Intrigued by stirrups? Should you spend the money on them? What are some of the options available? The E-Venting team takes a closer look at some of the more modern options on the market.
Having felt that my previous stirrups were reaching the very end of their life, and not really wanting them to give up the ghost completely when I was halfway over a 6ft drop hedge, I decided that the time had come to look at some of the more modern alternatives on the market. My eye was caught by the new Bostock safety stirrups and their very clever design to prevent the rider’s foot becoming trapped in the stirrup, and the rider being dragged, in the event of a fall.
The kind gentleman from Treehouse Sporting Colours gave me a demonstration of how they work – when there is sufficient force applied of kind that suggests the rider has gone beyond the point of no return, the stirrup splits into two halves, so that the portion with the rider’s foot in becomes detached from the main part. Having tried to do this myself by hand I am quite certain that there is no way that the stirrup would split in two in any circumstance other than the rider falling off. You can reasonably easily snap the two halves back together in a fraction of a second too, should you need to remount and continue in a hurry. Really a remarkably clever and simple design.
So how are they to ride in? They are incredibly lightweight, with a nice broad footplate that gives great stability. Although they don’t have any specific features to decrease concussion I came back from a day’s hunting with no knee or ankle pain, which I have suffered from before in ‘normal’ stirrups. I found them excellent on my racing saddle on the gallops, and equally on my XC saddle for XC schooling and a one day event.
The only criticism I have is that I rode in them at the Team Chasing national championships over a pretty big track with several drops. I had been using them for a while by then, and was perfectly happy with them, but that day, despite it being dry weather, I found that I struggled to keep the stirrup on the right part of my foot – my foot was always further through than I wanted. I don’t know whether this was because it was a big strong track that probably required different riding to normal, or for some other reason, but that day it was a distraction that I didn’t need. I think that this could easily be solved by adding a slightly more grippy material to the tread. I will add that up until then I couldn’t fault them. Perhaps a modification that could be made for the next version?
I think that unless you participate in the extremes of horse sport they are an excellent lightweight safety stirrup that give peace of mind that you shouldn’t ever end up being dragged. The design is really clever, and with the additional of a slightly grippier tread they would have to be a pretty exciting addition to the market.
Bostock Stirrups are available from Treehouse Online in adult and child version with a range of different colour details. They retails at £119.95 for the adult version.
Lucy – my considerations before the test
I never even consider stirrups in my choice of tack. Ultimately I go for the very best saddle that fits me and the horse (currently an Ideal or Equipe) and stirrups are an afterthought. My imitation Sprengers have been pretty good but I would never go hunting or cross country in them because I have heard of them snapping and I do not trust the materials under the rubber. I moved to plastic stirrups for jumping a couple of years ago having ridden in them at a at a pro’s yard and liking them. I like that they are lightweight and that they are easy to clean. I rarely fall off as I am a pretty sticky rider, but I would like a better lower leg as it tends to swing as I grip through the knee. More importantly I am cheap. I hate spending money on kit that I do not think warrants it, and stirrups have always fallen into this category.
SPRENGER BOW BALANCE
I tested these during a flatwork lesson, jumping lesson and galloping on the beach.
When I stick them next to my current stirrups they are a lot bigger. This is probably a good thing because I have size 9 feet and my other stirrups are probably close to a risk and getting a foot stuck if I fell off. The extra space seems to come in the height. The tread of the stirrup is a practical black and they look smart without being too over the top. The tread of the stirrup is a lot wider than my current stirrups and my old stirrups look quite old fashioned next to them.
I have recently bought a new dressage saddle with much bigger blocks than I am used to and one of the issues I was having was with my right knee twisting and being slightly jammed with the blocks so it was causing a niggle that I had never had before. The bow balances really helped stop this because the stirrup is already angled meaning my knee was not twisting. I found that the angle of the bow balance means you are not holding the stirrup on your foot at a right angle and so overall it felt a great stirrup for the flat. I like a flexible tread but would say I am used to it with the imitations that I currently use, so probably did not notice any difference in this. On the beach I noticed my legs did not fatigue. I spent a vast proportion of it being chased by dogs but it felt a steady platform and I had no calf ache which I sometimes can get. The next day my calves ached like crazy, but not while I was at the beach.
Jumping – I did not notice anything adverse, I also did not notice any miracles with my lower leg. Not that I was expecting to! I like that they are quite open so the foot will never get trapped and I also really liked the wide platform for your foot. Personally, I find them better for dressage than I did for jumping because they come in heavier than other brands which I tried.
Sprenger Bow Balance from £154
EQUIPE ALUMINIUM STIRRUPS
Oh my, I loved these stirrups. I have not been able to go back to my faithful plastic stirrups since. They are everything I want in a stirrup, they are lightweight, sturdy, attractive without being in your face, have great grip and a wide platform for your foot. I have had some interesting experiences on sharp horses and my foot and lower leg does not move. Some of these horses have been throwing fancy moves and I barely move because my base is really strong and my feet don’t move.
