I Put My Feet “Home” in the Stirrups

I find that trying to do the “rider's push-ups” is quite challenging for me. Until my lesson on Wednesday EVERY TIME I did a “rider's push-up” I felt like I was teetering forward and back in my stirrups, my right stirrup still felt 2 holes longer than my left stirrup, and I had a great fear of falling head long over my horse's shoulder. In order to get my chest all the way down to the horse's neck I HAD TO pull my entire seat FORWARD in the saddle by an inch or so. If I was in my normal two-point, with my seat-bones, knees and feet based off the deepest past of the saddle's seat I was just not able to get my chest all the way down to the horse's neck and my hip joints did not “unlock” at all.

Since I have absolutely horrible balance front-to-back and side-to-side, doing the “rider's push-up” successfully left me feeling quite precarious as I teetered over my stirrups. This prevented me from getting the full benefit of this exercise since I do not have enough brain capacity to, at the same time, keep my balance, bend at my hips and keep track of my lower legs. So after three weeks of being afraid of falling off the horse I sat down and THOUGHT. Then I remembered that all of the earliest forward seat riders/authors (Caprilli, Santini, and Chamberlin) insisted that, for a proper forward seat that the stirrups should be “home” on the rider's feet, with the stirrup tread under the arch of the foot near to the boot's heel instead of across the ball of the rider's foot. Such a simple solution to getting my seat forward enough in the saddle so I could do a “rider's push-up”!

Over the 47 years of my riding life I tried riding with the stirrups “home” many times once I understood that Caprilli himself (Caprilli was the person who invented the Forward Seat) insisted that the rider should have his stirrups “home”. Back then, with my hard leather soled hunting boots and my comfortable Prussian sided stirrups, I did not notice much difference in my seat or security. My Multiple Sclerosis was not as bad back then; I still had some sense of balance, I was much stronger and I had much more stamina. Years later when I tried to ride with my stirrups “home” in my Fillis stirrups wearing rubber soled riding boots, my feet hurt so badly that I was only able to ride a stride or two in two-point before the horrible pains in my feet made me sit back down in the saddle and move my stirrups back to the balls of my feet. When I finally found Prussian sided stirrups a few years ago my feet were much more comfortable with my stirrups “home” but after a minute or two the arches of my feet started aching, my boots still had the more flexible rubber type soles instead of the stiffer leather soles of days of yore. It was obvious to me that I had to do something about the pains in my feet before I could ride with my stirrups “home” again. I went to my “local” tack store and bought myself a pair of the Super Comfort Stirrup Pads that wrap around the base of the stirrup and I put them on my Prussian sided double-offset stirrups.

Since Debbie is very much into proper rider position, she truly believes that the stirrups treads should always be across the balls of the rider's feet. I dug out “Riding and Schooling Horses” by Harry D. Chamberlin, captain of the US Cavalry Olympic teams in the early part of the 20th century. Harry Chamberlin believed in riding with the stirrups “home” and that was part of the US Cavalry seat Harry Chamberlin developed after going abroad and studying at the French and Italian cavalry schools. His seat was the Italian seat, and his schooling practices were based on the Saumur principles minus the collection. There are several good photographs in this book of men riding with their stirrups “home”, and I wanted her to see them so she would accept that my toe would be in front of my kneecap a little bit. It also helped that Harry Chamberlin, as a brigadier general in the US Cavalry was an authority, and that the US Cavalry Olympic team headed by him had won gold at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics for the Military (3-day event) competition! The later editions of the US Cavalry Manual of Horsemanship volume on riding and training are often identical to what Harry Chamberlin wrote in his book “Riding and Schooling Horses”.

When we got to the ring I mounted and immediately placed my stirrups “home”, and looking down I could see about an inch of my toe in front of my kneecaps. My seat was about an inch further forward in the seat of my saddle, my knees, for the first time in decades, nestled in the “knee pocket” of my saddle, and I felt no pain in my feet. Getting up into two-point was easy, much easier that it has been ever since I started riding again over a decade ago, I just straightened my knee joints a little bit, bent at my hip joints and leaned forward some. Up in two-point I was no longer teetering in my stirrups. When I did the “rider's push-up” I was able to touch Bingo's neck with my chest the first time I tried, I did not feel like I was going to fall off the horse onto my head, and it was much easier to get back up into two-point. Instead of my right stirrup feeling two holes longer that my left stirrup, my stirrups felt even!

Then I practiced two-point a lot while I walked Bingo around the ring to warm up. I felt like my personal center of gravity was over my stirrups instead of behind my feet. I was stable in my stirrups, I did not teeter at all. Over the past decade in several different saddles on many horses, I have felt like my right stirrup was a hole or two too long, no matter how much Debbie told me my stirrups were even, but on Wednesday my stirrups felt absolutely even to me as I rode around, and my Pegasus Butterfly saddle stayed centered without needing to tighten the girth. My saddle remained centered even when I did turns in place or tight turns. My legs, lower thigh, knee and lower legs felt like they were in the girth groove of the horse instead of back further on the horse's rib cage. One really interesting thing is that I felt the push of the horse's hind leg in my hip joint just like I do when I sit in the saddle. This will be a great help for me when I have to coordinate my aids while I'm in two-point!

I felt SO MUCH MORE SECURE up in two-point than I have for decades and I have come to the conclusion that my old two-point was defective and did not strengthen the proper riding muscles. I have been doing two-point just about every time I ride for over a decade and my seat did not get much stronger. My legs stayed weak and liable to drift around the horse's rib cage, and I never felt steady enough to canter or jump because I was always a little bit behind the motion of the horse. I also tended to grip more with my knees and pivoting on them, ruining the foundation of my Forward Seat. On Wednesday I was using fewer muscles more effectively to keep my two-point position stable, and I did not tire as quickly as I usually do when riding in two-point. The most amazing thing was that BINGO NEVER BALKED, he did slow down a few times but he obeyed my leg aids promptly. At first he was not too certain about my new position and it took a few minutes to get him up to his normal walk, but he did get used to me riding with my feet “home” in the stirrups and strode forth freely. He was more cooperative when I asked him to trot too.

On Friday, riding Mia, I did not do as well without Debbie in the ring to correct me! I did not teeter in the stirrups but I had some difficulties touching Mia's neck with my chest at first. I finally realized that I was stiffening up my hip joints and that my butt was not moving back enough. My right lower leg was also drifting around some. Once I relaxed my hip joints, let my butt move back, and got my right lower leg back into the girth groove everything improved. My hip joints unlocked, my stirrups felt even, my saddle stayed centered, and Mia promptly obeyed all my aids. I practiced gripping with my calf muscles when up in two-point and I got tired fast, I felt that all my thigh muscles were at work, especially at the top of my thighs. It takes a lot more energy for me to grip with my calf muscles while up in two point or doing the “rider's push-ups” than it does when I do them without gripping. It is going to take me a long time to get my seat in the saddle strong enough for jumping!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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