saddle. They are adjustable, allowing riders to customize the stirrup length to their preference. Stirrup leathers should be regularly checked for wear and tear and replaced when necessary to maintain safety.

Innovations in stirrup design

Stirrup design has evolved over the years, with various innovations aiming to enhance rider comfort, safety, and performance. Here are some notable developments:

Flexible stirrups

Flexible or jointed stirrups have a pivoting mechanism that allows the footbed to move independently from the rest of the stirrup. This feature reduces joint strain and absorbs shock, providing riders with a more comfortable and secure position.

Weighted stirrups

Weighted stirrups are designed to create a more stable and balanced riding experience. The additional weight helps to lower the rider's center of gravity, improving overall balance and reducing unnecessary movement.

Shock-absorbing stirrups

Shock-absorbing stirrups are engineered to minimize the impact of the rider's movement on the horse's back. They feature built-in shock-absorbing systems that reduce vibrations and pressure, promoting a more comfortable ride for both horse and rider.

Customizable stirrups

Customizable stirrups allow riders to adjust the stirrup angle, footbed position, and other elements to their individual preferences. These stirrups are often used by professional riders or those with specific needs to achieve optimal comfort and performance.

Stirrup safety tips

While stirrups are designed to enhance safety, it's essential to follow some general safety guidelines when using them:

  • Always wear appropriate riding footwear with a defined heel that fits securely in the stirrup.
  • Regularly check your stirrups for any signs of wear or damage, and replace them as needed.
  • Ensure that your stirrup leathers are securely attached and properly adjusted to the correct length.
  • Practice proper mounting and dismounting techniques to avoid the risk of getting caught in the stirrups.
  • If using safety stirrups, familiarize yourself with their specific safety mechanisms and how they function.


Stirrups play a vital role in riding, providing stability, balance, and support to riders of all levels. By understanding the different types of stirrups, their benefits, and how to choose the right pair, you can enhance your riding experience and stay safe in the saddle.

Remember to regularly maintain and inspect your stirrups, and consider any additional accessories or innovations that may suit your needs.