So now my riding teacher has a "new" plan. New to me anyway. She has me practicing riding without my feet in the stirrups.

When the horse is walking, fine. Even I have no problem with that. Trotting is more problematic, particularly on turns, because it's so bouncy. I keep thinking I'm going to fall off! But no, around the turns, stretch your inside heel down (which seems the opposite of what you ought to do), make your leg long, and just keep going. The balance is surprisingly steady. I've seen wranglers on the trail trot for hours with their feet loose, outside the stirrups. Easier on the legs and especially on the knees.

Then, of course, the canter. Kicking your feet out of the stirrups while cantering sounds like a recipe for landing on the ground immediately, but not so far...I can get one foot outside the stirrup for a bit, then get it back in, and I haven't fallen. Yet. In fact I am assured that cantering without stirrups is easier than trotting without them, which makes sense, since cantering is in every other way easier than trotting.

In fact, to ride one does not need stirrups at all. Nor, as it turns out, does one need reins or a bit. I have seen the instructor, while telling me how important it is not to pull too hard on the bit, simply drop the reins entirely, and continue to canter around the arena without them. (This is using English reins, which are buckled together, and which when dropped simply lie as a loose necklace on the horse. You couldn't do this with Western reins, which are much longer and not fastened together.)

We didn't have all this tack when we started riding horses, after all, and children in the country usually start riding bareback and without bridles. Maybe a halter (which has no bit, and does not go through the horse's mouth) or maybe not even that. I have seen a thirteen year old girl cantering around the arena bareback with no bridle or reins at all and her arms held out at her shoulders like an airplane.

Now, I'm not a thirteen year old, and I'll probably never get there....

The idea is to ride the horse, not cling to the equipment. It's about legs and body and balance, not about reins and stirrups. It looks unreachable...but only to the extent that I can do that am I really riding at all.

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