November may be half over, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop thinking about good old no stirrups November. Whether your a long time participant in this, occasionally painful, annual tradition or considering taking it up for the first time — we’ve got some tips for you to help you survive and be successful.

Whats the perks?

Riding with no stirrups, while it can be uncomfortable, actually does have tangible benefits. Riding without relying on your stirrups helps to improve overall muscle strength, and will improve your balance and seat. Stirrups are a great support when riding, but can also  be a crutch that can hide some bad habits. When you take them away, you get a clear and honest look at your own strength, and just how balanced you are in the tack. Without stirrups you have to rely on your own body, and a really good seat, to stay in the saddle and not get bounced into the dirt. 

What am I in for?

We’re not going to lie, unless your an avid and constant no-stirrups rider, this isn’t going to be pretty. It’ll hurt, especially the first few tries, and you’ll discover muscles you didn’t even know you had (but being a rider, you should be used to that by now). You’ll be sore, its something you can pretty much count on. Also, don’t expect your ride to be as smooth as normal, riding without stirrups is a skill itself, and if you don’t do it very often, there will be some bumps in the road (and you may potentially fall off).

So how do you survive?

Set an achievable goal

Consider your fitness level and what you think is reasonable for your riding level. If your a long time no-stirrups November participant (or you just make a habit of regularly riding without stirrups – a habit that is actually good to have), you may have loftier goals than if you’re trying if for the first time. You can set all kinds of goals for yourself, from a monthly goal (e.g. try to ride at least a full 30 minutes without stirrups before the end of the month), or a goal that builds your skills throughout the month (e.g. on week one I want to ride 15 minutes without stirrups, but week 4 I want to be able to jump a small fence without stirrups).  While its great to dream big, setting achievable goals for your experience level will actually be a bigger confidence boost by the end of the month. 

Consider (and know) your horse

Some horses are just easier to ride without stirrups than others. If your mount has a bouncy gait, think twice about bouncing around on his back without stirrups as you can actually do some damage to your horses back. While you may be able to tolerate a certain level of muscle soreness that comes with no stirrups November, straining muscles in your horse’s back isn’t something you want to do. 

Also, some horses just aren’t built for riding without stirrups, and were not talking about bouncy gate here. If you ride a horse that can’t handle an occasionally unbalanced rider, is prone to spooking or bolting, or just has any host of occasionally problematic behaviors in the tack — stick with your stirrups, it’ll be safer for your both. If you want to try riding without stirrups but don’t think your horse is appropriate, consider borrowing a friends more stable mount for your no stirrups saddle time.

Have a good pre- and post routine

While muscle soreness can’t always be avoided, a good stretch before and after your ride can alleviate some of the tension. Before stretching pre-ride, make sure your muscles are well warmed up, as stretching cold muscles can actually be damaging. Consider talking a lap or two around the ring with your horse (on the ground), then stretch before hopping into the saddle. Make sure you hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, otherwise it won’t be effective. Handy stretches for sore, achy legs include the calf stretch, quadriceps stretch, and hamstring stretch. 

Be adaptable

If you set out with the goal of going the whole month without stirrups, and then find yourself in serious pain after the first ride, reconsider your plan and your goals. The exercise of riding without stirrups, whether its a regular endeavor or something you are trying for November, is about developing your skills — not causing yourself severe physical and mental anguish.

Have fun and a good sense of humor

No stirrups November is a serious workout and most equestrians, as always, are prepared to suffer for their passion. If you go into this activity too seriously … it really is going to hurt. On the other hand, if you go into this able to laugh about how much you are (and do hurt), and why you were crazy enough to even try in the first place, its going to be a much better learning experience.

You should also consider trying no stirrups exercises more than one month of the year, its a great training exercise to incorporate into your regular routine, even if only once a month.

Happy riding. And remember stay strong (you can do it)!

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