From the time when Chinese warriors first put their feet down into stirrups to steady the lance in battle, the thought of getting hung up in one must have given cavalrymen concern. An unsteady mount could unseat even the best rider, and the possibility of being dragged across the battlefield behind a terrified warhorse could be horrifying.
While we don’t ride horses into battle today, even the gentlest horse can get spooked, and no one wants to think about getting dragged. For years, English riders have had specially designed stirrups that release the foot or let it slip free in the event the rider falls (see November 2002). But what about those of us who ride Western’
Other than bronc riders, most Western riders don’t give it much thought. We’ve got big, roomy wooden stirrups and cowboy boots with heels that keep the foot from slipping through. But today many riders can be seen riding in sneakers — or worse, sandals. (Yes, we know, you’re supposed to ride with proper footwear, but not everyone wears protective headgear either.)
The newer-style boots that lace up the front can keep a foot from slipping free easily in a fall. Most pony saddles have leather hoods, or tapaderos, over the front of the stirrups to keep the child’s feet from slipping through them. It’s a low-tech solution, but other than kids, you won’t see many Western riders using them. So we went searching for some alternatives.
We rode three styles of Western safety stirrups: One a simple variation on the hooded stirrup, the other two with mechanisms designed to release the foot — and in one case, the entire stirrup — if the rider is thrown off.
EasyCare of Tucson, Ariz., uses modern materials to construct its version of a hooded safety stirrup. Their E-Z Ride stirrups have a cage across the front to hold back the foot. E-Z Rides are available in aluminum or molded nylon, but for a little extra class you can get the aluminum model covered with nice-quality leather.
The “hoods” on all three styles are actually cages made from rigid nylon in an open, woven pattern. They cover the toe of the rider’s foot and are riveted onto the stirrup. While they’re a little strange looking to many traditional Western riders, these stirrups are comfortable for all but riders with larger feet.
Some of our testers who normally ride with their foot all the way home in the stirrup found them a little hard to get used to, but those were the riders we felt needed them the most. All of the E-Z Ride stirrups had a 3/4-inch thick foam pad glued to the floor of the stirrup. The textured foam pad was put there for comfort — which it definitely provided — but it also gave a little grabbing surface for slippery shoe soles. These stirrups with their simple design are comfortable, economical and effective.
The standard nylon stirrups with the safety cage sell for $55.75. The regular aluminum stirrups are $85.75 a pair, and leather-covered aluminum stirrups are $115.75 a pair. The top bar is available in many widths to fit a variety of saddles.
Most western riders have probably seen the strange-looking Side Step Safety Stirrup in ads from Spring Creek. The bar where the stirrup leather attaches is on the inside leg of the stirrup instead of across the top. The stirrup is turned 45 degrees, so it will hang straight. The outside leg of the stirrup isn’t attached at the top at all. Instead it curls back over the rider’s foot. It’s attached to the bottom of the stirrup with a spring-loaded hinge.
It takes little pressure for the stirrup to open and free the rider’s foot. The Side Step is a combination of safety and comfort. One of our riders who couldn’t stay out on a ride for longer than an hour because of a problem knee was able to ride more than twice that long without experiencing any pain when he rode with the Side Steps. The way the stirrups hang removes the stress normally associated with pulling several layers of stirrup leathers around your leg so your toes point forward.
These stirrups flex a little when you put weight on them, which can take a little getting used to. This flexing also contributes to cushioning any shock on the knees, but one of our riders did find that the flexing put some strain on the outside of his ankles.
The Side Step stirrups are easy to put on a saddle, and the spring mechanism works smoothly. While the stirrup is odd-looking, the manufacturer dresses it up with nickel-plated or black ornaments. The stirrups sell for $70 to $100.
While there are some western riders who will don a hardhat and strap on safety stirrups, there are far more who wouldn’t be caught dead using either. For them, we suggest stirrups from Saddle Technology Incorporated (STI). The breakaway mechanism is concealed between the stirrup leathers. No one other than the rider knows the stirrups are anything other than ordinary. And ordinary they’re not.
STI breakaway safety stirrups hang on a retractable bar. There is a spring-loaded mechanism inside the bar that’s triggered if the rider’s foot twists up to a 75-degree angle to the front or a 45-degree angle to the rear. At those angles the spring mechanism fires, retracting the bar from both sides of the stirrup, and the stirrup falls off. We had a little trouble resetting the mechanism after manually causing it to fire and release a couple of times (no one was willing to fall off a running horse to test them), but we finally got the hang of it.
The STI breakaways are the choice for those who like riding with their feet driven all the way home in oxbows and for those who show — or who don’t want their safety concerns to be obvious. There’s a price for secrecy and style, however: $270 to $320.
The STI breakaways are our top pick for a Western safety stirrup. They look traditional and have an ingenious release system. However, they’re expensive. The E-Z Ride stirrups are easily our Best Buy, due to their price, quality manufacturing and definitely comfortable ride.
The Side Step Safety Stirrups have a good release system, but the unique hanging position and ability to flex provides the added benefit of relieving stress on your knees and legs.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Western Safety.”
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: EasyCare, 800/447-8836 www.easyboot.com; Spring Creek Marketing, 800/758-2632 www.surerider.com; STI Corp. 406/248-7331 www.breakawaystirrups.com.