Consider these factors when choosing a stirrup.
When you think about riding, you’d probably identify your seat as the most important part of your horsemanship, which is correct. Your feet are the second most important part, in terms of establishing your base. This means your stirrups play just as important a role in your riding as your saddle’s seat.
Here I’ll identify five stirrup types I use most plus offer safety tips. Note that I’ve left out the oxbow stirrup, as it’s not one that I prefer for performance activities. I don’t like the danger it poses in terms of getting hung up in a stirrup that requires you to ride “all the way home,” i.e., with the rim of the stirrup right at your heel.
1: Flat-Bottomed Stirrup
This is a classic wooden Nettles stirrup. I started using these several years ago because they could be used in reining, cutting, and working cow horse; it was the most versatile stirrup I could find. I find them to be durable, and we replace the leather treads as they wear out. The stirrup’s design allows you to keep your foot in the correct position, with your foot flat in the middle of the stirrup. This one is 2 inches wide through the tread.
2: Tapered Stirrup
Another wooden option, this stirrup is called a “halfbreed” stirrup. Its tapered sides allow a less constricted feel—your feet only touch the tread on this stirrup. Tread widths vary from 1 to 3 inches.
3: Leather-Laced Stirrup
Some riding requires extra protection for your stirrups. That’s when a leather-covered stirrup can come in handy. The leather outer protects the wood inside the stirrup when you ride in damaging, difficult conditions, such as on the trail or out on the ranch. The roughout leather in this stirrup adds extra tread to keep your foot in the stirrup.
4: Roping Stirrup
This rawhide-wrapped stirrup is longer and designed especially for roping. Most ropers stand in their stirrups to throw their ropes, which puts their legs behind them and their toes down. This 4-inch bottom gives you a large platform to stand on. The wider overall width allows your feet to easily leave the stirrup if you have to dismount to tie a calf. The rawhide wrapping serves as protection for the wood underneath, but it also ensures that the bolts that hang the stirrup from the fender stay in place. I wouldn’t recommend this stirrup for anything other than its intended purpose because your foot could go through the stirrup if you’re trail riding, for example.
5: Metal Stirrup With Rawhide
You’ll see many stirrups made of metal and ranging from ultra-lightweight (aluminum) or extra-heavy (steel). This particular stirrup is aluminum and is shorter on the inside than the outside—that is, it’s offset. Good horsemanship dictates that your foot should sit flat in the stirrup. An offset stirrup can help with that position in some circumstances.