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It is often the small changes in our riding that can make the biggest difference.

A shift in one part of our body can affect so many other areas, but many of these smaller details or nuances about riding aren’t taught in regular riding lessons and may even seem counter-intuitive in the beginning.

Today, we are focusing on one of these so important, yet rarely discussed aspects of riding… where exactly should your foot go in the stirrup?

If you have been told where to place your foot, it was likely to “keep the stirrup on the ball of your foot”, and that kind of feels right – you can push on the stirrup to steady yourself, you can get your heel down… but these are exactly the movements that are making you feel unstable and out of balance.

In this video, I will show exactly where to place your foot in the stirrup and why it’s important. 

 

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139 Responses

  1. Great information! I realize that while it feels unnatural, positioning behind the ball of my foot does make a positive change. I noticed that I tend to lift my foot out of the right stirrup during (mostly) left turns. Is it common for riders to do this with either foot/leg? I thought maybe I have one leg longer than the other, or maybe I have a stronger side or am off-balance? Any suggestions on what this may be and how to correct?

    1. Hi Nancy, it sounds like you are tightening the leg when you turn! Make sure that your thigh muscle doesn’t hold any extra tension!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  2. Thank you so much!! This answers a question I have been feeling into for a while, and explains it in language understandable to my mind and my body. Cannot wait to try out the new foot placement.

  3. This instruction video was tailor made for me! Thank you Callie, as always, for your insights

  4. Thank you for this insight! It’s very helpful! I’m always struggling to find that sweet spot for my foot on the stirrup and frequently it just doesn’t feel right. I have a question about the angle of the ankle joint, as you alluded to in this video. My instructor heavily emphasizes our heels being very down at a sharp angle. Based on your description in the video, we’re really asked to push our ankles to maximum range of motion. I feel the strain on my ankle and I now understand how that would not allow for soft fluid hips. What should I do though? My instructor is very adamant and quite forceful. If I were to adjust my ankle angle, I would probably get severely chastised! Ha! Any suggestions or insights?

    1. Hi Shell, have you watched your instructor ride and ask her to describe how she is holding her leg? Have you expressed the discomfort you are feeling to her?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Hi Julia! Thank you for the response. I haven’t watched her ride, although I would love to! She’s a bit allusive, like a ghost when it comes to her riding! I will try talking to her about my discomfort next time. Frankly, I am very intimidated by her! She is an amazing instructor… she always knows just what to do if things aren’t working, but she is such a legend at our stable that I’m always afraid to question. I did muster the courage to talk to her about back issues I was having and she put me on a different horse and gave me HER back brace to wear for the lesson! So nice! So, maybe I need to just be a little more brave. 🙂

  5. Thank-you for your awesome clarity explaining the movements our feet in the sturips while riding .

  6. Thank you. Great explanation. Can’t wait to try this.

    I have a very hard time coming down real soft in my saddle when posting. My horse has beautiful gaits but is very bouncy. Any suggestions?

    Thank you.

  7. Interesting. I tend not to think a lot about stirrup position anymore, mostly concentrating on higher up the leg, but will play with this. What’s the type of stirrup being used in the video and why is it configure the way it is?

    1. I too will play with that! I think ‘centered riding’ also recommended that – ‘the bubbling spring’ position? springs to mind. The stirrup is configured like that to allow the foot to slip out more easily in the event of an unintended dismount (I’ve loads of experience with this aspect of riding)

    2. Hi Kalli,

      It is a safety stirrup, they are used to be able to easily remove your foot if it gets caught!!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  8. My biggest problem when I started to ride was losing my stirrups. However once I learned to canter without the stirrups I gained more confidence and the problem went away. Love watching all your videos.

  9. Interesting video about foot position. I have always used the ball of my foot as a reference so when I ride tomorrow I will try just behind. Thank you for the advice.

  10. I love this – I’ve been struggling with a moving lower leg and I will try this later today when I ride. Thank you!

    1. Hi Jessica, thanks for your comment! I’d love to have you check out a video here on the website, click here to watch part of a lesson with Angelo Telatin and he describes how to teach a horse to better use their back!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. After fell down three times and broke my hand then my shoulder, I bought a pair of named paddock boots. And then hat was the first time that I kept my feet in the stirrups at the right place throughout the entire lesson. Lesson learnt, other footwears have their own purpose.

