Welcome to Hell…

…or as we call it, NO STIRRUPS NOVEMBER. *queue dramatic music* We all hear about NSN, but it really should be thought of as more than just a fun hashtag.

As I write this, I’d like to call upon some recent events to support my idea, and also make a shout-out/gush a little. As three Canadian riders, we are so proud of Sam Walker’s amazing, calm, centered, buttery soft, flowing victory at the ASPCA Maclay National Finals this month. (Click here to watch his final round.)

20181106 Sam Walker
pc: Phelps Media Group/National Horse Show

I’ve watched Sam’s rounds, as well as some of the other finalists, Brian Moggre’s USEF medal win, and one of my favourites, Taylor St. Jacques win of the USEF Hunter Seat Medal in 2017… stirrupless, no less! (Click here to watch.)

We know that riding more often without stirrups will help to strengthen our position and balance in the saddle, but there are also some things to consider when tackling a project like NSN.

If you’re headed out the barn and you’re planning a no-stirrups ride, please for the love of god stretch first! It’s sort of comical because we all exercise regularly and know how important stretching is, but we never stretch to ride (despite being told we should). Yes it is super weird and awkward to stretch at the barn, but you’ll thank us later. Even if you only have a couple of minutes, just work on some range of motion in your hips (simple hip circles will do!), and stretch your quads and adductors – they will be on fire while you ride. If you have questions on how to stretch effectively for riding, email us and we’ll explain more.

Now that you’re prepared to drop the irons, make sure your horse is prepared too. We have green horses so we tend to be very mindful of this, but regardless of your horse’s age, they may be sensitive to having stirrups dangling by their sides. Ranchero suggests dropping them for a minute and picking them back up a few times randomly throughout your ride to get your horse used to it before you drop them all together. As you refine your no-stirrups game, your foot should hold your stirrup tightly by the horse’s side and there shouldn’t be too much bouncing… but in the mean time you may want to prepare your horse for a little jiggle. You can also cross your stirrups in front of you, or remove them from your saddle together (though we would only recommend this for experienced riders that can commit to a full length flat school without stirrups).

So you’ve dropped your stirrups to work on your position. What does that mean? Remember that part where I said stretch your adductors? This is why. I think you’ll find if you drop your stirrups after a long time of not doing that, you’ll feel very tight and making an effort to “grip” to maintain your balance. With your stirrups dropped, lengthen your leg as long as you can, stretching through your heels. This will help keep you from gripping at the knee. That said, don’t use this as an opportunity to balance yourself on your horse’s mouth – that’s not fair! Glue your bum to that saddle, relax your hips, and keep your arms relaxed. The real answer is to engage your core. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s legit. If you can engage your core, you’ll rely less on your hip flexors (a very common tight spot among riders!) and shoulders/upper back for balance.

In summary, we are big fans of NSN (mostly because we’re gluttons for punishment!). So welcome to hell! We hope you enjoy it as much as we do. We can’t wait to see you babes stronger and more balanced in December! If you’re working without your stirrups this winter, please tag us on Instagram! @mane.girls #mgdoesnsn 

Do you have any recommendations over how we can improve our positions over this winter? Feel free to comment below, or contact us directly via email.

*feature image from lopetx.org, Lynn Reardon’s blog

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