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Ankle injury/stirrup past ball of foot - advice?

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  • Ankle injury/stirrup past ball of foot - advice?

    My right ankle gives me endless trouble. I broke it nearly 10 years ago, and despite PT and bodywork, it wants to collapse and fold underneath me if I am in 2-pt for too long. Despite being painful, this puts a serious damper on my jumping efforts as it can only handle a lap or two when I am up off my horse's back.

    I continue doing ankle exercises, heel lifts to strengthen my calves, and as much 2-pt as I can manage each ride, but the weakness doesn't seem to be in the calf muscle so much as the tendons of the ankle. I tape this ankle and wear a brace, which helps the normal strain of riding but doesn't give me the support I need for jumping position.

    The only way I have found to manage is to put my foot further into the stirrup, just past the ball and almost on the arch of my foot, just on the right side. When I ride in 2-pt like this, I feel the strain in the proper calf muscles and have a much stronger position that lasts for ages before I get fatigued. However, I know that this isn't technically correct, and I am torn on how to proceed. I don't want to risk further injury to those tendons by pushing my ankle past its limits (I was laid up for a month several years ago when I just tried to "tough it out"), and I don't want to have to stop jumping, so I feel like I'm in a bit of a pickle. What does the great majesty of COTH wisdom suggest?

  • #2
    I think that you need to do what you need to do. Riding positions are actually based on function not fashion and when you function best in a slightly modified position - that's called riding. You will probably want to pay close attention to your straightness if you only want to put the one further into the stirrup but other than that, I say go for it. Lots of people in steeplechasing and racing (watch videos of the Irish especially and believe me they are some of the best jump jockeys ever) ride that way all the time, and many old style fox-hunters do. It's called putting your foot home in the stirrup. Bruce Davidson likes to ride home, watch XC videos of him. Can't ride better than him. It might make you feel safer to use safety stirrups at first while you get used to it. Good luck and get comfy.
    Shop online at


    • #3
      The only question to ask is........

      Do you want to "look correct" or be pain free and secure?

      It sounds like, jumping aside, you are at one of the "crossroads" faced by ALL athletes when it comes to injury. You can participate, but maybe not at the level you think you still can/should.

      There is no easy answer.

      As a side regarding your instability.........If the pain is in the tendons on the sides of the ankle, it is possible that a chronic tendonitis exists and or added to by arthritis in the ankle joint (w/o dx. hard to say). These can certainly contribute pain which will reflexively shut down the lower leg muscles, which causes your problems further up the chain, which invariably increases your risk of falling.

      So from a purely athletic perspective, if your present injury status inherently increases your risk of injury, then it is time to adjust your level of activity to decrease that risk.

      Just my opinion.

      Medical Mike
      equestrian medical researcher


      • #4
        I always rode XC "home" and showjumped "home" in outdoor arena situations.
        I took the stirrup pads out of my irons and gave them a few wraps of vetwrap for a tiny bit of cushion, and a tiny bit of traction. I never felt at risk, as I did not lose stirrups...nor did I ever get caught "toes down"...guess my instincts kept my weight in my heel. Maybe it was service as a professional whip that made me feel safer riding that way.

        When I was having some nerve problems in one foot, I also had to ride dressage with one foot home, one foot on the ball. It was a bit stranger than both feet on the arch.

        Additionally, when I rode reined cow horses, and worked on a ranch, I rode in oxbow stirrups (they are really "U" shaped on the bottom tread) that were about an inch wide. Riding "home" in those, I never got footsore...and I rode 8 or 10 horses a day.
        What would you try if you knew you would not fail?


        • #5
          I pretty much shattered my ankle and split my tibia up the middle in a riding accident about 7 years ago. I have had quite a few surgeries and thanks to my wonderful doctor (the first one I went to said I would never be able to ride again, I told him to stuff it and a year later finally found a good doctor) I can jump again. I do wear 2 different braces. 1 is very stiff and strong, great support for both my shattered bits and my tendons that were severed in spots, I wear this on my really bad days. The 2nd is a softer brace that just supports the tendons and ankle a bit. The smaller one fits under my field boots, but the larger one I have to wear my ariats and half chaps, and that is why I am ordering boots with buckles so that I can use the larger brace XC.
          I do go in for cortisone injections every few months though in 3 different spots of my ankle.

          When I ride I do ride with my foot further in the stirrup then the before, and have developed a habbit of not dropping as much weight in the heel as I should. Doesn't help that I don't have feeling in most of the foot and ankle though. I honestly couldn't do even flat work without my brace though, and the cortisone injections have done wonders. Now I only ride and live with a pain scale of a 5-7 instead of not wanting to put any weight on it at all.


          • #6
            From the Physical Therapy and Athletic Training perspective doing heel raises to strengthen your calf is great except that when we ride the knee is bent which inhibits the action of the calf. The soleus muscle which lies underneath the gastroc (calf muscle) is what you need to strengthen. You can strengthen that by doing heel raises with a bent knee. Ideally you will want to bend your knee to the angle and most replicated your two point position. You want to train in the manner you wish to perform.
            Also doing heel raises on an unsteady surface will be beneficial. The proprioception mechanisms (balance awareness in space) of the ankle are inhibited after chronic ankle injuries. Galloping by definition requires that the ankle act like a shock absorber and a balancing tool. This is why it is much harder to maintain a position like the 2 point which galloping versus standing in 2 point on a horse that is standing still.

