Stirrups have come a long way since their humble beginnings as nothing more than toe loops used in India more than two thousand years ago. The modern stirrup is a carefully crafted piece of engineering that increases a rider’s safety and comfort. Try to mount a horse or hurdle a stream without using stirrups, and you will soon appreciate their importance.
Ironing Out the Old Stirrups
We still call stirrups “irons” even though other substances have replaced iron in the manufacturing process (much as we still call footballs “pigskins” although we no longer sacrifice swine to make them). Stirrups today are more likely to be made of wood, stainless steel, aluminum, nickel, or plastic. Some represent a combination of elements, such as stirrups with treads made of wood covered with metal.
When choosing among these materials, remember that the lighter metals and synthetics will bend and break more than solid wood or denser metals. Stirrups should be heavy enough to stay put while your feet make their way through them, but don’t go overboard in terms of pure bulk.
Stainless steel offers the most strength, durability, and weight, but you may regret that heftiness if you ever have the misfortune of being conked in the head by your stirrups. As with other riding gear, trying out as many options as possible is the best approach in selecting stirrups.
Safety from the Bottom Up
Many English stirrups have built-in safety features that release a rider’s foot when pressure is exerted upon the outside of the stirrup. Freedom from the stirrups is essential to reduce the risk of being dragged by a horse after being unseated, so these specially-made stirrups are a good idea for anyone. If you have limited riding experience or engage in rigorous stunts such as jumping, it is even more important to safeguard yourself after an accident.
Another way of protecting yourself is to avoid wearing any footwear that has no heel, as flat bottoms provide no traction for the tread and will easily slip off the stirrup. Even when you are not wearing riding boots, be sure that your shoes have some sort of heel to keep them in place.
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