The stirrup bars are the metal pieces that hold up the stirrups, and their location is a reminder of the English saddle’s history. The modern hunt seat is a by-product of the fox hunting days of jumping over fences, bushes, and the like. Because that seat tilts forward, the stirrups on an English saddle are usually farther forward than the ones on a western saddle.
The bars for those stirrups are one of the most fundamental elements of an English saddle, as the saddle maker rivets them to the inverted-U of the saddle tree while it’s still in its bare state. Thanks to the strength of this construction method, there’s little chance that the bars will come loose during riding excursions.
The same cannot be said of the stirrups themselves, and that’s a good thing. Breaking free of your stirrups is vital to your safety at certain times, such as after you’ve suffered the indignity of falling off your horse.
Latch Onto Safety Latches
As a precaution against being dragged by the stirrup leathers, most stirrup bars feature a safety latch. By setting the latch to its open/down position, riders can enjoy greater peace of mind in knowing that the stirrups will not pose a danger during sticky situations. Under extreme or unusual pressure, the bars release the stirrups to separate an unseated rider from a moving horse.
It’s up to every rider to decide whether or not to use this safety measure, and one important factor to consider is the level of riding experience. Inexperienced riders are more likely to take a tumble during an outing, so this extra protection can be a real blessing.
Another consideration is the type of activity performed in the saddle. Extremely energetic disciplines such as eventing and jumping carry a greater risk for spills than less strenuous ones such as dressage. That’s why saddles designed for jumping often include stirrup bars with hooks at one end so that stirrups will disengage after mishaps.
The horse world has recognized the importance of such preventive devices. A number of equestrian associations require the use of safety latches on stirrup bars, and some modern saddles feature built-in safeguards. These include break-away stirrups and stirrup bars that have a curve instead of a latch, allowing the leathers to disengage when a rider falls.
Because the stirrup bars are an integral part of the saddle tree, keep them in mind when inspecting any saddles you are thinking of buying. Take note as to whether they have up/down latching options or permanently engaged safety features. You want the stirrup bars on your saddle to be appropriate for your horsemanship skills, riding habits, and personal preferences.
Get a Grip on Stirrups
Despite the obvious merits of safety latches, some riders choose not to use them. They worry that the movement created by routine activity, especially when jumping or eventing, will trigger the release of the stirrups when it’s unwanted. Anyone concerned about this possibility can use one of the newer saddles that boast recessed stirrup bars. The design creates a tighter fit for the stirrups, so they are less likely to come loose during uneventful rides.
Whether you use the safety latch or not, remember to include the stirrup bars in your routine maintenance schedule. This is especially important if you share your saddle with others whose preferences may not be the same as yours. Stirrup bars that are not regularly cleaned and oiled can freeze up and become locked in one position, taking the freedom of choice away from someone. If you keep this important piece running smoothly, everyone gets the chance to ride as he or she wants.
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