            Good luck. I work with high level athletes all the time and the only way to get back to such a highly specialized activity is to train for that specific activity as much as possible.

            Happy Galloping,

            It takes a good deal of physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have. I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as required. ~Stephen Leacock


            • #7
              Put the stirrup where it works for you. Who cares if it's not in a classic position to make Geo. Morris happy. I broke my foot/ankle/lower leg nicely in a point-to-point when I was 22...haven't been able to do much of anything but walk and a gimpy sort of trot on my own. I've got to put my foot in the stirrup farther in to be comfortable.

              So, just do what works...better secure and comfy vs. "isn't that pretty, pity she dropped out after 200 yards".
              "Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc"


              • #8
                I agree with using whatever stirrup position works for the injured ankle, including riding with the stirrup more "home" (which is what many top riders do). Riding "home" will also limit the shock-absorbancy of that ankle, but if it's already shot, it's quite possible to compensate. :->

                HOWEVER, if you are weighting one stirrup more than the other regardless of stirrup position, that needs to be addressed and corrected, somehow :->. Riding with more weight in one stirrup will cause your hips to twist to the weighted side, and your shoulders to twist towards the light side, all of which will destabilize your position and effectiveness, and compromise your balance and safety especially when jumping. Not to mention the torque on your saddle, the horse's back, and the uneven weighting of his legs, especially the stifles and hocks. On the short term, riding on one side will probably (depending on how heroic your horse is) result in lower dressage scores, some rails in SJ, and some awkward jumps on XC. On the long term, the torgue on the saddle and your horse's back, as well as the uneven stress on his hocks and stifles could result in anything from needing a saddle restuffing to long term and permanent hock and/or stifle damage. (And I've been there.)

                Many riders naturally, without any injury, tend to weight one stirrup more than the other, and I address this with almost every person I teach (as well as myself!). So an injury, especially if it happens to be to the "light" leg, can exaggerate this.

                My test for uneven weighting is to have the student go into 2-point at the halt or walk, and then de-weight or drop one stirrup and discuss with me what they feel. Then do the same on the other side. If one side feels much more stable in one-stirrup two-point, you know you have some remedial work to do!

                Remedial: do the two-point de-weighting as part of your warmup. Figure out how to be more even. It's all about where the hips are relative to the knees, but intellectually knowing that doesn't make it much easier to achieve. It's a body-awareness thing so outside input will only help so much - you have to feel and find it for yourself.

                And think about how you tend to stand when you're not on the horse. Do you tend to stand on one leg more than the other? (Hip cocked?) Then become aware and reverse it! Just as our horses naturally but often unevenly use their bodies during the 23 hours a day they're not ridden, so do we use *our* bodies! If you're crooked most of the time (as most people are), it's really hard to get on your horse and be straight. And if you're not straight, how can your horse be? Try to be ambidextrous in barn and house chores such as mucking and vacuuming, so that you work both sides of your body. If one side is awkward or difficult, use that side more!

                Sorry that this went so long; it's just that postural uneveness is something I've dealt with myself for a long time, and I see it almost daily in my mostly Adult Ammy re-rider students. I see it a lot in teens, too. And you didn't ask about any of this, but rider uneveness is a natural result of any leg injury. So if you were even before, it's very likely that you are or tend to be uneven now.

                Good luck with the ankle! There are many top riders who continue to ride very sucessfully at the top level despite injuries like this, and much worse. It takes focus and dedication.
                Yvonne Lucas
                Red Moon Farm

                "Practice doesn't make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect." - Jim Wofford

                "Some days you're the dog, some days the hydrant." - Jim Wofford


                • #9
                  You could try my MDC stirrups which twist so the leather lays flat and doesn't torque your ankle You could also get those black rubbery pieces that zip tie around the bottom of your stirrup for extra tread, but it would be extra wide and give you cushioning. The other thing might be to get stirrups with large bottoms so it supports more of your foot than a traditional stirrup. I've seen them used but don't know where to find them.

                  Oh, and I forgot to add that the way my boots are laced and the socks under them and the orthotics I put in them (stiff runner's orthotics) all affect how sore my ankles get while I ride. Too tight or too loose and I get really stabbingly sore. I want zip paddock boots, but can't do it because it's not enough support for my ankles. Really stiff boots may do the trick, Dansko paddock boots maybe?
                  Somewhere in the world, Jason Miraz is Goodling himself and wondering why "the chronicle of the horse" is a top hit. CaitlinAndTheBay


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Candle View Post
                    You could try my MDC stirrups which twist so the leather lays flat and doesn't torque your ankle

                    Oh, and I forgot to add that the way my boots are laced and the socks under them and the orthotics I put in them (stiff runner's orthotics) all affect how sore my ankles get while I ride. Too tight or too loose and I get really stabbingly sore.

