How to Choose Saddle Stirrups

With the many variations of saddle stirrups, how do you know which ones are right for you? There are numerous factors to consider starting with safety, type of activity, fit and comfort. This article provides guidelines to assist you in choosing the best riding stirrups for your needs.


If you’ve ever watched an old Western Movie, you’ve probably seen a cowboy with his foot caught in a saddle stirrup as his horse drags him off into the sunset. Luckily, with today’s technology, there are riding stirrups that are designed to prevent that from happening to you.

  • Some stirrups for saddles are designed to separate at the side
  • Others have a portion of the saddle stirrup that breaks away (breakaway stirrups) when the riders foot rotates too far forward or back
  • There are also riding stirrups that are designed with a curve that makes it easier for your foot to slide out if you fall from your horse
  • If you don’t choose one of the above saddle stirrup styles, there are other useful tips outlined below that will help ensure your safety.
  • Always wear a shoe or boot with a heal. This will help prevent your foot from sliding through the stirrup
  • Another way to prevent your foot from sliding through the riding stirrup is to include a tapadero (a hood type enclosure that fits on the front of stirrups). They’re often used in parades as they can be very decorative but they’re also great for protecting your feet from snow, cold and brush out on the trail.
  • Another consideration is to choose the proper stirrup width. If they’re too tight, your feet may stick in the stirrup. If the stirrups are too loose, your feet may slide. As a guideline, the appropriate stirrup width should be approximately 1″ wider than the bottom of your boot or shoe. You may need more than one set of saddle stirrups if you don’t always wear the same width footwear.
  • Stirrups with non-slip pads provide more safety and comfort than a riding stirrup without.
  • Stirrups that swivel reduce the strain on the rider’s knees for a more comfortable ride.

Type of Activity

Other factors to consider when choosing saddle stirrups are the types of activity you will be doing when riding. Listed below are some of those activities:

  • If you’re going to compete in barrel racing, you’ll need a very strong stirrup and may prefer a slightly tighter fit
  • Cutting riders generally prefer a tighter fitting riding stirrup with a narrower platform such as the Oxbow stirrup design provides
  • Roper riders prefer slightly more room in their stirrups
  • Endurance riders may also want more space for their boot than the additional 1″ width described above
  • Dressage riders calls for a longer stirrup to increase their control over the horse
  • Jockeys require very short stirrups for saddles
  • If you frequently stand in the saddle or ride for long periods of time, a 2″ or 3″ Bell stirrup offers a comfortable platform

Stirrup Construction

  • Steel stirrups are durable and heavy
  • Aluminum stirrups are strong and lightweight
  • Some steel, wood or plastic stirrups are covered with rawhide or leather
  • Rawhide covering is more durable than leather covering
  • Leather coverings can be dyed or stamped with designs for the riders who need a more decorative saddle stirrup

Fitting the stirrups to your saddle

It’s also necessary to ensure the stirrups fit your saddle. For example, if your saddle has a 3″ stirrup strap, ensure the top of the stirrups you choose will accommodate a 3″ strap.

Whichever saddle stirrups you select, check them for wear and proper positioning prior to leaving the stable. Enjoy a safe and comfortable ride.