Stirrup leathers (or stirrup straps) for English riding are just as streamlined as the saddle itself, usually only about 1” wide as compared to the 3” straps used for non-competition western riding. There are fundamental differences in how the leathers attach to the saddle as well. English leathers connect to the metal stirrup bars riveted to the tree, and western ones wrap around the bars of the tree itself.
These distinctions, along with the basic differences in the construction of English and western saddles, make it impractical and uncomfortable to use western straps on an English saddle. Doing so would cause a lot of painful scraping against straps and buckles, which would accelerate the wear and tear on both your gear and your disposition.
The “Leather” in Stirrup Leathers Says It All
There have been some remarkable strides in the production of synthetic materials, but leather that is strong and thick is still the best option for stirrup straps. If economic considerations prevent you from buying leather straps, choose high-quality man-made ones that are hefty and durable enough to withstand the rigors of riding, and check them regularly for signs of damage.
Whether you buy leather or plastic straps, always check that the stitches are intact and closely spaced. Whenever you notice that stitches have come loose, it is much better and safer to have the straps re-stitched than to have them fall apart when you are on your horse, which may force you to spend time reclaiming your lost stirrup or your lost equilibrium.
Your Straps Deserve Equal Treatment
Keep symmetry in mind when you think about stirrup leathers. The straps should come from the same piece of pre-shrunk hide, cut from adjacent areas to ensure that they wear and stretch in the same way. The holes on one strap should line up exactly with the holes of the other one, because any misalignment will disrupt your riding balance. If you share your stirrup leathers with other riders, you can loop string around the holes you use to help you find them quickly.
It’s also a good regular practice to switch your leathers from side to side, as the one on the mounting side wears out faster than the one on the other side (it is similar to rotating an automobile’s tires).
The Long and the Short of English Stirrup Leathers
You can wear English stirrup leathers at a long or short position to fit your particular needs. By hanging the straps long enough to allow you to stretch your legs out fully while mounted, you enjoy enhanced contact with the horse through your legs as well as greater security in the seat. These benefits are important for riding activities that rely on good rider-horse communication or for those that pose a greater risk of being unseated. That explains why long straps make as much sense for modern competing dressage equestrians as they did for medieval lance-wielding knights.
The shorter strap position represents a trade-off of sorts, as it gives the rider more flexibility of movement but less contact with the horse. A rider using the shorter straps not only has a more secure seat in the event of a horse’s stumbling but also can stand up in the stirrups and take weight off the horse’s center of gravity. That gives the horse greater balance and power, so it’s not surprising that jockeys use the shorter straps when competing in races.
The best stirrups in the world won’t help you much if your straps are faulty. Stirrup leathers take a lot of punishment, so make sure that yours are up to the task by inspecting them regularly for signs of strain and addressing any problems.
Back to English Saddle Parts