Hartpury research shows how stirrup length could be putting horse riders’ health at risk


Horse riders could be having a damaging impact on their performance and long-term health because their stirrups are the wrong length, according to new collaborative research by Hartpury University.

More than 2,000 riders were asked about which factors affect their choice of stirrup length for a joint study by Hartpury and Brooksby Melton College conducted by Charlotte Farmer-Day, Melissa Rudd, Dr Hilary Clayton, Dr David Marlin and Dr Jane Williams, the Head of the Agriculture and Animal Department at Hartpury University.

The study evaluated factors influencing the rider’s choice of stirrup length in dressage, showjumping, and eventing, and within para-equestrian sport.

The top four factors were highly consistent across disciplines, with riders in all sports selecting stability, safety, comfort and saddle type to inform how long their stirrups are.

The research found that riders set the length of their stirrups based upon how they felt while mounted, instead of taking steps to ensure they  were the same length, such as by measuring them or by looking at them from the ground.

Dr Williams said: “Regardless of discipline, riders consistently ranked feel of stirrups once mounted, how stable stirrups feel once moving and type of saddle being used as the three most important factors when deciding which stirrup length to use when riding.

“Riders are trusting themselves to be level in their saddle and have the stirrup at the right length.

“But feeling level and actually being level are not necessarily the same thing, which means riders may perceive themselves as having comfortable stirrups when in fact they may not be level or the appropriate length.

“If a rider isn’t straight in the saddle, it could have a negative effect on the horse’s muscle development as well as leading to back pain and hip for the rider.”

This study is among a number taking place within the Animal Welfare Arena at Hartpury.

The expertise and experience of lecturers at Hartpury spans all areas of animal and agricultural sciences, and all staff are actively involved in research and knowledge exchange, either as researchers or practitioners.

Research is fully integrated within teaching, with staff research active in the areas in which they teach and many dissertations embedded in larger scale research projects.

All research activity either directly or indirectly informs not only current industry practice but also the curriculum.

Picture: A riding simulator at the Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance at Hartpury

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