In this short article I'll cover the pros and cons of using wide stirrup leathers on English saddles.
Note: If you want this content in video form, you can watch the video at the bottom of this page.
If you spend much time on the inter-webs you've probably seen a handful of companies offering wide stirrup leathers - usually about double the width of traditional leathers. This may seem like a new trend, but it's actually decades old. Western and Australian saddles have utilized wider stirrup leathers (or fenders) for longer than most of us have been alive.
Here's a look at the types of leathers the various disciplines have traditionally used:
There is a reason these other disciplines have used wide leathers for so long... they perform very well. But they do have some drawbacks as well.
We'll get into the pros and cons now.
Wide stirrup leathers have 2 major advantages.
First, they take away the bulk under a rider's leg. It makes the leathers almost unnoticeable under the leg.
This "no leathers" feeling under the leg is just a matter of physics. With a wider footprint on the flap, the bulk of the leathers is spread out and makes a smoother transition from the leathers to the flap.
Second, they enable a more stable and quieter leg.
The wide body of the leathers grips the flap better, which reduces the swinging of the stirrup iron back and forth. It also plants the leather better on the flap, which helps to reduce the twisting you'd experience in regular narrow leathers. For some riders, this reduction in twisting can ease the strain on ankle and knee joints.
Here's an example of twisting leathers that could be minimized by a wide body design:
Everything in life comes with trade-offs. While the trade-offs with wide leathers are limited, they're still worth noting.
The biggest con with wide leathers is the look. Some riders prefer the look of classic narrow stirrup leathers... likely because it's what we've been accustomed to for decades. As wide stirrup leathers gain more popularity, this will likely change. But for now, it is still an emerging trend.
Another con is the limited availability. Only a handful of companies offer wide stirrup leathers. The rider that wants to match her girth, leathers and saddle all with the same brand will be out of luck in many cases. But again, that is changing, and will be more of an option as more brands offer wide leathers.
Hopefully this article helps explain why wide stirrup leathers have been gaining popularity in recent years, and why a select few may not be fans of them.
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All the best,
P.S. if you want to see this information in video form, check this out: