Q: I was wondering about something I just read in “Your Pre-ride Safety Checklist.” The article states, “On an English saddle, make sure the safety catches on the stirrup bars are in the open position.” I had always been told to make sure the safety catches are closed so that the leathers don’t work loose while you are riding. Which way is correct?Name withheld by request

A: Most English riders, instructors and experienced horsemen (including the U.S. Pony Clubs) recommend leaving stirrup safety catches open because otherwise they may get stuck in the closed position or fail to open easily.

If this happened during a fall in which the rider’s foot became caught in the stirrup, the person could be “hung-up” and dragged behind a panicked horse. When stirrup leathers can easily slip off the saddle, there is much less risk of this dangerous situation. Some modern saddles have one-piece stirrup bars that are open at the back and have no safety catches at all.

Stirrup leathers usually don’t slide backward off the stirrup bar during normal riding—the only time I’ve known this to happen was with a girl who had a bad habit of pivoting on her knees and letting her legs swing way back over a jump. After losing both stirrups in midair, she quickly developed a more secure lower-leg position!

That said, if you are diligent about checking before every ride that your safety catches are well oiled and will always snap open easily, it’s certainly OK to leave them closed. However, most English riders I know prefer to keep them in the open position.

Susan E. Harris
Author, The U.S. Pony Club Manuals of Horsemanship
Cortland, New York