  12. I tend to ride with the sturips a little forward of the balls of my feet. I feel more springy when trotting.

  13. Thank you for the instruction. For the riders of my horses I want to get them maximum comfort and safety in case of unintended dismount or fall and give them https://www.equikro.com/4423/products/samshield-shield-rup-stirrup-black-chrome.aspx

    They use these stirrups now a few years in dressage and show jumping and like them very much.
    However I myself ride with the conservative stirrups as long as I ride the horses. I experienced the unintended dismount a few times and that was not a pleasure because my foot didn’t get out of the stirrup and the hoofs were very close by. 2 times in hospital.

  14. That was fantastic information – I never new the importance of correct foot position in the stirrup and will make the slight adjustment in my foot position going forward. Thank you so much Callie.

  15. I have concentrated on keeping the ball of my foot on the stirrup. Thank you for explaining a much better way of foot placement. I will definitely use this new method beginning with my next ride!

    I would love to know how I need to keep my reins close to the width of the horse’s shoulders when I turn my horse in a different direction and not pull my hands too far apart while making the turn. Possibly more leg pressure ques for him? I’d like to know the acceptable range of motion, i.e., my elbows and wrists.

  16. That’s the “bubbling spring” spot I first learned about from Sally Swift way back when. Takes a huge amount of stress out of the joints.

  17. I really enjoy your videos; there’re extremely beneficial. I would like to know if you have ideas (little reminders) on how to keep my eyes up and out while riding. I often catch myself looking down at the ground, causing my body position to fall forward, putting my horse on his forehand. Can you help with this? Thank you

  18. Thank you ! Video was very informative. For some reason I have always wanted my foot in the stirrup the way you described but was told it was incorrect and dangerous having my foot that deep in the stirrup. I have noticed that I was all the time catching myself putting too much pressure in the stirrup to keep the ball of my foot and in the heels down position. Now I can go back to riding the way it felt correct and comfortable
    to me. Thank you again.

  19. Thank you! Wonderful instruction- I have never been told this or understood this until now. And I have been riding for 60 years!

    1. Better late than never Cindy! I hope you enjoyed the video 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  20. Can you show us which parts of the leg should be in contact with the horse and if you should be gripping with any of them, or just having them be in contact with the horse?

    1. Hi Tina, I’d love to help you with this question 🙂

      First, click here to watch the video about gripping and how to stop gripping in the saddle. Then you can click here to watch the video about how the weight should be distributed on the leg. And finally, this video will give you some tips on how to keep a stable lower leg.

      I hope these resources help!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  21. I’ve been told to put the stirrup further forward, in front of the ball of the foot so it lines up with the line in my boot. I’ve even had instructors put my foot there. I ride dressage. I tend to like it at the ball of my foot but am going to try just behind today. Really helpful video!

  22. What wonderful advise. I worry about locking my joints while jumping and my hips and lower back tend to be tight anyway.
    Watching a video of my course work the other day I noticed that I’m not folding in the air as much as I need to, and my lower leg has slipped back, and I look stiff. Could these problems all be related to pushing off the ball of my foot?

  23. As I have danced my whole life, I have a lot of stretch in my calf. I can simply drop my weight with no pushing, and my heels are down. As I am not pressing and locking up, would you still advise I change my foot position in the stirrup? I l0ve your videos, and respect your opinion.

    1. Hi Linda, you do want to still place your foot in the stirrup like Callie recommended in the video! I too have very flexible ankle joints so my heels appear very lowered without extensive pressure but to have good function of the joints in the leg the position of the stirrup is essential!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  24. Wow i have a very tight hip. I have been working on stretching my hips. This makes sense as my hip hurts to the movement of the horse. I believe i must find my perfect seat to ride comfortably in addition to a stretched hip. Thank you for the advise.

  25. Thanks! I like the way you consider, in detail, the ‘little’ big things. Q. How about having the stirrup just in front of the ball of the foot? (I think that’s my default, comfy position.) I will be changing things up a bit for sure!

