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All About Stirrup Irons

Posted by M. Drum on

What Are Stirrup Irons

Stirrup irons have been used by English riding disciplines for horseback riding for many centuries. The stirrup iron suspends from the stirrup leather, which is attached to the tree of the saddle under the skirt. The stirrup iron provides a stable area for the foot to be placed for mounting (getting on) your horse. Once riding, the stirrup iron continues to offer a sturdy flat base of support on which the rider places the ball of the foot and assists in the allowing the rider to keep their heels down & leg on the horse for communication while riding. Stirrup Irons get their name from having been forged from iron centuries ago when horses were first domesticated for riding. Although today they are made from a variety of materials, many designs are based upon the classic design forged in a fire and made from Iron. 

There are a variety of stirrup iron designs & styles on the market today they all follow the same general design. Today we're going to look at the most common stainless steel classic styles.  Most models geared to English riding disciplines, made from steel the irons resemble an upside down 'U' shape. You will notice there is a flat base at the bottom, closing the 'U' shape. This is the footbed, upon which to the foot is placed assisting with balance and stability for the rider. Note at the top of the upside down 'U' will be small oval hole forged into the steel. This is where the stirrup leather passes through the iron and attaches to the stirrup bars of the saddle. 

Stirrup Irons here in the United States are sized in inches from 3" to 6" with sizes every .25" in between.  To determine your fit, you will need to put on your riding boots & have a cloth tape measure available. While wearing your riding boots, simply stand on the tape measure and measure the width of your foot at the ball of your feet ( usually the widest part of your foot)  then add a half inch. This will allow for a 1/4" on either side of the ball of your foot. For safety purposes, you don't want the iron too tight as it may get stuck in the event of a fall. Alternatively you don't want the foot bed too big, as you could accidentally put your foot through the iron. Just a little bit of wiggle room. Typically the width of your index finger on either side of your foot in the stirrup iron will be enough room. As a general guide, toddlers to primary school age children make up the smaller sizes of 3" - 4.25", most elementary school age children will use a 4.25" or a 4.5", ladies 4.5" - 4.75" & men a 4.75" - 5"

Cleaning your stirrup irons requires simple household items & a little elbow grease. Gather a screwdriver, stiff brush, pail of warm water, mild soap, steel wool, metal polish, a towel & a soft cloth.  Using the screwdriver ( or a hoof pick), pop the rubber pads out of the middle of your irons, and scrub until clean. An old toothbrush can be helpful here. Set aside to dry. Then, scrub your irons in warm soapy water with a stiff brush, using the steel wool for any stuck on debris. Towel dry your irons. Apply metal polish according to instructions & buff with soft cloth until they shine. 

Alternatively you can pop the pads out and stick them in the top rack of the dishwasher bypassing the drying cycle. 
Drop the pads back in  - you  may need the screwdriver on the bottom of the iron to pull the pad through all the way. 

Fillis stirrup irons are the most common type of stirrups used for English horseback riding. These irons offer the stability traditional footbed & hole for your stirrup leathers but with rounded steel used for the branches of the irons. Sometimes you will find some advanced metal work as the branch comes down into the footbed, the branch may get wider or show a beveled edge as it blends into the footbed.The fillis iron is a classic timeless design that is affordable and appropriate for any English discipline. 

Peacock Fillis Irons are very common among child riders. These irons are designed to offer a quick release in the event a child falls off and gets a foot all the way through the stirrup iron. Unlike the one piece upside down 'U' of the classic fillis iron, peacock irons are designed with an open branch on the outside of the riders foot. The open branch offers a subtle ledge at the top of the open branch, and a small metal stud on the outside of the foot bed at the bottom of the open branch. This opening is then closed by placing a leather tab with a rubber band attached to it. The leather tab is attached to the stud at the bottom of the foot bed. The rubber band is then stretched and attached to the ledge at the top of the open branch. Closing the branch in this fashion allows the band to snap off the ledge if the rider's foot gets caught inthe event of a fall. 

Some improvements to the classic design have come along over the last 20 years. These irons suit a variety of different needs for riders across english disciplines. 

Jointed Fillis Irons - many riders enjoy the shock absorbing benefits of these irons. The jointed action takes some of the impact / concussion off of the riders ankles while schooling over fences & upper level dressage movements. 

MDC Adjustable Stirrup Irons - These irons have an adjustable lock notch at the top of the iron where it attaches to the stirrup leather. The locking mechanism can direct the stirrup leather to sit at the traditional 0 degrees or additionally at 45 degrees or 90 degrees. By setting the irons outward 45 or 90 degrees, they ease joint stress to knees, ankles and hips. They are also significantly easier to pick up when you get in the saddle. 

The classic look of a stainless steel iron will never go out of style, With new innovations coming on the market all the time it's impossible to cover them all in one blog post. Keep an eye out for a future blog post where we will cover high tech stirrups. 

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