Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stirrup Iron Advice

The show season has wrapped up, the awards banquet tickets have been purchased, and I'm going through my usual end of year evaluation. What went right? What went wrong? What do I want to change or do different? I also go through all my tack and show clothes to see what I want to keep, get rid of, and add to. While I've been working on upgrading my western tack, finally getting the show saddle I've been looking for forever (and I'm hoping to get a show headstall for Christmas!), my focus has turned to my english tack and attire.

I'll start by saying I never ride english at home. Never. I can't remember the last time I used my english saddle off the show grounds... it's probably been years. While the main reason is because I've been focusing more on western with Lilly, there's nothing saying I couldn't ride english here and there, just to practice the essentials we need to place well in the english classes, so what's the real reason I don't ride english at home?

I guess it's because I find it very uncomfortable.

I have a wonderful saddle that is really comfortable, and more importantly it fits Lilly, but I'm always having trouble with my knees and ankles. When I'm at the show, and it's finally time to hop off and switch over to western, I'm SO thankful! I get off as often as I can to stretch my legs, but by the end of the day, my ankles are screaming. I don't know if I'm compensating for my knees and my ankles suffer, but I feel like my legs are all sorts of wonky and they just don't "hang" right.

This is a picture from several years ago, but it still feels the same way today. My ankles roll to the outside and they don't really sit flat on the bottom of my irons. I'm constantly having to take my feet out and stretch them just to get some relief.

My ankle is jacked...
So is this happening because my horse is fat, and that's how my legs have to be to get around that giant belly of hers? Is it because my stirrups are too long or too short? Is it because my leathers suck? Is it just how my saddle is made and that's the position it puts my legs in? Is it because I'm riding in paddock boots and half chaps, so my ankle isn't getting the support it needs?

Stirrup length look ok?
In order to size stirrup length, I use the old arm trick. You know, the one where you put your fingertips on the top of your leathers and as long as your irons go into your armpit you're good? I did drop them a hole at the last show to see if that would help, but I didn't really notice a difference. I also didn't do it until after my ankles were screaming, so it's possible it helped but it was just too late.

I've been having this problem for a while now, so several years ago I looked into getting a new pair of irons. I ended up buying the MDC Sport Classic Irons because I thought my knees ankles were being tweaked due to having to hold the irons in the correct spot.

The MDC Sport irons.
Irons sit nice and straight.
With these irons, you can turn them 90 degrees, 45 degrees, or have them in the normal irons position. I turned mine so they're 90 degrees, but I can't really say if it helped or not. I think maybe they helped with my knees, but they definitely haven't helped with my ankles.

So this makes me wonder if I need to take them one step further and get something else. The MDC irons were about $185, and it took all I had to stomach spending that kind of money on irons, and I'm not fond of the though of spending even MORE money on another similar pair, but I'm really tired of having the ankle pain all the time. I've been browsing what other kind of stirrups are out there, and I came across several that have piqued my interest.

Stubben Double Offset Stirrup Irons ($70)
I can't really picture if these could help or not. I think their purpose is to help keep the rider's leg on the horse, while allowing them to keep their heels down, but since they're angled, maybe they would roll my heel in?

Herm Sprenger System 4-F Stirrups With or Without Offset Eye ($230 or $245)
With these stirrups, I know they rotate in four positions, but it's not side to side, it's only up and down. I don't know if having a stirrup that rotates down with my heel would help my ankle or not.

Herm Sprenger 4-F Bow Balance Stirrup Irons ($230)
These irons just look like some kind of alien contraption, but they seem to have received the best reviews of the bunch. I wish I could try a pair of each so I could see how they feel before I spend several hundred dollars on them.

When I initially did some research, I got the impression that people think these things are "gimmicky" and good old fashioned irons are where it's at. I just want something that's going to help my ankle pain, assuming there's something that can help with that. I'm also open to any other possibilities (like my position, or my fat horse, or whatever).

So I'm reaching out to see if any of you have had luck with any of these irons, or found a way to relieve your ankle pain in some other way. I would appreciate any thoughts or ideas.


  1. I ride a horse with a round barrel and I haven't noticed any particular tendency to put more weight on the outside of my foot versus the inside. I did get knee and ankle pain until I switched to composite stirrups. I have the wide treads and the ones that look more "normal". Not sure why, but they work and they are inexpensive so I rolled with it.

  2. I've found icelandic stirrups to help. They're basically cheap 90 degree angle stirrups. I have the herm springer bow balance and they didn't help at all. I also bend my ankles like that and still get pain. You might consider getting an ankle brace. That's the only thing that helps me.

    1. Good to know, thank you! I'm not sure I could fit a brace inside my boots, but I'll definitely give it a try!

  3. Have you tried ankle stretches and calf raises as a physiotherapy for your ankles so they hurt less?

    1. I haven't tried either of those... but I will investigate! Thank you!

  4. Sprinkler Bandit did a writeup on stirrups this past March. Perhaps it could give you some insite and someone to bounce ideas off of.

    Congrats on all the hard work that you and Lilly have put in this year.

    1. Another link to Sprinkler Bandit

      M in NC

    2. Laurent (She Moved to Texas , originally from NC) has a writeup on stirrups also

    3. Thank you!! And thank you for all the links! It is much appreciated!

  5. Also...maybe buy from Riding Warehouse? They seem to have a good return policy. Try them and see if they work for you with the option to return what doesn't? I had horrid ankle pain with my western stirrups (probably English too but I've not ridden English in years). I rode my trainers saddle in lessons and they didn't hurt so I bought the same "irons" as his. ;)

    1. I'll definitely check them out! It's so hard to find places that let you try stuff a bit before you return them. I've been watching for used stuff too, hoping I can maybe try several different ones to see if any of them work for me. Thanks for the idea!

  6. My 2 cents...for what's it's worth. My legs do the SAME THING and I have trouble with pain in my knees and ankles, plus even my feet going numb.

    I used to ride a very wide QH, and I believe that our legs get all crooked like that partly because of the horse's build. Lilly has very well-sprung ribs, and when you shorten your stirrups for english, your legs can't wrap around her barrel as well as they can when you ride in a longer, western stirrup.

    So, what can you do about it? I've done 4 things that really seem to help:
    1. Try different stirrups. SmartPak will TAKE BACK lightly used stirrups. Just try to clean them as best you can. Try wide tread with rubber or cheese grater pads. Try flex irons. Try composite stirrups.

    2. Work on ankle flexbility out of the saddle. Do some exercises on the stairs, letting your heel go off the edge and flexing down, or a similar thing with your foot against a wall.

    3. Be aware of what your ankles are doing when you ride. When you ride, practice posting. You should feel your heel go up and down with your post (to combat bracing against your irons).

    4. Don't be afraid to let your legs hang down out of the stirrups and wiggle your toes! This helps blood flow and combats pain from staying in one position too long.

    I hope that helps!

    1. Thank you so much for this!! I was thinking that it probably had something to do with the way Lilly is built... I said fat, you said "well sprung ribs". Yours is a bit more flattering for Lilly, so we'll go with that. :)

      I will give your suggestions a try. I've been doing number 4 quite a bit, and it does help, but I need to remember to do it more often, and before it gets to the point where I'm in pain.

      Thanks again for your thoughts! They are much appreciated!