A stirrup is a light frame or ring that holds the foot of a rider,[1] attached to the saddle by a strap, often called a stirrup leather. Stirrups are usually paired and are used to aid in mounting and as a support while using a riding animal (usually a horse or other equine, such as a mule).[2] They greatly increase the rider's ability to stay in the saddle and control the mount, increasing the animal's usefulness to humans in areas such as communication, transportation and warfare.

In antiquity, the earliest foot supports (appearing in India by the 2nd century BC) consisted of riders placing their feet under a girth or using a simple toe loop. Later, a single stirrup was used as a mounting aid, and paired stirrups appeared after the invention of the treed saddle. In China, the stirrup appeared within the first few centuries AD and may have spread westward through the nomadic peoples of Central Eurasia.[3][4] Some scholars believe that the Sarmatians were the first to devise true stirrups during the first century BC.[5] The use of paired stirrups is credited to the Chinese Jin Dynasty and came to Europe during the Middle Ages. Some argue that the stirrup was one of the basic tools used to create and spread modern civilization, possibly as important as the wheel or printing press.[6]


Stirrups used on English saddles are usually made of metal. Though called "irons," they are no longer made of iron, as a rule, but instead stainless steel is the metal of choice, due to its strength, though when weight is an issue, such as for a jockey, they may also be made of aluminum. Inexpensive stirrups may be made of nickel, which can easily bend or break and should be avoided. Stirrups may also be made of synthetic materials and various metallic alloys. There are many variations on the standard stirrup design, most claiming either to be safer in the event of a fall or to make it easier for a rider to maintain a proper foot and leg position.

Some variations include:

  • Standard iron: The most common stirrup iron, consisting of a tread, with two branches, and an eye at the top for the leather to run through. The main styles seen today include:
    • Fillis: A design with a heavy tread, and branches that rise to the eye in a rounded triangular shape.
    • Prussian: A rounder and lighter design.
  • Safety stirrups. There are a number of designs intended to release the foot more easily in the event of a fall. One style has an outside branch that is curved, rather than straight. Other designs feature a breakaway outer branch which will detach with sufficient pressure, freeing the foot.
  • Side-saddle stirrups: usually have a slightly larger eye to accommodate the thicker stirrup leather on a sidesaddle.
  • Other designs: have joints or hinges in the branches of the stirrups to allow for them to flex. However, one model was recalled in 2007 due to a tendency for the hinges to break.[55] A variation on the hinged stirrup is the Icelandic Stirrup, which has the eye fixed at a 90 degree rotation to allow for less stress on the tendons, and eas

    Some variations include: