Stirrups – Designs from around the World

Posted on February 11, 2021

Part of the joy and wonder of riding in different countries is learning about local traditions and culture. Experiencing incredible gaited horses in Iceland, or adjusting to a new riding style in Chile all adds to the fun and excitement of international riding adventures. Do you know your Flex-Ons from your Freejumps? The variety of stirrups available today is mind-blowing, but have you ever given thought to the humble origins of this item of tack?  From workmanlike ‘roper’ stirrups, to ornate ‘estribos’, in this post, we take a look at some interesting stirrups from In The Saddle destinations around the world.

Early Stirrups

Early versions of stirrups were used in India some time in the 2nd Century B.C. Originally made of fibre or leather, these first stirrups were just simple loops. Designed to fit around the rider’s big toe, these stirrups are thought to have attached to the lowest part of the saddle flap. They worked well in hot climates, where people rode barefoot.

Subsequent improvements in design created support for the whole foot. As a result, riders developed more security and balance on horseback. This meant they could move faster and strike opponents with greater force. It became clear that mounted cavalries showed significant military advantage over infantry on foot – a discovery that revolutionised warfare.

Reaching mainland Europe in the 8th Century, stirrups allowed soldiers the security to ride into battle wearing armour carrying heavy weapons.

You could say that stirrups played a part in the creation and expansion of modern civilisation. Some might even argue that they are as important as the invention of the wheel and the printing press!

South Africa

Today’s South African trail saddles are based on the McLellan military saddle. They are designed to provide comfort and support for many hours of riding. By spreading the rider’s weight, these saddles reduce pressure points, so they are comfortable for both horse and rider.

South African trail saddles are designed for long distance riding

The image below was taken at Ant’s Lodges in South Africa, where the horses are ridden in trail saddles. But these types of saddles and stirrups are common to many riding holiday destinations, such as the Tuli Safari in Botswana, the Namibian Desert rides and the Lesotho expedition. The ‘roper’ style stirrups seen here are designed for ranch work and trail riding. They are wide and deep for good stability, and are suitable for use with a variety of different types of riding boot.

These stirrups are ideal for ranch work and trail riding


Peruvian tack is the result of more than 400 years of tradition. It has been shaped by the need for comfort when travelling long distances and crossing difficult terrain on horseback. The bridles, made from a double layer of hand-woven rawhide, are works of art and can take up to a year to make. The saddles are also handmade, and are designed to distribute the body weight across a large portion of the horse’s back, thus minimizing strain on both horse and rider.

The saddles are designed with the comfort of horse and rider in mind

A very distinctive element of Peruvian tack is the wooden box stirrups, or ‘estribos’. When the Spaniards arrived in Peru, they could find no local source of iron for making stirrups. As a replacement, they designed the box stirrup from wood, and adorned them with silver.

Ornate stirrups are used on the five-gaited Peruvian Paso horses on the Sacred Valley Ride.

The box stirrups can feel strange at first if you are used to smaller English irons, but you soon get used to them. At lunch times when the horses are tied up, the stirrups are removed so that they do not bang unnecessarily against the horses’ sides.

At lunch on the Sacred Valley Ride, the box stirrups are removed so they don’t bang against the horses’ sides

Argentina & Chile

On the Grande Traversee ride from Argentina to Chile, the saddles are light wooden frames, with multiple sheep skins layered over the top for padding. The stirrups used are wide and deep, with a leather cage around the toe.

Typical stirrups used on the Grande Traversee

During the ride, you might see local riders or your baqueano use traditional carved wooden stirrups like these:

Traditional carved stirrups from Chile


In Mongolia, it is usual to stand in the stirrups at all paces. The traditional saddles and stirrups are beautiful works of art.

Mongolian saddle

A traditional Mongolian saddle and stirrups (image credit Debbie Green)

In The Saddle guests ride in tailor-made saddles, that are adapted to ensure the comfort both the Mongolian horse and the European rider. They include a cushion, which acts as a seat saver. They are also fitted with European ‘peacock’ safety stirrups.

A specially designed saddle, used on the Orkhon Valley and Mongolia Express rides


Traditional Portuguese saddles were originally designed for bullfighting and cattle work out in the fields. The high pommel and cantle offers security to the rider when executing swift changes of direction and pace.

The wooden stirrups, of box style, are often adorned with silver and engraved with the quinta or estate name. You might see them used in Working Equitation demos at Quinta do Rol.

A traditional Portuguese saddle, with wooden stirrups at Quinta do Rol

We hope you have enjoyed this look at different stirrup designs from around the globe.

At In The Saddle, we regularly visit our riding destinations, so we can tell you about the horses, accommodation and tack from personal experience. If you’d like to know in advance about the kind of tack to expect – from Spain to South Africa, India to Israel, Arizona to Argentina – then do get in touch. You can call us on +44 1299 272 997 or email




4 responses to “Stirrups – Designs from around the World”

  1. Joe says:

    Very informative. Thank-you very much

    • Abigail Wood says:

      Hi Joe – thank you, we are so glad you enjoyed this blog post.
      Kind regards

  2. Dénes Péter says:

    This is a good write up, congratulations. However, other types of stirrups have evolved over the centuries in different parts of the world. Is there a book or anything else that can tell you about other types of stirrups?

    Perhaps you could send a reply to

    Thank you

    • Abigail Wood says:

      Hi Dénes
      Thanks for your comment.
      We’re really pleased that you like our blog post. This was just a fun look at different stirrups that you might encounter on In The Saddle trips around the world. We’re not aware of any particular books on stirrup designs, although they are sure to be out there somewhere.
      Kind regards

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