Safety stirrups are stirrups designed so that your foot will not become caught in the stirrup if you fall (or slide) off the horse. This is quite important since one can be injured if this happens, especially if the horse runs off while your foot is caught in the stirrup, dragging you across the ground and perhaps accidentally kicking you with a hoof.

There are many different types and designs of safety stirrups, all with the same objective (to prevent the foot being caught in the stirrup) but with different approaches. Following is a summary:

  • Bent leg. The metal sides (known as legs) are bent outwards or towards the back, making it easier for a riding boot to slip out. As the sides of the stirrups are known as 'legs', these are known as bent leg stirrups. If only one leg is bent, the bent leg should be on the outside.
  • Ridge. The tread (bottom of the stirrup) has a ridge so that the boot can slide backwards but not forwards, preventing it from being caught. Some solutions are based on a special stirrup combined with a special boot, with matching ridges.
  • Flexible legs. The stirrup legs are flexible, so that it bends and release the boot if one falls. Less expensive models have rubber legs for this purpose, with some of the more expensive models having joints or chain within a rubber sleeve.
  • Outer leg opens. In the event of one falling, the outer leg of the stirrup opens, releasing the boot. The most common form of this is the 'peacock', which has a rubber loop which becomes unhitched. Note that most versions of the 'peacock' stirrup have maximum weights and consequently may be unsuitable for adults.
  • Breakaway. Some stirrups come in two parts, so that when one falls the bottom part rotates, which causes it to separate from the top part. In effect, the stirrup comes apart so that it cannot trap the boot. Despite the name, the stirrup doesn't actually break; it can be put back together in a moment.
  • Stirrup detaches. The stirrup detaches completely from the saddle if one falls and thereby rotates the angle of the stirrup. Although the boot may still be trapped in the stirrup, since the stirrup is no longer attached to the saddle there is no danger. The technical implementation of this (angle rotation causing release) is similar to that of the bottom opening safety stirrup.

Aside from the safety element, many people have reported that the flexible safety stirrup is more comfortable, in particular for those with ankle and knee problems. This apparently is due to the fact that it moves and gives. The sprenger safety stirrup (the flexible version, not the other versions) has often been mentioned in these reports.

Below are standard stirrups.

Standard stirrups

Below are bent-leg stirrups (single leg)

Safety stirrups - single bent leg

 Flexible stirrups (lower part of legs are rubber), Normal position on left, right photo shows bent position.

Flexible leg safety stirrups

 Below an example of 'peacock' stirrups

Peacock stirrups

Which type is best is a matter of preference:

  • The cost varies from about $30 for a pair of bent legs to  $150 for a top brand of flexible lets to $400 for breakaway western stirrups. 
  • Some people find one type (or brand) most comfortable while other people prefer another. It is best to try before you buy if possible.
  • We are not aware of any independent research on which type is best, the analysis of which is complicated by differences from one brand to another. For example, the amount and nature of bend in the bent leg models varies by brand. Likewise, the amount of stretch and flexibility in flexible leg models.Our personal opinion is that:
    • any safety stirrup is normally safer than a standard stirrup,
    • the bent leg is generally less effective than a breakaway or stirrup detaching version,
    • peacock and similar approaches are likely of medium performance, although performance is weight related,
    • it is not only the type of safety stirrup but also the brand which is important.