Sit the Trot Better and Don’t Lose Your Stirrups

The Incredible Shrinking Leg (or How To Avoid Losing Your Stirrups!)

Ruth and I have been giving a bunch of seat and leg position riding lessons lately, and we’ve discovered some interesting things about the correlation of the pelvis, lower leg, and losing your stirrups.

Does this ever happen to you?

Do you lose your stirrups in the sitting trot?
Does your horse slow down in the sitting trot or when you work without stirrups?
Does your knee come out over the front of the saddle when you’re in the sitting trot or canter?
Does it seem that the more you use your leg, the slower your horse goes?
Do you lean forward no matter how hard you try to bring your shoulders back?
Is your bum smacking the saddle in the canter rather than sliding along your tack?
Is it hard to get up into a standing or 2-point position and keep your balance?
Is it just impossible to keep your heels down below the stirrup bar?

All of these problems could be related to the following position issues.
1. Your pelvis is not in a neutral position.
2. You’re gripping or pinching with your knee.

Here’s how the cycle unfolds.

When your pelvis is NOT in NEUTRAL, it can’t work as a spring or joint to follow your horse’s movement. Most of the time with the problems described above, the pelvis is in a too closed or tight position. As a result, in order to keep your balance, you feel that you have to pinch with your knees to stay in the saddle.

This causes problems.

When you pinch with your knees, your whole leg actually draws upward away from gravity (the ground) and shortens your contact with the seat in the saddle. (When I say “seat”, I’m not only talking about where you sit, but also I’m including your upper thigh all the way down to the top of your boot.) The less length of leg you have around your horse, the less stable you are.

When you pinch with your knees (which also closes your thighs), you actually give an aid for your horse to slow down. Remember, your upper leg should close for downward transitions, and your lower leg should close for upward transitions. Your horse won’t know what to think when you close your ENTIRE leg! This is why when you grip harder in the sitting trot to try and stay balanced, your horse slows down.

By now it’s a catch 22 because the slower he goes, the more you’re squeezing to try and speed him up. And yet the more you squeeze, the slower he goes! You’re squeezing yourself right off the top of the horse. (Like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube).

Pinching with your knees with a closed pelvis also inhibits your body weight from dropping into your heels where it should be. With a pinched knee, you stop the ability of your weight to actually get to your heels. (It’s like putting a “stopper” at your knee like a stopper in the bath tub. Gravity can’t pull your weight down to your heels. The “stopper” at your knee is blocking the weight from going down to your heels just like the bathtub stopper keeps the water from running out of a bathtub.)

Pinching with your knees also leads to losing your stirrups. When your leg is not as long as possible, your weight can’t drop down to the stirrup bar. When your weight is not down on the stirrup bar, your heel comes up and you lose your stirrup.

So there you have it. When you get your pelvis into neutral and elongate your thighs, you’ll solve many problems. Below are a few pictures and images that you can use to help with this issue.

Pelvis too closed Pelvis in Neutral Pelvis too open

Elongate your thighs by thinking “gardening knees”.

For more information and solutions for improving your riding position so you don’t lose your stirrups go to


  1. Very interesting…thanks for the tips

  2. Nuala Galbari says

    Thank you for the advice. I have been riding for 2-1/2 years and I am really frustrated that I cannot sit the trot without stirrups. Sitting the trot WITH stirrups has improved through practice (although not perfect by any means). I practice by encouraging my horse to ‘jog’ at a slow pace, rather than the normal pace I work at rising trot. this has helped. However, my instructor asked me to drop the irons yesterday (and tied the reins) and work at sitting trot, while she lunged my horse in a circle. I almost fell of — twice.
    No stirrups added to tight turns threw me off balance and I had to grab the front of my saddle to avoid falling. Apart from anything else, it’s embarrassing as one feels totally inept. Even though my seat has improved during the past several months and I am doing plenty of two point, I still can’t sit the trot sans stirrups. My instructor has encouraged me to practice for a short time daily.

    I believe the following is happening when I attempt to sit the trot without stirrups:
    1. Tension, and thus, gripping with the knees.
    2. Tension in the back and neck.
    3. Pivoting of the lower leg due to gripping with the knee.
    4. Fear of falling.

    When I sit the trot with stirrups, I am relaxed.

    When I grip with my knees or try to grip with the lower leg, my horse speeds up, as he is confused. I think what is required is to relax completely,however that’s not easily accomplished.
    Yesterday, tracking to the left, I inadventently gripped with my outside lower leg and my horse thought it was a canter depart signal. Not a good day.

    I believe that constant practice is the only way to remove the gripping, fear, sliding and bouncing.
    It’s not easy on your horse.

    One trainer suggested the following, which I am now practicing:

    When you have warmed your horse up during a session/ride, and he is calm:
    1. Drop your stirrups and just walk for 5-10 minutes. Walking without stirrups is easy on your horse, will help deepen your seat and strengthen your core and leg muscles. Now: take a deep breath
    2. When you are ready, send your horse into a slow trot (or jog) and try to keep the pace regular and slow.
    3. Sit the trot for five paces; then transition to walk for five paces, then back to trot for five paces, and so on.
    4. When you feel confident with the five paces, move up to six, then to seven (trot, walk, trot) and so on until you can do more.
    5. If, at any time, you begin to feel uncomfortable or begin to bounce or lose balance, return to walk.

    The trainer suggested that you will gradually be able to increase the amount of time (number of paces) you are trotting without stirrups. Keep the reins soft and lean back a little to transition down to walk.

    Give your horse rest breaks on a long rein and don’t forget to give him rubs and an appreciative ‘good boy’. It’s hard work for him, too.

    Perhaps this will help others. I am still struggling, but remember, we WILL get there with practice!

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