    1. Hi Sue, Callie’s recommendation is in the video 🙂 it is how the leg can function best!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Sue, the smallest shifts can lead to the biggest changes in the saddle! Hope you enjoyed the video!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  26. Wow thank you. This is great because I had surgery on my foot and I have a pin on the ball of my foot and it’s always been so painful. I can’t wait to get out and see if having the Stirrup back a little bit will do the trick

    1. Hi Bonnie, hopefully these tips will keep you more comfortable in the saddle!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  27. Great tutorial…I figured this out during my 6th lesson on my own. It just felt better. I want to reinforce your detailed approach. I had studied karate decades ago. The Eastern method starts one out standing and breathing and tensing/relaxing muscles…for three months! After that, the rest makes sense and works because the base is stable and muscle awareness has been gained. Likewise , at age 14 my dad began his art-metal/ornamental iron apprenticeship in Bavaria by filing a piece of metal for weeks until he learned the exact feel of that specific alloy and could produce exactly symmetrical filing shavings. He began with learning to master one simple thing where- after all else was done in a similarly anal, meticulous manner. At age 17 1/2 he had earned his Journeyman’s papers! He produced beautifully hand-crafted art-metal. So, I totally get your detailed approach. Now, I want to figure out how to feel exactly all a horses movements as it moves in various gates. Then I might I sense a response to application of an aid. Does that sound like a viable approach?

  28. That’s really interesting,im certainly going to work on that one ,thanks Callie you are just brilliant! I’ll report back.

  29. Thank you! That was very helpful
    Maybe you covered this before but I’m new. My question is where is the best placement for an English saddle on a long backed horse with a high rear end. Sometimes I try to keep it as close to the front as possible because it’s a more comfortable ride, but sometimes he gets rubs from the girth. I’m using a fleece covered girth

  30. Great tip, that does really help. You asked for “what else”….
    I have a bad shoulder and find that I drop it a lot. Unfortunately it’s my left, which is my rein hand for western. but if there were some tips on keeping the shoulders level with each other so I know when I move them it’s equal, that would be great.
    Lots of other bad joints, but let’s start with the worst.

    1. Hi Amber, thanks for your question! I would recommend this exercise, it is great for unevenness between both sides of your body!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  31. My biggest help, not loosing my stirrups, is not to press heels down. Instead I‘ ll take my toes up. This helps me to keep my ancle more soft.
    I love your videos! Keep on!

    1. Soft ankles and joints are absolutely essential to functional movement in the saddle 🙂 I’d love to have you check out our Heels Down video, you can click here to watch!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  32. My trainer is always telling me to soften my legs, but has never said to change my foot position in the stirrup to achieve this directive. I will definitely try this!

  33. Once again, you have solved a problem for me. Question: Do you ever give tips on Western riding? As I get older, I am transitioning to a western saddle and a calm quarter horse. However I am finding this simple idea of changing the way I hold my reins, place my seat, and use leg aides to be tricky. Thanks!

    1. Hi Suzanne, for the basic riding position it is all the same! We teach balanced, functional riding that is for all disciplines 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  34. I would like some more if your clear wisdom on getting outline and contact when working. I am just about ‘getting it’ in my head and have moments where it comes nicely. Not easy as so much leg to hand to get the energy up hurts my legs!

    1. Hi Joanna, it can be a tough concept but once you get the feeling a few times you’ll be on a roll! What specifically did you want more clarity on when it comes to improving the balance of a horse?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  35. This was a great video. Could you do a video on rider biomechanics and how it affects the horse’s body? Something like talking about correct saddle placement. I’m a certified equine massage therapist and many of my clients put the saddle too far forward which puts their seat too far forward. Many riders are not sitting in the saddle correctly too far back or too far forward. Thank you

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the video, Bethany! We actually created an entire course about this! You can click here to learn more about ABCs to On the Aids program taught by Wendy Murdoch 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  36. Thank you dear Callie. I am glad you talked about this. I was confused because my new trainer Always wanted me to change my stirrups to have them on the ball of the foot. So I felt tight to have some weights on them and I lost my comfortable seat. Thank you. Now I feel asured to stay may way on the stirrups even when not everybody is happy with it. I am Looking Forward for your next helping Video. Vera from Switzerland

    1. I’m glad this video was helpful Vera, thanks for tuning in from Switzerland 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  37. Thanks Callie. I will try this. I am over 50 and now learning to ride and loving it. One challenge I am having is giving enough leg pressure or kicking while posting or cantering. Any tips?

