Enjoyment and safety in horsemanship depends upon many things, including proper equipment. Stirrup design is a critical safety feature of the English saddle. This is especially important for novice riders or those who engage in rigorous riding styles such as jumping. Many riders prefer an English stirrup that releases the rider's foot when the rider is unseated, reducing the risk of being dragged. Several types of safety stirrups are available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the differences will help each rider choose the most suitable style.
On this stirrup, the outside branch of the stirrup iron is a thick rubber band with a leather loop. The loop should detach when the rider exerts excessive pressure on it. This allows the foot to slip free. It is important, however, to frequently check the rubber band and leather loop for wear. They can become brittle or overstretched with age, resulting in unnecessary release of the foot and problems with foot position.
Quick-Release and Breakaway Stirrups.
Stirrups that open to free the rider's foot are called "quick-release" or "breakaway" stirrups. Quick-release stirrups have a hinge on the outside branch of the stirrup iron that will open when excessive pressure is put on the outside branch of the stirrup. Breakaway stirrups have a second ring inside the stirrup that will release when the toe of the foot points upwards, as it will during a fall. The toe hooks the top of the inside ring, swinging the ring downward and freeing the foot. Both of these types, can create ill-timed, unnecessary foot release, however, when the rider inadvertently puts pressure on the "release point."
Flexible or Jointed stirrups
Flexible or jointed stirrups have hinges at various places on the stirrup. The Korsteel Flex II stirrup has a swivel joint between the bottom of each branch and the foot pad, allowing the heel to angle downward. Intec UMS 6-Way stirrups have six flex points allowing for a variety of angle positions. Such flexible stirrups may help correct a novice rider's heel position and may have enough play to release the rider's foot in a fall. As with the quick-release styles, though, the rider can experience improper foot position and unnecessary foot release with these stirrups.
Curved or Open-sided Stirrups
"Foot Free" stirrups, manufactured by Coronet, have a curved outer branch that allows the rider's foot to slide out in the event of a fall. Herm Sprenger Bow Balance Safety Stirrups have similar curvature. The Safestyle company manufactures a unique stirrup that is open on the inside, having nothing between the stirrup leather loop and the foot pad. The stirrup leather loop is positioned parallel to the horse's side, resulting in a stirrup that always hangs in the front-facing position. These stirrups, however, may cause uncomfortable foot position as well as inadvertent foot slippage.