                    Some years ago I had a *really* bad ankle sprain (doc whistled and said, "Oh, you'd have been so much better off if you'd just broken it"). Up to that point I lived and rode in Blundstones, but afterwards I could *not* ride in them without burning pain and had to switch to Ariats with innersoles. Coupled with the bendy MDC with the twisty ring I'm good for hours in the saddle.

                    The best PT turned out to be lots and lots of walking over lumpy frozen pasture (easy to do on a rocky New England farm, luckily).

                    Good luck.


                    • Original Poster

                      Thank you all, keep the suggestions coming! This is very helpful. I was considering the MDC or the Royal Riders stirrups, but the $$ makes me wince. Still, a small price to pay if they relieve my ankle trouble. Right now I have the Sprenger flexible stirrups, which feel better than the normal stirrups, but I'm thinking that the angled ones may be even better. I lose the stirrup on the bad ankle ALL the time.

                      Excellent points about further PT with bended knees, and keeping straightness. Oddly enough, I think I ride with more weight on the bad ankle for some reason and always have. Maybe part of the reason it's bad, no?! I found out the other day that my pelvis goes out of whack to that side and I rode much better when it was fixed, so I will be sure to work on the straightness piece a lot more.

                      I have considered the notion of no longer jumping, but I would like to exhaust my other options first. I am much more careful with my body than I used to be in my younger years, but don't want to give up prematurely if I can find an acceptable compromise.

                      I like the idea of stiffer boots and a stiff ankle brace as well. Any thoughts about where to find said items? I can look at Dansko. I haven't purchased boots in so long I wouldn't know where to start. Maybe I really will get those 3 buckle field boots now to fit over my brace.


                      • #12
                        My lace-up Ariats rock my world. I guess I have extra-bendy joints or something stupid like that, because my ankles over-flex and get REALLY sore if I don't baby them while riding in two-point. I sprang for the expensive model though with my own orthotics, but they've been going strong for 7 years now, so it was totally worth it.
                        Somewhere in the world, Jason Miraz is Goodling himself and wondering why "the chronicle of the horse" is a top hit. CaitlinAndTheBay


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by TB or not TB? View Post
                          I like the idea of stiffer boots and a stiff ankle brace as well. Any thoughts about where to find said items? I can look at Dansko. I haven't purchased boots in so long I wouldn't know where to start. Maybe I really will get those 3 buckle field boots now to fit over my brace.
                          These are the boots I am ordering as soon as one of the horses sells http://cgi.ebay.com/CF-MEN-3-BUCKLE-FIELD-BOOT-HORSE-RIDING-BLACK-WIDE-8_W0QQitemZ350220302496QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_Defau ltDomain_0?hash=item518ac1b8a0&_trksid=p3286.c0.m1 4&_trkparms=65%3A12|66%3A2|39%3A1|72%3A1205|293%3A 1|294%3A50

                          And if you like I can look at my brace that I use for drop fences and riding greenies. It was a bit pricy at the time but it was beyond worth it.


                          • #14
                            In '01, I fractured my right fibula in 2 places, plus the tibia in one, a few inches above my ankle. Plates & screws are still in there. I am not 100% sound/flexible on it either -- probably around 85-90%.

                            When I returned to jumping, I found the Sprenger Bow Balance stirrups made a HUGE difference and I've been able to jump, gallop and do long trot/conditioning sets in them with no discomfort. This is paired w/ PT/strengthening/flexibility exercises, of course.

                            Perhaps you can find some to try/borrow before you decide to purchase and compare these w/ MDCs?? The footrest on the Bow Balance is quite wide, which really made a difference for me and sounds like it could for you, too.

                            The other thing that really helped was acupuncture. I realize that is not what you were asking about but feel free to PM me for more details, if you're interested.

                            Best of luck.


                            • #15
                              I'm so happy to read some of these replies and can certainly sympathize with your dilemma. I'm in the same boat. As a child I was doing the balance beam walk down the railroad tracks near home and turned my ankle, very badly. Had to hobble home and mom took me to the hospital. Turned out of course just badly sprained. But ever since then it's weak, I can twist it out of place without even thinking. I ride with the right stirrup a little further back as well. I do have one person that I've taken lessons from that just insists that I ride with it on the ball of my foot. Then I took a lesson from a h/j person who only has one arm....well she has 2 but the other ends at where the elbow should be. When she and I talked about position and such, she agreed that my foot was fine. That I was secure there. Course she shortened my stirrups way more than I was comfortable with, but it worked.

                              Now my right foot has been going numb after a while. I have Ariat lace up paddock boots, have tried not lacing them up as tightly and that seems to help some. Then one of my friends suggested the zip up boots, so I have a pair of them and have ridden in them twice, yesterday jumping and this morning in my dressage lesson. I will say that today, my foot didn't go numb at all, but yesterday it did, but only after being out for about an hr. So I think I'm onto a fix for me.

                              Good luck and I'm definitely going to keep tabs on this post to see what other fixes people come up with. I need to try the stirrup fix of the vetrap or other stuff on it to see how that will do.