I have been riding and jumping a lot of other horses lately in saddles I would never normally get on with because they have been more GP cut than jumping, and the one common denominator is I swap the stirrups over and take my the Equipes and my lower leg is pretty strong so I automatically feel comfortable in the saddles. Even out hunting with muddy boots on these stirrups work well. They clean easily and best of all they run up like normal stirrups so stay in place when not in use. The only thing you have to be slightly careful on is they will mark soft saddles because of the inside edge grip. I have not had any issues with them on harder saddles.
In all honesty I could not go back to ordinary stirrups. These have spoilt me for life. They are just really great stirrups that perform well and will last beyond the ‘fashion’.
Equipe Stirrups £159.95
I was fascinated to see what the fuss was about with these stirrups and whether they were worth the hype. They have had some mixed press lately and they are good stirrups but they are not as good as the Equipes. Things like them not running up and staying in place annoyed me. They mark saddles and I think they are slightly too flash for what I like. I have never been dragged by a horse and it never worries me because I have always bought stirrups which fit my large feet and so the safety stirrup aspect does not appeal to me. For me the balance is not as good as the Equipes, because the majority of the weight is in the base of the stirrup rather than being more evenly balanced all round. I am just not sure these stirrups will stand the test of time and I worry that there is a bigger stress point on one side of the stirrup rather than being more evenly spread round like normal stirrups. Some people swear by these stirrups but for me, though they felt fine over a fence, there were too many other factors which meant they did not win me over.
Now, before I start I must make a confession. Before testing these, I was something of a stirrup cynic. I simply could not imagine what material difference in one’s riding something as (deceptively) simple as a stirrup could make. I had quite a stable lower leg, so I thought, had used the same simple fillis stirrup irons for years (about 15 of them if we’re being honest!) and wasn’t about to fall prey to any fads or flashy marketing. As such, I went in to the exercise fully expecting to be underwhelmed. However, to my surprise, after 2 weeks of riding in the Freejumps, quite the opposite has occurred. I adore them! Truly. With a zeal of evangelical proportions. Let me explain myself: 1) they have a lovely wide and deep footbed with little grippy nodules to keep your foot in place… and I swear, they do not move a millimetre unless you want them to; 2) the angle of the facing side seems to keep your heels down and your lower leg in a stable position under you; and 3) as a result of 1) and 2), they inspire confidence! I tested them at home and rode in them at 2 BE events: Aldon and Gatcombe, during which I had utmost faith in the fact that my foot would stay put…. and when the rains came tumbling down at Gatcombe I really needed to feel confident in my kit. Comparing the pro photos from events with and without ‘my’ Freejumps shows that it wasn’t all my imagination, my lower leg genuinely is in a better place with the Freejumps than without. Now I wouldn’t pretend that this is the most scientific of evidence, and it might simply be that the togs have caught me in a better position by chance in the 2 events I rode in with the Freejumps, BUT still, the photos do seem to back up my feelings. Much is made of the safety aspects of the Freejumps but I’m pleased to say that during the testing period I did not test out how readily they free the foot in the event of a fall so I cannot comment on this aspect of their qualities. However for everything else, they get the big thumbs up from me and I was desperately sad to have to return them at the end of the trial.
Freejumps around £210
I have been a devotee of the Sprenger System-4 and Bow Balance stirrups for yonks. I have a pair on every saddle I own, and absolutely love them. My right knee has been operated on twice after major damage so I definitely need something that takes the strain off the joints. The Sprengers are heavy enough to stay put if I lose one, and very easy to get back immediately (especially the Bow Balance, which I favour slightly for jumping… the treads are wider on those too). Interestingly, three of my friends have borrowed mine and been completely converted by the feeling of the bendy sides, and the security it gave them. One is dramatically different in her jumping position in them, they make a huge difference to her base stability.
The only caveat I have with them is that I would NEVER soak them to get them clean, or put them in the dishwasher (as some do!). I wipe mine over, that’s it. The metal chain inside the rubber sides is completely hidden so you can’t see if it’s rusting, so it must be kept dry. I have never had one fail, and hope I never will, but it’s something to bear in mind.
Are expensive stirrups worth the money? In the past I would have said to spend the money on lessons as you would be more likely to improve, but I admit I have been won over. I spend a lot of money on saddles and girths, so why would I not take that ‘investment’ attitude to stirrups? I am not into fads and trends, but I like really good kit which works. I had a time at camp where I spent a huge amount of time swapping my stirrups over to different saddles and horses but it was worth the effort. Moving to a wider platform stirrup has been a revelation and they are much more comfortable to ride in.