  38. Wow!! I have always been told to have the stirrup at the ball of my foot or slightly forward. I’ll need to try this new position and see what happens. For questions – I have difficulty going to one direction where I rotate my trunk the opposite direction – Truing to find was to correct this as my horse is very sensitive to my seat and falls in. Also trying to strengthen the hind end to get the horse off the forehand

    1. Hi Brenda, thanks for your comment! Are you rotating your core in an attempt to turn or give any sort of cue? As far as strengthening the hind end and moving your horse off of the forehand, I have the perfect video for you if you click here 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  39. What an aha moment! My trainer is often telling me to put my foot deeper in the stirrup. I know I tend to push off the ball of my foot which sometimes results in being on my tiptoes. That position somehow makes me feel more secure even though I am stiff. My ankle is often locked and I often can’t lengthen my leg through the hip. The thought of pushing off the ball of my foot plus taking my ankle joint to its complete extension resulting in driving my femur further into my hip joint causing it to lock makes perfect sense! I can’t wait to try focusing on this at my next lesson and see if I can feel a difference in how my joints are allowed to go with the horse. And we’ll see if my trainer notices a difference!! Thanks for the little things you share that have a huge domino effect on becoming better riders.

  40. I was always told stirrup should be on ball of foot however it tends to push my leg forward When posting. Going to try your suggestion just behind and see if it helps me. Thank you.

  41. Great video! I always had my foot like this an my instructor kept putting it on the ball of my foot to the tips of my toes nearly!!
    I have one leg that swings when cantering (torn ligament in knee) would like to see a video about how to stop that and what to be aware of thank you

  42. Thank you, I’m going to try this out tomorrow. One thing I would like to hear about is how to “feel your seat bones.” I don’t feel my seat bones on my saddle so, i am clueless as how to use them if I can’t “feel” them. Thank you again for all of your lessons, they are always helpful.

  43. One of the things subtle things I have an issue with in my riding is maintaining a quiet leg during the canter. Mine tend to swing with the movement of the horse. I ride western and feel holding my leg against all the leather to be quite a challenge. How do I get that quiet leg, while sustaining hold on my horse to slow down or collect more?

    1. Hi Megan, what part of the leg doesn’t feel stable? Do you think that you could be holding extra tension in your legs? You can click here to watch a video to help with gripping! We also did this video about how to get a stable lower leg.

      I hope these tips help!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  44. Very interesting. I think the position of the stirup bar has a great importance too. If it is placed too far forward the leg is not in a good position and there’s not much you can do about it except change the saddle.
    I really love your videos. Here in France most riding advice are something like “and now we’re gonna help you to have a perfect diagonalised piaffe” !

    Could you please make a video on the problem of short arms ? Wendy Murdoch said something about it once but it was so brief that I didn’t understand clearly. I have really short arms and it is really difficult to find the right place for my hands, if I want to keep supple arms with bent elbows my hands are really high and behind the withers, and my instructors complain all the time.
    I end up riding with lose reins, and no instructor…

    1. Hi Nathalie, thanks for your comment! The position of the stirrup bar can also have an effect. Don’t worry about where your arms are in relation to the withers, especially if you have short arms! It is more important to have the upper arms hanging perpendicular then a straight line from elbow to bit or corner of the mouth!

      Hope this helps,

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  45. Thanks !!! Very good and so important information!! You are a great instructor and educator !!

  46. Thank you very much for this interesting explanation. It’s always fun to listen to you. You ask what topics are of great interest for me. I would love to learn, how I can achieve a good flat leg position, that keeps my legs really close to my horse’s sides.
    Yours, and stay healthy
    Regis

  47. Thank you for the clarity. My first trainer told me “hang by your toes” and I could not figure out why that made me feel insecure and unbalanced. I moved my position to the ball . I will now try this adjustment further.

    1. I hope this slight adjustment helps you feel more stable in the saddle!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  48. Very nice explanation on where to put your foot. I will definitely try this. You don’t want anything stiff while riding. It would be interesting to know how the horse travels when you are on the balls versus slightly further back. I would love information on short arms, I have frequently gotten corrected that I didn’t have my hands on their withers when doing a specific exercise, putting my arms takes me out of the saddle a bit. I also like leg aid positions for a turn when riding on a loose rein.

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for your comment! Don’t worry about where your arms are in relation to the withers, especially if you have short arms! It is more important to have the upper arm hanging perpendicular then a straight line from elbow to bit or corner of the mouth!

      Hope this helps,

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  49. I am an older rider who has experimented with many foot positions in the stirrup. I used to ride like you advise, but I kept getting plantar fasciitis. I now ride with the ball of my foot and it seems since I have more support there, it hurts my feet less.

    1. Hi Lynda, I suffered my first experience with plantar fasciitis – it is so painful! I’m glad you found a stirrup position that works for you 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  50. I have always had very tight ankles so have found I do the opposite of this and put the stirrup “in front of my little toe”.
    I also notice that the inside part of the iron closest to the horse, is on an angle so that I’m probably rising from my big toe which is the principle part of the foot that keeps our balance.
    Any further back and I struggle.
    When I teach I find those that have the stirrup a little far back are a lot less stable and are unable to keep it there.
    I too have always used the phrase “shock absorbers”. It’s great.
    Ps; I have ridden Grand Prix and done a lot of Eventing over the last 50+ years 🙂

    1. Hi Fiona, those slanted irons can definitely affect your balance! I would recommend clicking here to check out this tip from Wendy Murdoch about how you can level out your stirrups for more comfort!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  51. I think this would be extremely important in my riding but I can’t access the video for some reason. I’ve been watching your weekly videos for some time; it asked me to sign up again so I did.

    1. Oh no Kim, I’m sorry to hear that! What happens when you try to watch the video?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  52. I have to kick a little to move into the trot and I’ve noticed my knees pop out when I do that. How do I fix that?

  53. I really appreciated this video. I am an older rider (59) that has stopped riding because of health and arthritis. I have a wonderful OTTB that is my “Service Horse” – he lets me lean on him while I lead him and can use him to do farm chores with, but I miss riding him. I am hoping this will help me when I get back on him and be more balanced.

    1. I hope these tips help you enjoy the ride when you return to the saddle!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  54. Hi Callie,
    Can you tell us in what position to have your leg and foot when riding without stirrups (on a bareback saddle)?
    Thanks.
    Jude

  55. Elbows and shoulders, namely tips to keep them relaxed and moving. I often find my shoulders seizing up on long endurance rides or in more intense schooling sessions!

  56. I love these videos. Thank you so much! I want to learn more about shoulder position and hand position while riding. I’m currently experiencing shoulder problems and I’m doing physical therapy. How can I position myself for comfort and effectiveness?

  57. Hi Callie –
    My biggest challenge is keeping my feet from moving in the stirrup once the horse picks up a trot. Not an issue when doing a posting trot but definitely an issue with a seated trot. Any tips?
    Thanks –

  58. Thank you. I am an older rider but fairly new trainee. I do have issues sometimes with my feet losing the stirrups or falling too far behind. I am constantly told heels down. So, I noticed with this video the rider’s foot looks fairly horizontal; the heels aren’t down. Can you explain please?
    Also, I am told that my thighs should fall forward easily on the rise and then on the fall “almost stamp the heels “ down. I often get discombobulated with so many things to try to do.
    Thank you

  59. This is super helpful! Can’t wait to put it into practice! I always feel like I’m one step away from losing my stirrups and I suspect incorrect placement of my foot is the cause. Thank you thank you!!

  60. I can’t wait to try this. I was taught heel down. Thanks Callie for “all” your wonderful information.

  61. Hi. I can’t seem to keep my feet correctly in the stirrup and my upper body keeps going/bending forward, almost like I’m going to go over the horses head.

    1. Hi Keli, it sounds as though your legs are likely too far forward, this will often cause your upper body to go forward.

    2. Hi, could be the saddle? with stirrup set too far forward. Callie’s tip really helped /reminded me – I’m less inclined to push down on toe and tip forward. That seems almost to be a reflex response

  62. Wonderfully explained and reasoned out. I followed the suggestion and made the small adjustment and I’m much more comfortable in maintaining the correct leg position.

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